In a post last week, I discussed the choice of a new chief of police in Pittsburgh. Nathan Harper, the Chief of the Bureau for seven years, had been forced to resign by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl amidst an ongoing FBI investigation into police department finances. (Mr. Harper has not been charged; the investigation continues.) Then, just days later, the Mayor announced that he would not run for re-election in November. With all of this happening, I was among a group of people who testified before the City Council last week on the selection of the new chief. There was broad agreement on a central point: outgoing Mayor Ravenstahl should not appoint a new chief. Instead, an acting chief should serve until the next may makes the permanent appointment. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported:
Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said Monday that he would not appoint a permanent chief to the embattled police bureau during his remaining 10 months in office and instead will leave the choice to his successor. ”It wouldn’t be fair in my mind to the next mayor to not have him or her have the chance to choose their chief, especially given all the recent activity around the bureau,” he said.
According to a story on WESA FM, Pittsburgh public radio, Ravenstahl said he would not appoint the next chief because with ten months left in his term, the decision would be “extremely rushed” and therefore should be left to his successor.
Whatever the reason, I think this is a good decision. I can’t conceive that we would be able to attract top-quality candidates for the post knowing that the administration will change in the next year. Who would take the job under those circumstances? One reader suggested appointing a new chief as soon as possible, and writing a contract that would essentially guarantee the new chief a term that would extend into the new mayor’s term even if the mayor didn’t like it. But that won’t work. The chief (as I imagine is true in most places) serves at the pleasure of the mayor as a matter of law. No contract can change this.
Thus the naming of the new chief will have to wait for the outcome of the mayoral election. In the meantime, the federal investigation continues, and more revelations appear in the press by the day. The only thing for sure is that the next chief is likely to start with a mandate for clean up and change.