A little background and a lot of talk about the search for a new Tullahoma police chief dominated the discussion at Alderman Daniel Berry’s inaugural town hall meeting Tuesday.
Half a dozen concerned citizens gathered with Berry inside D.W. Wilson Community Center Sept. 3, to hear what he had to say about his current assignments as an elected official, as well to ask about the city’s next major hire.
While running for alderman, Berry pledged to host bi-weekly town hall style meetings to keep connected with the community and hear its concerns.
“I was encouraged by the people who showed up,” he said after the meeting. “I would love to see more people in the future. We’re just getting started.”
Berry said he felt the meetings were important for his constituents.
“The only way that we can affect change is by people coming together and sitting around and having the types of conversations we had this evening,” he said.
Berry began the meeting by explaining his duties as an alderman and going over which boards and commissions he will sit on as an aldermanic liaison or member.
Berry will serve as a city board liaison on the Downtown Council and the Coffee County Industrial Development Board. He is also a member of the Coffee County Consolidated Communications Commission, he told the group.
Berry then described his top-priority “Tullahoma Strong’ community-building philosophy, in which people invest more attention in their neighbors.
“It doesn’t matter what’s going on at the national level,” he said. “Every single day we can wake up in the morning and change and have an impact on people’s lives.”
According to Berry, “Tullahoma Strong” could take many forms, including expanding the mural program started by Kristin Luna and Scott van Velsor into “all the different areas of town.”
One way that expansion might take form was to form a coalition from which students or parents submit ideas for a mural to be painted somewhere in their parts of town, creating a vested sense of pride in their neighborhoods.
“You’re proud of where you came from,” he said.
Police chief search
The bulk of discussion revolved around the city’s ongoing search for a police chief.
City officials have announced the decision will be made at the regular meeting of the Tullahoma Board of Mayor and Alderman tomorrow night, but Berry shed some light on the selection process, from which Acting Chief Phil Henderson has been removed from consideration.
Berry said he understood the emotional reaction from the community over Henderson’s elimination.
“It’s emotional for the people involved, and it’s emotional for the team,” he said. “It’s been narrowed down to three people. One of those is not the hometown [person], Phil Henderson.”
In his own organization, Berry said, he views hiring from outside as a failure.
“I believe … any time that you need to go outside, you have failed those who work for you,” he said.
According to Berry, the city’s failure isn’t isolated to the police department.
“When you start talking to different departments within our city government, there’s no real job or professional development,” he said. “So there’s a trend.”
Berry added that the lack of professional development is “sad,” because it presents a negative work environment for current employees.
“It lets you guys down,” Berry said to a TPD officer in the room. “If I’m sitting in that position, I’m thinking, ‘There’s no career growth upwards. There’s no path forward. What am I doing here?’”
However, Berry added, City Administrator Jennifer Moody has “recognized that there has been a failure in leadership and accountability” in the city and is working to address those issues.
According to Berry, though this is Moody’s first big hire in Tullahoma, this is not the first time she’s been involved in the hiring process for a chief of police.
Berry said Moody has previously been involved with four other police chief hires in her previous employment.
Because of that experience, Moody set up a detailed process in searching for the newest police chief, Berry said.
“Step one was to develop that job description,” Berry said. Moody worked with Human Resources Director Casta Brice prior to the posting of the position to edit and update the job description, he said.
The next step was to solicit resumes from qualified applicants.
Of the 73 applications the city received for the position, 32 did not meet the basic requirements outlined in the job description, which left only 41 “qualified” applicants for the position.
Henderson was the only internal applicant, according to city officials.
After reviewing the applications, Moody then narrowed the field down from 41 to five. These five finalists were invited to take part in an assessment center set up by the Municipal Technical Advisory Service (MTAS), a resource designed to give cities advice and assistance in various city affairs.
While five applicants were invited to the assessment center, Berry said, only four actually took part in that process. The fifth candidate withdrew his application, according to city officials.
Those four candidates were Henderson, Chief Deputy Jason Williams of the Bedford County Sheriff’s Office, Lt. Michael “Eric” Anderson of Franklin Police Department and Abingdon, Virginia, Police Chief Phillip Sullivan.
According to Berry, all four candidates took part in a mock press conference scenario and a panel interview as part of the assessment center. The candidates were also tested on “inbox exercises,” which determine a candidate’s ability to prioritize, he said.
“That’s a really important part of any manager’s job, is being able to prioritize,” he said.
The moderating panel of the assessment center then narrowed down the field to three, eliminating Henderson. This process was objective, Berry said, as the top three candidates scored “significantly higher” than the others.
“There’s data to back that up,” he said.
The next step was to have a final interview with Moody and a community panel made up of individuals who would be working closely with the police chief, Berry said.
That panel consisted of Coffee County Sheriff Chad Partin, Frank Glass with the airport, Tullahoma Fire Chief Richard Shasteen, Tullahoma Area Economic Development Corporation board member Beverly Lee and Brice, Berry added.
All three candidates “accepted” a hypothetical job offer from the city and are prepared to take the job if selected, Berry said, though he did not know who Moody had selected as her recommended candidate.
The new police chief will be decided at the city board meeting tomorrow night at 5:30 in the board chambers room at city hall, 201 W. Grundy St.
Two attendees who found the meeting informative and comforting were Charlie West, a former colleague of Henderson’s and TPD Officer Tyler Medley.
Both men said they appreciated Berry taking the time to explain the hiring process to them, saying it helped give them more information about it.
“I understand the process,” West said, “and I was surprised they were so thorough with the things that they did for a small town police chief’s position.”
Medley said the police chief discussion was his primary reason for attending, and he was glad to learn about the multiple steps in the hiring process.
“I didn’t inquire as much about it,” he said. “I thought there was just interviews. I didn’t know there was all this assessment.”
West said he knew Henderson “well” and “worked with him for many years,” so he was hoping Henderson would “have a shot” at becoming police chief, but he trusted MTAS and the decision so far.
“I can’t argue with the process whatsoever,” he said. “I would trust [MTAS’s] opinion if I were still up there.”
Medley added he thought meetings like this were good for the community, as they demonstrate to the residents their elected officials are “trying to help us out and build us up from where we came from.”
“That’s going to be my boss,” he said. “I want to know who my boss is going to be.”
The next town hall is scheduled to take place in two weeks at C.D. Stamps Community Center, according to Berry, though he does not yet have a date secured.
For more information on the town halls, visit “Daniel Berry – Tullahoma City Alderman” on Facebook.
Erin McCullough may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.