Our view: Wilkes-Barre chief hire must be transparent process

The Wilkes-Barre City Police Department. Aimee Dilger | Times Leader -

Unless you’re living under a rock, you’ve probably heard that Wilkes-Barre is searching for a new police chief, a job that currently pays about $95,500 annually and leads a department of about 80 officers.

The city has been collecting applications for about the last two weeks, and the deadline to apply extends through Tuesday.

So, before the hiring process begins in earnest, we’d like to take this opportunity to say what we want to see on behalf of the mayor’s office, council and anyone else involved.

We can sum that up best in one word: transparency.

That is, transparency in how the hire is made, and transparency as a clearly stated goal of any applicant vying for the top police job.

It should be a priority right from the start for any department, but especially in Wilkes-Barre, where tensions between the current chief and her officers have led to suspensions of veteran lawmen and a high-profile firing. Things got so bad, a cash-strapped council decided it was a good investment to spend $26,000 to bring in outside help to identify what’s wrong and how it could be fixed.

That outside help was the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association, which cast serious doubt on current chief Marcella Lendacky’s qualifications to lead the department.

Considering that well-publicized point, the new chief cannot come into the job with any doubts lingering about his or her experience, abilities and vision for the department.

So, how should this all play out to best serve the public?

First, we’d like to hear from city Administrator Ted Wampole this week about how many have applied for the chief’s post.

Applicants were instructed to send their resumes to the city administrator, so Wampole should certainly be able to provide a simple count and some general information. For instance, is any current member of the force an applicant?

We also want the city to keep us posted on the process, such as how many candidates might be brought in for interviews, who exactly will conduct the interviewing, and how long it might be before finalists are selected. (Well, let’s hope there will be several top choices and not just one person in the running from the start.)

And when finalists are selected, the names should be made public and citizens should get a chance to meet those people in a format similar to what some school districts do when choosing a new superintendent.

We’ve always believed those informal meet-and-greet sessions make parents and the public feel like they are part of the process. If districts can do it for their top job, why can’t Wilkes-Barre do it before hiring a chief?

It would also be a good idea to get input on a hire from the Chiefs of Police group that just thoroughly reviewed the department. Those behind the study should know a lot about what the city’s force is lacking and what it needs going forward.

We just hope Mayor Tony George and others in the administration are aware of how critical this hire and its handling will be. The chief cannot be hired by edict. It should be a collaborative process done in the open to the maximum extent possible.

The right choice done the right way has the potential to change the narrative completely, from two years filled with rancor to a new course with the potential for intradepartmental harmony.

Every day, we count on the men and women who form the thin blue line against chaos. They don’t need to deal with any more of it back at the station.

Let’s get this hire right. There is a lot riding on it.

— Times Leader

The Wilkes-Barre City Police Department. Aimee Dilger | Times Leader
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_TTL040518POLICE3.jpgThe Wilkes-Barre City Police Department. Aimee Dilger | Times Leader