At a special session on July 31, the Oro Valley Town Council voted for an internal/external search process to replace retiring Oro Valley Police Chief Daniel Sharp. The vote went against Chief Sharp and two police organizations’ recommendations for a strictly internal search, which would only look to promote candidates from within the department.
After 40 years serving in law enforcement, Chief Sharp will work his final shift on Feb. 21, 2020. Whereas many police chiefs serve for an average of three to five years, Sharp worked in Oro Valley for nearly two decades. In his retirement notification, Sharp explained his succession plan and stated his confidence that his successor could be from the ranks of Oro Valley.
A heated debate among the town council preceded their decision, with councilmembers and the audience split on the implications of solely searching within OVPD for a replacement.
“The Oro Valley Police Officers Association, as well as the Fraternal Order of Police #53, support an internal process for police chief,” Kevin Peterson, president of the Oro Valley Police Officers Association, told town council. “We believe a succession plan has been successfully completed by Police Chief Sharp, and strongly support hiring from within. It is our belief that hiring from within will help maintain the outstanding culture and services that have been created over the last 19 years.”
The Town of Oro Valley calculated an internal candidate-only recruitment for police chief would last two to three months, with a preliminary cost estimate of up to $4,500. A process considering internal and external candidates would require involving an executive search firm, and is estimated to last three to six months, with a cost estimate of up to $50,000.
Those supporting an internal-only recruitment process focused their decision on the department’s nationally recognized success and Oro Valley’s reputation as one of Arizona’s safest cities.
“We’re the ones who are exporting the expertise,” said Councilmember Steve Solomon. “We certainly don’t need to ‘import’ expertise as a police chief… I don’t see us getting a more qualified individual than from within.”
These views were shared by councilmembers Bill Rodman and Rhonda Piña, who made a motion for the council to conduct a solely internal search. The motion was defeated, 4 to 3.
Rodman and Piña said the benefits of a solely internal search were a seamless transition of roles within the department; the candidate wouldn’t need a background check, or medical or psychological tests, as OVPD already has this information on its employees; the candidate would already be certified by the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board; and the move would maintain morale within the department.
But according to Vice Mayor Melanie Barrett: “I think from the position of the Town Council, that we owe it to the Town to make sure that every person in the town feels confident that we got the very best applicant possible... And so for that reason, I would favor an internal and external search.”
Mayor Joe Winfield agreed, stating that the last two Oro Valley police chiefs were external candidates.
“An internal-external process just simply casts a wider net,” Winfield said. “It provides an opportunity to ensure that the community feels confident that we have the best of the best.”
Councilmembers Joyce Jones-Ivey and Josh Nicolson also supported an internal-external recruitment effort for the sake of openness and transparency.
“There’s transparency here,” Soloman rebutted. “An external candidate is the one you do not have transparency to. You haven’t watched their career for 17 years… If you say ‘go external’ you are disregarding what the rank and file want. You are disregarding the time and investment over 17 years that this town has put into training its own people to be ready for the job.”
Ultimately, Chief Sharp’s recommendation for a solely internal search for chief of police was rejected. Winfield, Barrett, Jones-Ivey and Nicholson voted for a internal-external search, while Piña, Rodman, Soloman voted against.
“That heated debate was certainly unexpected,” Peterson said. “The group that voted for the internal and external candidate search ran on public safety, so it’s confusing that they didn’t support the police chief, the Police Officers Association, or the Fraternal Order of Police’s recommendation.”
The internal and external recruitment process for police chief is currently being organized, and is expected to last three to six months, ending in February 2020 where Chief Sharp set his date for retirement.