With the community’s input, Casper’s new city manager hopes to hire a permanent police chief before the end of the year.
City Manager Carter Napier said Tuesday — his second day on the job — that he has three immediate tasks: hire a police chief, hire a fire chief and review the city’s budget. But none of those tasks can be accomplished overnight and he hopes to meet with a variety of people both inside and outside the city before making any decisions.
“I think I know what I want in a good chief,” he said. “I’ve hired good chiefs. But each community is different.”
Napier said that he did not yet have a specific process outlined for hiring for either chief position but will consider candidates from within the department and from outside agencies. He hoped to have a permanent police chief hired within the next six months and will be searching for a fire chief in the same time.
“I don’t think I have the luxury of waiting until I have a police chief hired,” he said.
Interim City Manager Liz Becher dismissed former Casper Police Chief Jim Wetzel on May 6, though the exact reason for his dismissal remains unclear. The change came after dissatisfaction from within the department with Wetzel’s leadership became public and two-thirds of the force voted that they had no confidence in his ability to lead. In the midst of the controversy, former City Manager V.H. McDonald abruptly retired.
Casper Fire Chief Kenneth King announced in October that he would retire from that role in January 2018. The announcement came hours after he apologized for sending an email asking an investigator to delete the “bad parts” from video evidence during the 2015 Cole Creek Fire. He sent it while the fire, which destroyed 14 homes, was still burning.
City officials said in October that the process to hire a new fire chief would begin “immediately” and that they hoped a formal search would begin in January. Napier said Tuesday that as far as he could tell, the hiring process hadn’t begun.
Before making decisions about the police chief position, he hoped to meet with community members, police officers and city leadership to determine what they are looking for in a candidate. He planned to meet with Interim Chief Steve Schulz on Tuesday and Wednesday as well.
“I want to make sure I have a crystal clear idea of what is needed in this community because I don’t want to get it wrong,” he said.
So far, Napier hasn’t heard from anybody interested in the position, but he said that may be because he has attempted to stay removed from Casper business while still working as Gillette’s city manager. Schulz previously declined to comment on whether he was interested in the position.
While hiring for the positions, Napier will also consider a more abstract challenge: How does he help rebuild relationships between city government, police and the community at large after a period of turbulence?
“I’ve been asking myself that question,” he said.
Ideally, he hopes to dissect each problem individually — whether the problem is internal issues within the police department, criticism from the community about police services or pleas for calm from business leaders.
By meeting with those involved on all sides of each issue, Napier hopes to better understand how to mend those relationships. That same process helped him in Gillette when the city realized it would need to make a series of cuts and changes due to the economic downturn, he said.
“I think when you do that piece by piece ... the invariable outcome is that you slowly build back that relationship of trust,” he said.