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Police chief search enters next phase

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County > Burgess hopes to announce new top cop by month end

By Arin McKenna

County Administrator Harry Burgess admits the quality of the finalists vying to replace Police Chief Wayne Torpy has made his choice both easier and harder. “Overall, I was very impressed with everybody,” Burgess said. “I think we have a hard decision to make. I think any of them have the skills to be our next police chief. We just have to make the right choice on who that person is.”

The five candidates who stood out from a field of 26 applicants who met minimum qualifications were Roy Melnick, Donnie Perry, Bill Press, Dino Sgambellone and Philip Smith. The candidates were in Los Alamos for interviews Thursday and Friday of last week.

“They all came very well prepared and presented themselves well. That was one consistent thing I heard, even from all the various groups that interviewed,” Burgess said.

Torpy led the candidates on an informal tour of the police department and county facilities on Thursday, followed by a private reception for the county’s police officers. Officers were able to ask the candidates questions during the reception and submit comments on their top choice.

Members of the public were invited to meet the candidates at a reception Thursday evening.

Three different panels convened on Sept. 13 to conduct interviews: senior management, executive administration and community members.

According to Burgess, panel participants agreed, “We had a good cadre of folks. They certainly all exceeded the qualifications we advertised.

“They (panel participants) gave me their insights, but also told me to have fun in making the choice. They had their opinions, but knew that that fell to me, and that it would be a difficult one.”

Council is not directly involved in the hiring process and did not participate in the interviews, since hiring department heads falls to the county administrator. Once Burgess makes his decision, he will present his choice to council for confirmation.

“I think the county had an excellent group from which to choose,” Council Chair Geoff Rodgers said. “The quantity of the applications and the quality of the finalists are one more indication that Los Alamos remains a great place to live and work.”

Now the selection process proceeds to background checks.

“We traditionally don’t do those before interviews, especially with this police chief position. The level of background checks is a costly and time consuming practice,” Burgess said.

“So that alone will take seven to 10 days to complete. We’ve already initiated that on a couple of those that stood out in this process, so that means we’re well into next week before we’re at the point to make any offer.

“Our goal is to do that before the end of the month, and I still think that’s a very distinct possibility.”

Once the offer is made and accepted, Burgess will work out the details with the candidate as to when he is available to make the move to Los Alamos.