The City of North Liberty hopes to have a new police chief named two weeks from today.
The five finalists - which include the acting North Liberty police chief and an Iowa City police lieutenant – will meet with the public on Sept. 11 during a candidate reception. The next day, the candidates will interview with three different panels. One panel will be comprised of the North Liberty City Council, the second will be made of city staff and the third will include local law enforcement professionals, including some North Liberty officers, according to City Administrator Ryan Heiar.
“We’re very excited about it,” Heiar said Thursday. “We think we’ve got five great finalists here.”
The five chief candidates are:
Diane Venega, acting North Liberty Police Chief since February.
Mike Brotherton, lieutenant with the Iowa City Police Department.
Jason Doll, Carlisle, Iowa, Police Chief.
Brad Nelson, commander with the Columbia, Mo., Police Department.
Cliff Sessoms, deputy chief with the Marion, Ind., Police Department.
The finalists were whittled down from an initial list of 50 applicants gathered by the Des Moines-based firm Moulder and Associates. William Moulder said at the beginning of the search, city council members, city department heads, North Liberty police officers and citizens were interviewed to develop a sense of what type of chief would best serve the community.
“Credentials are easy,” Moulder said. “That part is the easy part of finding a new police chief. Finding one that fits the community is the art of the process.”
After narrowing the initial pool down to 15 applicants, finalists were asked to respond to a series of essay questions, which covered topics such as community policing in North Liberty. Moulder said the goal was to test communication skills and also see if the candidates could demonstrate critical thinking. Four applicants were eliminated after that process and the list was further cut down to six after Moulder and Associates staff met with Heiar and the city’s human resources department. One of the final six candidates had a scheduling conflict with next month’s interviews and was eliminated from the search.
Moulder had ample praise for each candidate. He noted Venega has been with the department “since it began, practically.” Venega has a “great deal of potential,” though she lacks the experience of the other candidates. She has been heavily involved with the department for a number of years and has served as chief since former Chief Jim Warkentin left the department suddenly in February. Venega has led the department after an officer-involved shooting that left the department short-staffed for several months.
“It’s certainly good experience and she knows the department,” he said.
Brotherton – who lives in North Liberty – impressed the search committee with his background. He’s been a supervisor since 1996, led the Iowa City police department’s Street Crimes Action Team for five years and is a graduate of the police leadership course at the Southern Police Institute. His essay responses were “particularly insightful,” Moulder said.
“He has a lot of experience as a supervisor,” Moulder said. “He’s a known quantity in the sense that he’s from the region.”
Moulder said the search firm had experience with Doll after they recruited him to Carlisle from the Kechi, Kan. Police Department, where he previously served as chief. Moulder described Doll as a “salesman” for the city and police department who has been widely regarded at his past two posts.
“He is one of those people that organizations benefit from his presence,” he said.
Brad Nelson was a candidate for the Cedar Rapids Police Chief position last year and has 13 years of experience as a supervisor. Moulder lauded the number of training programs Nelson has attended, as well has his experience as a patrol, investigations and administrative services commander.
“Chiefs benefit from having experience in those areas in law enforcement,” Moulder said.
Moulder described Sessoms as the most experienced of the chief candidates, with 28 years of experience in law enforcement. Moulder also noted Sessoms’ bachelor’s degree in computer information services as a desirable quality in a chief.
“The application of technology is becoming more important (in police work),” he said. “Knowing how to take advantage of that has a great deal of value.”
After the interviews with the three panels, the interviewers will meet with city council and Heiar to select a chief. Heiar is hopeful the candidate will be selected that day. The new chief would likely start in mid-October. Moulder said he is confident that whichever candidate is chosen, he or she will serve the department well.
“You can’t make a wrong decision,” he said. “All will serve the city well and are capable of performing the duties.”