Mayor G.T. Bynum’s final public meeting to gather input on the city’s next police chief ended as the first one began — with calls for a better and more humane Police Department and disagreement over whether the mayor should look outside the city to fill the position.
“I want our Tulsa police chief to be able to talk to the people,” Jovan McNeil said at Thursday’s meeting.
It was the simplest expression of a common theme of the mayor’s meetings the last three nights: Tulsans want a police force they can trust and a leader who will make building that trust a top priority.
Bynum has pointed to that issue as one reason he thinks he’ll find the best person for the job among the seven internal candidates who have applied.
Chief Chuck Jordan has announced that he will retire effective Feb. 1.
In explaining his position again Thursday night at the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa, Bynum prefaced his remarks by reminding the approximately 150 people in the audience that he has not ruled out an external candidate.
“I’m just being honest that with the quality of the group of applicants it would surprise me if it went external,” he said. “Here’s why: Because I want somebody who is going to be an effective change agent, and I think that a person who has a prior understanding of the organization and has all the ready-built relationships and earned the respect of those they would be leading in that organization has a better chance for success.”
Several people urged Bynum to select an internal candidate, citing many of the same reasons he expressed. But there were speakers such as Ted Kachel, who urged the opposite.
“All I am saying is you would strengthen the hand of those seven (internal candidates) if you pick one if they were put up against the nation,” he said.
The internal candidates are Maj. Luther Breashears, Deputy Chief Jonathan Brooks, Deputy Chief Eric Dalgleish, Maj. Wendell Franklin, 911 Center Director Matthew Kirkland, Deputy Chief Dennis Larsen and Maj. Laurel Roberts.
Bynum has not set a deadline for when he will select the next chief. The town hall meetings this week are part of an extensive listening tour of sorts that he has undertaken to hear what Tulsans want from the next police chief and the Police Department itself.
What remains unclear is to what extent the public will be involved in the selection process going forward. Bynum on Thursday was again pressed by several speakers to allow the public to ask questions of the candidates in a public forum.
The mayor explained his opposition to the idea by saying he wants to respect the selection process and those candidates going through it “and not have it become a contest.”
One of the seven candidates potentially is going to be selected, the mayor added, “and I don’t feel like that is a position that is a responsible one for me to put them in for a job interview process.”
One of the nearly 30 speakers Thursday was retired Tulsa Police Sgt. Dave Walker.
Walker said he knows all the candidates and believes that the mayor can find the next police chief among them.
“The profession needs that,” he said.
The next chief, he added, must be a leader who can communicate and reach across the divide between the police and the community.
“I’ve seen it from the cops’ side, and I’ve seen it from the community side,” he said. “We’re not that far apart, but we’re not talking together.”