By Meridian Star Editorial Board
The Meridian Star
Earlier this week, Mayor Cheri Barry announced her selection of Meridian native James M. Reed to fill the position of the city's police chief.
Monday, members of the Meridian City Council will interview Reed and will likely vote at their regular Tuesday meeting on whether to hire him or not.
"I interviewed eight people. Some were from inside the police department, some were retired. I'm excited about the opportunity of James Reed coming to Meridian," Barry stated in an article that ran Wednesday in The Star.
Reed's background is impressive and he may very well be the most qualified candidate of the eight Barry interviewed. Unfortunately, we will never know.
Council members, tasked with hiring a replacement for former Police Chief Lee Shelbourn, did not have an opportunity to interview the other candidates.
We would have liked a more open hiring process, with council members allowed to interview at least three of the top contenders, if not all of them.
Better yet, we would prefer a system used by many municipalities and public institutions whereby candidates for key posts are interviewed during meetings attended by the public.
During its search last year for a dean and associate vice president for MSU-Meridian, Mississippi State University scheduled public forums for the final candidates and posted information about the applicants on the university's website.
An open selection process with multiple applicants serves several purposes, all of which are in the best interest of taxpayers.
First of all, it offers an opportunity to compare the top candidates, rather than vote one up or down.
Secondly, it provides transparency — a policy promised by Barry three weeks into her job while speaking before the Meridian Civitan Club in July 2009.
"I want everything out in the open. I want all the citizens to know what's going on in Meridian – our budget, tax cuts, tax breaks, who has a car, who doesn't," Barry said at the time. "I want the citizens to trust me."
Furthermore, interviewing job applicants in public meetings allows those doing the hiring to see how they respond to pressure — an essential quality in a position such as that of police chief. It is one thing to interview one-on-one, and something entirely different to be questioned by several people before an audience.
Perhaps most importantly, public interviews allow citizens an opportunity to watch the process unfold.
In contrast, one or two council members at a time will meet with Reed Monday to ensure a quorum is not present that would trigger a public meeting.
As we stated earlier, the issue isn't with Mr. Reed, who has "35 years of experience in supervision, investigations, counter terrorism, theft and loss prevention and protective services," according to his resume, which also states that he:
• Was a supervisory special agent with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), where he supervised a team of 30 special agents and conducted crime investigations.
• Served as a desk officer in the counter terrorism division of NCIS headquarters in Washington, D.C.
• Worked in Meridian as a probation and parole officer for the State of Mississippi from March 1979 to September 1985, and as an analyst and investigator with the Mississippi Department of Justice in Meridian prior to that.
Earlier this week Councilman George Thomas said he didn't foresee any problem getting council confirmation given Reed's background in law enforcement.
"Someone with that experience would be a coup for the city, I would think," Thomas said at the time.
We suspect Thomas may be right and wish nothing but the best for Reed if he is indeed confirmed.
Our hope is the city will reconsider its hiring process for key positions in the future though. Not making the selection process more open is a disservice to both taxpayers and — in this case — to Mr. Reed.
Given the closed-door decision that led to Mr. Reed's nomination, if he is hired there will be a perception by some that he was "Cheri-picked," whether it is deserved or not.