Search underway for new Johnson City police chief, third assistant city manager

Zach Vance • Updated Nov 1, 2017 at 10:56 PM

It’s never too soon to be looking to the future, especially if you’re Johnson City Director of Human Resources Steve Willis.

But when Johnson City Police Chief Mark Sirois announced his retirement last month, Willis admits he was a little surprised, although Sirois left Willis four months to find his replacement before he leaves on Feb. 16.

“Quite honestly, I was taken a bit by surprise by Chief Sirois' intentions, although obviously I support that 100 percent,” Willis said. “He's done a fantastic job of establishing some great bench strength within that department, and because of that, I think we're going to have a successful recruitment.”

Just a few days after the announcement, Willis had already created the advertisement for the job opening. So far, that ad is circulating around the usual places: the City of Johnson City’s website, the Tennessee Municipal League, the University of Tennessee’s Municipal Technical Advisory Service, the Tennessee Association of Police Chiefs and the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement.

As of Tuesday, Willis said about 30 potential candidates had submitted applications to become Johnson City’s next police chief, which has a salary range between $72,069 and $116,810.

The city will accept applications through Nov. 30 before Willis begins narrowing the search and conducting interviews.

“I'm really targeting to have the list shortened by the week of Dec. 11. I would like to get some things moving with candidates prior to Christmas because everyone's schedule gets crazy around that time,” Willis said. “I’m hoping to have the new chief in place at the beginning of February. I would like for the new chief to have some transition time with Chief Sirois to kind of get his or her feet on the ground and get the lay of the land, so to speak.”

Willis fully expects to receive some internal applications from candidates already working for the police department.

“We ask for 7 to 10 years experience with that being at least at a captain's rank. So certainly we have a captain in (Criminal Investigations Division), four platoon captains and obviously our two majors. You have that pool of potentials there,” Willis said.

Before Sirois was promoted from operations manager to police chief in 2012, five in-house candidates, Capt. Debbie Botelho, Capt. Steve Smith, Capt. Karl Turner and Maj. Garry Younger, were all announced as finalists. Botelho, Smith and Turner are currently still employed with the Johnson City Police Department.

In addition to finding a new police chief, Willis has been tasked with hiring the city’s third assistant city manager, a position City Manager Pete Peterson requested after city commissioners graded his “Ability to Manage” the lowest of any category during his 2016 evaluation.

Back in August, the city received about 105 applications for the newly created position, but Willis opted to extend that application deadline due to more than half of the applicants not meeting the minimum requirements of a master’s degree and a minimum of five to seven years of local government management experience.

Since that deadline ended on Oct. 6, Willis has completed a first review of the qualified applicants, prioritized about 25 potentials and forwarded those to Peterson for evaluation.

“We have not discussed a specific timeline at this point for interviews or anything of that nature. It’s still very much in the evaluation process. Much like the police chief, it’s such a critical hire, you must get the right fit,” Willis said.

What Willis and Peterson perceive as the “right fit” is someone with a broad base of expertise related to the city’s 25 departments, which are currently overseen by Assistant City Managers Charlie Stahl and Robert Wilson.

“(Peterson) was adamant the right candidate would have a broad base across our entire service offerings. We really weren’t looking for someone to specialize in any particular area. We wanted someone who had exposure to all of those areas and I think that's important as we move forward in terms of succession,” Willis said.

Back in August, Peterson was hopeful the new hire could help lighten the load of the 13 direct reports he is currently responsible for.

“It’s probably twice as many as what you can effectively and efficiently manage,” Peterson said.

To learn more about the police chief opening, visit https://johnsoncitytn.applicantpro.com/jobs/.

Email Zach Vance at [email protected] Follow Zach Vance on Twitter at @ZachVanceJCP. Like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/ZachVanceJCP.

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