City manager mulling options on search for new Aspen police chief
December 6, 2007
ASPEN ” City Manager Steve Barwick will decide this month on whether he will conduct a national search for a new Aspen police chief or hire internally, he said Wednesday.
Acting police chief Richard Pryor, 44, said he’s interested in the position. Pryor has been at the helm since former police chief Loren Ryerson was put on leave in October while he was investigated amid sexual harassment allegations. Ryerson resigned Nov. 9.
Barwick has had several discussions about the job with Pryor, as well as City Council members and Aspen Police Department employees. He declined to discuss details of those conversations.
City Councilman Steve Skadron said he wants a police chief who understands Aspen and its people.
“My preference would be to find someone who is in touch with the community’s values,” he said. “And with past appointments, finding someone who shares that value system isn’t always that easy.”
Asked whether that person is Pryor, Skadron said he hopes so.
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“I think that if Richard meets all the qualifications, he would be my first choice,” he said.
Because Aspen has a city manager form of government, the hiring process rests solely with Barwick, although he is seeking input from all residents. He said he welcomes community members to call him at City Hall (920-5199), or send him an e-mail at email@example.com to offer their opinions on a new police chief.
During Barwick’s tenure, there has been one outside hire for police chief and that was Joe Cortez. He lasted about a year and a half before moving back to Southern California to work in a police department along the coast.
No other potential candidates have approached Barwick about the open position, he said, adding that several headhunters have offered their services to him.
The downside of conducting a national search is that it takes a lot of time ” up to four months of recruiting and then time for the person to transition into the position and the community, Barwick said.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean a national search won’t happen.
“It may happen,” Barwick said, adding he would like to make a decision within a week or so.
Pryor said he remains patient and is focusing on the tasks at hand. Three new officers are expected to graduate from the police academy on Dec. 14 and will be on duty before Christmas. Two more employees will head to the academy in January.
Pryor is in the unusual position of interim chief with both the assistant chief positions open. He has hired seven new officers this year and is trying to enlist more.
Pryor has worked for the city since May 1994, when he was hired as a community safety officer. He was a patrol officer until August 1999, when he was promoted to sergeant. In March 2001, he moved up to assistant chief.
City Councilman Jack Johnson said it’s important for the police chief to understand the community.
“It would be someone who understands the nature of a resort and a community, and understands there may be conflicts between those two different aspects of our community,” Johnson said. “It would be someone who understands the history of our police force and our community-oriented policing goals.
“The most controversial things we’ve had to deal with since I’ve been here have been police things,” he added. “We need someone nimble in thinking and makes decisions not based on flap but on the best decision.”
Johnson said it’s the city’s goal to hire from within, particularly because the government wouldn’t have to provide housing to a new resident.
Pryor lives in Missouri Heights with his wife, Pip, daughter, Harriet, 9, and son, William, 7.