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HILLSVILLE — As town council seeks to fill the vacant Hillsville police chief position, members split Monday on whether getting hiring advice from a board of law enforcement leaders from other localities would make the process go more smoothly.
Town officials continue to advertise for both a new town manager and a police chief, but Vice Mayor Ed Terry focused his comments on filling the vacancy in the police department.
He expects the new hire will have some complexity, with the town needing to comply with Virginia code and legal precedents. “My concern is our ability to properly handle that,” he said.
Terry had recently learned that localities seeking a new chief can convene an advisory board of experienced law enforcement officials from around the state to provide oversight, and he made a motion to take advantage of that service.
“They’re usually not from this area,” Terry said in response to a question from Council Member David Young. “So they would not have any vested interest.”
“Then what would their input be?” Young asked.
“They vet the group of applicants to make sure we have complied with all the codes and statutes to hire the best applicant,” Terry said.
Council Member Greg Yonce seconded the motion.
Young didn’t think the town officials needed input from outside people. Town officials can do the job.
Terry believes the town will wind up with the best candidate either way, but wanted to see the extra level of legal protection that the advisory board could provide.
With this committee town officials could say, if the need arose, that they took the proper steps to hire the right candidate.
Young has never heard of this being done for a police chief before.
It’s been 10 years since Hillsville had to hire a police chief, and no one sitting on town council now has ever hired a leader for the police department, Yonce noted.
“What we’re basically looking at here is a panel to go through the resumes based on their knowledge, their experience, what requirements there are for that position and pull out the best applicants that are there.”
Ultimately, the town council doesn’t have to follow the panel’s recommendation, but Yonce said the service is available and he felt the town should take advantage of it.
Would there be an additional cost? Young asked.
Any cost would probably be less than getting into a legal battle, Terry said.
Mayor Greg Crowder gave permission for Dawn Groseclose, who works for the Virginia Employment Commission, to speak from the audience.
Labor laws, Equal Opportunity laws and hiring preference for military veterans are all things the town will have to consider in making a decision on a new chief, she said.
“There are lots of rules,” she said. “The county uses a board, everyone else uses a board. The state has been using a board for years and the Virginia Employment Commission uses a board because we were sued for not following proper protocol.”
Terry described using a “disinterested third party expert” advisory board as “very standard and ordinary,” he learned from talking to a local law enforcement official who served on a panel in Louisa County.
“I think we’d be foolish not to have that,” he said.
Young wanted to defer a decision, but Terry called for a vote.
Terry and Yonce voted for the motion, and Young, Walls and Crowder voted against.
After a voice vote, the members went back and had a roll call, as required when the council splits on a decision.
“I feel like we was elected by the people in this county to make these decisions,” Crowder said.
Council can get more information, he said, adding that the topic had blindsided him on Monday.