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PHILOSOPHICAL MUSINGS: City needs to be thorough, open in police chief search

Last week’s resignation of former Bellefontaine Police Chief Brad Kunze has been a troubling experience for our community, to say the least.

Yes, there was an investigation. Yes, Mr. Kunze did resign to avoid a public display. And yes, the city still needs to produce documents relating to the investigation.

But whatever your opinion of Mr. Kunze — I have mixed feelings on the matter — he is no longer in office.

He may fade into the shadows.

Like many other public employees, you see them a couple of years later — usually in the aisles of a supermarket or some other public place — looking a lot less run down and stressed out about being alive after leaving their jobs in the public sector.

Or he could resurface.

Like other people of influence, Mr. Kunze could find a niche in some other public position or eventually run for office. He certainly has the political skills to make a politician if the events surrounding his departure from the police department have not entirely damaged his reputation.

In any case, that is a choice for Mr. Kunze.

The job of city officials and the main concern for the citizens of Bellefontaine at this time now needs to turn to the future of our city police force.

While the Civil Service Commission has set a 4 p.m. Thursday, May 26, meeting to discuss this issue, the three-member body needs to think about the whole picture when deciding how to proceed. The three members of the commission are Art Harper, Jack Ritter and Alan Hale.

There are several methods already in place to name a new chief — specifically the commission can decide to promote from within, relying exclusively on as little as the results of a written Civil Service test to select the new chief.

While it is certainly one way to measure merit, I don’t believe a test alone measures the qualities of a true leader.

Given the nature of his character — very studious and by the books — I would imagine Mr. Kunze scored very highly on the exam at the time he was promoted to chief. What the test failed to assess, however, is that Mr. Kunze is not exactly a “people person.”

It was this very aspect of his personality, along with his uncooperative attitude in dealing with other local law enforcement agencies, that led to the recent events.

On the other hand, the commission and city administration could advertise the position both locally and nationally and accept applications from both within and outside the department to select a candidate.

Probably the most glaring problem with this procedure — other than the higher cost and time involved — is the possibility that the process could be tainted by political favoritism. I can already see the troubles down the road for a chief appointed by Democratic Mayor Adam Brannon’s administration when, eventually, the Republican power base in Logan County wins another term in the Mayor’s Office.

Also, take into consideration that a tight brotherhood of local police officers may not like an outsider being brought in to lead them. That, of course, would lead to internal conflict and likely result in an overall decline in the community’s perception of public safety.

What this process does allow is for a group of human beings to assess whether the candidate has the necessary qualities to lead and inspire confidence in the department as a whole.

Possibly some method could be used that incorporates both the test, which can include a personal interview component as well as an administrative review, along with an open discussion of the top-scoring finalists.

Whatever decision the commission makes, however, should be well-thought out and thoroughly discussed.

And any course of action they choose to take should not be rushed.

For the time being, the department is in the hands of Lt. Ron Birt, a capable officer who already has built the respect of the team of officers behind him. Our city police officers are top notch professionals who already know how to do the job they were hired to do.

Now, we as a community must move on from the past and prepare for the future.

The only way to do that is with thoughtful and open discussions and decision-making processes that involve not only a small commission of appointed residents and top city administrators, but the community as a whole.

Reuben Mees is an Examiner staff writer and Bellefontaine native. He won a 2007 Associated Press continuing coverage award for his stories on a controversial police chief change at a former job in Hattiesburg, Miss. He can be reached by e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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