Sarasota police chief candidates list pared to 19

Sarasota Police Chief Mikel Hollaway will retire in October. Photo courtesy City of Sarasota

Sarasota Interim City Manager Terry Lewis is fighting the clock to pare down the list of 98 applicants to be the next city police chief. He wants to narrow the list to 10 to 15 for incoming City Manager Tom Barwin by early September.

So far he’s whittled the list down to 21 semi-finalists. He and three other people – current Chief Mikel Hollaway, City of Sarasota Human Relations Director Kurt Hoverter and Jim Sewell, former assistant commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement  – will try to pare it down to the finalists by next week.

The four are spending a lot of time and energy on the search. Lewis is a former chief deputy in Sarasota County and former North Port police chief. As such, he’s capable of going “cop-to-cop” on the phone with the applicants, or those who might know something about the applicants.

“When it gets down to the last five or so, I’m going to recommend we spend the money and put somebody on a plane to go and knock on some doors,” said Lewis. “We don’t want to wake up and read any surprises.”

Keep in mind that Barwin is the sole arbiter of this decision. He could appoint his brother, his butler or his plumber.

The ‘locals’

One current and one former captain at the Sarasota Police Department are still on the list. Capt. Paul Sutton, the current No. 2 at the department, and retired Capt. Thomas “Stan” Duncan made the cut.

Maj. Mark Teunis of Clearwater also is in the running. He and Lewis were finalists in last year’s competition to find a new chief for Venice. And the retired assistant chief in West Palm Beach – Dennis Crispo – is on the list of finalists.

The day after Crispo retired, the chief resigned after making rude comments about the mayor. While interested in being West Palm’s chief, Crispo also told the Palm Beach Post last year, “I’ve been applying for different chief positions [for] the past couple of years.”

Frank Fernandez is another Florida cop on Lewis’ list, but he can be crossed off. On Aug. 13, the former Miami deputy chief was hired to become Hollywood, Fla.,’s assistant city manager of public safety, overseeing the police and fire departments.

That puts the Sarasota list at 20 names.

The list includes Dennis Fowler, Pinellas County’s chief deputy, who retired in 2008 after 29 years of service in the department. Fowler achieved some notoriety in 2005 for declaring any deputy caught cheating on their spouse would be suspended.

The list also includes Maj. Gary Robinson of Port St. Lucie, who filed a civil rights lawsuit on June 1 against the city in Florida Federal Southern District Court.

The last Florida law enforcement officer on Lewis’ list is a Tampa Police Department major figuratively cursed with the name of Salvatore Ruggiero. A very different Salvatore Ruggiero has a large Wikipedia page describing his life as one of the largest heroin dealers in New York City. That Ruggiero secretly owned a hideout in Fort Lauderdale and died on the way there in a mysterious Lear jet crash in 1982.

Tampa PD Maj. Salvatore Ruggiero is up to his eyeballs in preparing for next week’s Republican National Convention as the liaison with local law enforcement executives. Otherwise, he is a division commander with 270 sworn officers protecting south and west Tampa. He was a patrol officer for 15 years who made corporal in 2002, lieutenant in 2004 and captain in 2007.

The women

Three women applied for the job, and all remain on the list of semi-finalists. While they represented 3% of all the applicants, they represent 15 % of the latest list. Each in her own way has moved to the top.

Colleen Conygham is a supervisory special agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Washington, D.C. She heads up a security operations unit of 246 sworn federal officers, and she is a 26-year veteran of the bureau.

Tonya Vincent is deputy chief in Richmond, Va., running the administrative division. She previously served as acting deputy chief of the Arlington County, Va., Police Department, joining the force in 1989. She has two master’s degrees and is working on a doctorate in public administration.

Bernadette DePino already wears the chief’s badge in Ocean City, Md. (note – not Ocean City, N.J.). She is a fourth-generation police officer who rose through the ranks to become chief in 2003. A SWAT commander for four years, she is the recipient of 16 commendations. She also has been named “Officer of the Year” three times.

