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Smithsburg council members say police chief selection process tainted

January 10, 2008

To the editor:

This is an open letter to the citizens of Smithsburg from Councilmen Jerome Martin and Jack Wenthe. Councilman Martin was elected to the town council in 2000 and Councilman Wenthe has served on the council since 2006.

In 2002, when then-Mayor Tommy Bowers was presented with the challenge of hiring a new police chief, he garnered the resources of two councilmen, two citizens and police officials (City of Hagerstown Police Department and the Washington County Sheriff's Department). This group comprised a committee, led by the mayor, that interviewed all of the prospective candidates, formulated pertinent questions and narrowed the field to three finalists. The three prospective applicants were scrutinized in a second round of interviews and the successful candidate was selected after all background checks and references were substantiated and verified. Chief Michael Potter was introduced to the council by the mayor and the council. Confident of the meticulous deliberations performed by the selection committee, the council approved the appointment. The transparent methodology utilized by our municipal officials demonstrated the positive results that can be achieved by mutual cooperation. The town residents were the beneficiaries of this textbook example of municipal government functioning as one unit.

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In November, Chief Potter resigned after nearly a six-year tenure. The first step in the search for a new chief is the placement of the advertisement in the local newspaper to solicit applications for the position. The classified ad was submitted by Mayor Mildred "Mickey" Myers without notification to the council. When Councilman Martin saw the posting and questioned the mayor about the lack of notification, she stated she was not obligated to notify the council and that the timing of the advertisement was her prerogative.

On Nov. 21, Mayor Myers sent all council members an e-mail indicating her intention to name Charles Stanford the new police chief. The appointment and confirmation by council would take place at the Dec. 4 regular town council meeting.

The e-mail was the only communication since the resignation of Chief Potter that the council had received from the mayor pertaining to the hiring of a new police chief. There were no communications regarding the number of applicants, the process for vetting and interviewing the candidates. The council was completely in the dark as to how many applicants had applied for the position. At no point did the mayor request any input from the council concerning this matter.

Skilled and professional leaders embrace the divergent perspectives of their colleagues. A critical, analytical and comprehensive approach insures that all valid viewpoints are given consideration in order to render a competent and majority-driven selection.

The mayor, according to the charter, appoints the police chief and the council confirms the appointment. The actual confirmation should be the culmination of the diligent deliberations by the mayor, council and a selection committee to select the most competent candidate. The council could not, in this case, cast an educated vote because we lacked nearly all the information necessary to carry out our duties. This information was not made available to the council.

None of the prospective candidates, other than, we assume, Charles Stanford, were interviewed. Their references were not verified, nor did the mayor contact any of the candidates by phone to set up an interview. Common courtesy would dictate that the applicant's desire to serve the town be acknowledged either by mail or via a phone call.

The vote to confirm the new chief was conducted in an executive session, after the regular council meeting where these matters are normally discussed. The minutes from the executive session will be open to the public, but the tenor of the meeting is not available.

The Town of Smithsburg has been adversely impacted by this secretive approach to governing. How can our citizens be assured that the most qualified candidate was selected when the deliberations were not transparent and are morally repugnant?

Mr. Wenthe and I apologize to all of the other candidates for the lack of decorum and statesmanship regarding your application for the job of police chief for the town of Smithsburg.

Finally, the process may have been unfair to Charles Stanford. He may in fact become a competent chief, but if the police community, the other candidates and the citizens are cognizant of the truncated selection process projected in this affair, then a permanent and dark cloud could permeate his tenure.

Our elected officials are obligated to provide our police chief and officers with a blanket of good will and a positive work environment, which promotes a sound municipal government. Stanford deserves better, and the residents should demand accountability in this matter.

Jerome D. Martin


Jack Wenthe


Smithsburg Town Council

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