Pastors, ministers, doctors and reverends reprimanded Boynton Beach city officials Tuesday night for failing to disclose exactly how the final three candidates were selected for the open police chief position.
Now, they want the hiring process halted and an upcoming meet and greet with the final three potential chiefs canceled.
“The Heart of Boynton, that is the heartbeat,” one woman belted into a microphone. “When the heart stops beating, it’s dead.”
Former Police Chief Jeff Katz resigned abruptly last year to take another police chief position in Virginia. Contact 5 found during his tenure, crime in the city went up and the number of crimes solved went down.
Around that time, members of the Boynton Beach Coalition of Clergy say they asked to be a part of the hiring the new chief.
“There has been ongoing tension between the community and the police department, and wouldn’t you want to heal that tension?” Pastor Govan Davis told Contact 5 Investigator Merris Badcock. “I think the best way to have done that is to ensure that the people who live here, the people that work here have a voice in who is being selected.”
Clergy members say they were promised a seat at the table, so they were surprised to learn the city had narrowed down the candidates from 83 to 12 without any notice.
“How could you even begin a process or even identify who it is you want to be our police chief without hearing the voices of the people who live here?” Davis asked.
The news prompted clergy members to write an e-mail to City Manager Lori LaVerriere, the only person in the city who can formally hire a police chief. Contact 5 obtained a copy of the e-mail, which asked LaVerriere for information like the criteria used evaluate police chief candidates, the person responsible for eliminating them and a timeline for the hiring process.
In her reply, LaVerriere sent a timeline and confirmed a hired recruiter narrowed down the candidates to 12 people. She did not say what criteria the recruiter used to eliminate candidates.
Clergy members were stunned again when the city announced the final three candidates last month. Again, they say they were not consulted.
“In the city of Boynton Beach there have been problems,” said Pastor Tommy Brown. “Especially when it comes down to dealing with the police chief. Why are you ignoring us? Why is it that what we are saying doesn’t matter at all?”
After Tuesday’s city council meeting, Contact 5 sought out LaVerriere for a comment. She said she was surprised by the clergy coalition’s response.
“I’m confused somewhat, because I have had many conversations with the [clergy] President, Rev. Dames. We have talked on many occasions. In fact, I have recruited him and asked him to represent the clergy on the community panel.”
Three panels will interview the final candidates on Monday: a community panel, law enforcement panel and leadership panel. However, clergy members told Contact 5 they wanted to be included from the beginning, not at the end.
“Disrespected. Ignored. What has been done is just enough to pacify us,” said Brown.
Despite numerous request to halt the hiring process and cancel the upcoming meet and greet, LaVerriere said she plans to move forward.
“I don’t have any plans to do that this point. It would not be fair to the candidates that have arranged to come down,” she said.
Residents are invited to come meet the final three candidates on Monday, June 11 at Fire Station 5 in Boynton Beach from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
“We call it a meet and greet so people have the opportunity to come in and ask any questions of the candidate they would like,” said LaVerriere. “It is not a formal interview process.”