The ‘elsewheres’

Looking at the remainder in alphabetical order, we start with Gregory Anderson, the chief of police in Oak Forest, Ill. While the city is a suburb of Chicago, it is not the same suburb as the one that has been home to Sarasota’s incoming city manager. Anderson was previously the chief of Campton Hills, Ill. He spent 27 years on the Aurora, Ill., Police Department, rising to deputy chief.

John King has had a varied career, spending most of his time in and around the Washington, D.C., area. He worked with the Silver Spring, Baltimore and Rockville Police Departments before settling in at the Montgomery County, Md., Police Department and rising to the level of assistant chief. He is now the director of education and training for the Baltimore Police Department.

After starting as a corrections officer, George Markert joined the City of Rochester, N.Y., Police Department in 1985 and rose to the office of executive deputy chief. He is working as the director of public integrity for the city, on leave from the department, to oversee procurement and auditing standards.

Michael Rock has spent his entire 31-year career with the City of Glendale, Calif., Police Department. He is a captain commanding the Investigative Services Division. The department is the third largest in Los Angeles County.

Capt. Jeffrey Rosier Sr. worked with the Baltimore County, Md., Police Department for 30 years. His last position was commander of the Human Resources Department.

Jerry Speziale is deputy superintendent of police for the New York and New Jersey Port Authority, with 1,700 sworn officers. Previously, he was sheriff of Passaic County, N.J., with 850 officers under his command. He worked for 14 years for the New York City Police Department, ending as a detective lieutenant.

One of Ronald Teachman’s references is the president of Tajikistan, James Krejci. Teachman is in that country, leading a police reform project, after 34 years at the New Bedford, Mass., Police Department. He was chief of police for his last five years there. Why does he want the job? “I desire a new challenge and want to relocate to Sarasota,” he wrote on his application.

Mark Whitman was drafted out of a Palm Beach County Sheriff’s cruiser into the military police in 1972. After discharge, he returned with an eye towards promotion. By the time he was 31, he was police chief of Hornell, N.Y., where he remained until 1996. Then he became police commissioner of Troy, N.Y. In 2003, he became police commissioner of York, Penn., a position he held until 2010.

One obvious loser escaped the first round of cuts by the selection committee. Milwaukee Assistant Police Chief Daryl Winston was put on suspension last December while an internal investigation was conducted. Winston quit before the investigation was finished. Lewis said Winston is no longer on the short list for Sarasota. That makes the list number 19.

Gary Yandura rounds out the roster. He served in the Lake Forest, Ill., Police Department for 24 years before taking the job as police chief of College Park, Ga., in  1999. The city is a suburb of Atlanta. In 2010, he took the position of police chief of Hiram, Ga., about 10 miles northwest of Atlanta. His toughest challenge? Implementing new technology. “Law enforcement is generally known as operating with 100 years of tradition unhampered by progress,” he wrote on his application.

The scuttlebutt

A collision of events drives the search. Current Chief Mikel Hollaway has long planned to retire in October. Former City Manager Bob Bartolotta resigned in January, just as Lewis was stepping away from a successful run as the interim county manager for Sarasota (after the resignation of Jim Ley).

Interim Sarasota City Manager Terry Lewis (left) listens to City Commission discussion with Deputy City Manager Marlon Brown. Photo by Norman Schimmel

The City Commission quickly asked Lewis to run the city during a search for Bartolota’s replacement. That’s finished, with the selection of Tom Barwin.

But while Lewis will help narrow the list of finalists for chief, he will not make – or live with – the final decision. That’s Barwin’s job.

Lewis is not only on the phone with the candidates, he’s talking to the men and women in the Sarasota Police Department, too, many of whom he knows personally from his time across the street at the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office. The “cop-to-cop” talk is working both ways, from the top down and the bottom up.

At the end of this month or in early September, Lewis and Barwin will sit down together. There’ll be one final “cop-to-cop” talk. (Barwin also had a stint in law enforcement.) A figurative baton will pass, and Barwin will accept responsibility for the final decision.

The Sarasota police chief’s job pays between $87,000 and $146,000, and it offers a magnificent office on the top floor of the new city Police Department building overlooking Payne Park. The office comes with a private bathroom and shower. And it goes without saying, the chief gets the best cruiser in the fleet.