Local Features
11:09 pm
Thu March 12, 2009

NAACP Questions Top Cop Search

Paducah, KY – When Chuck Baker of Commerce City, Colorado accepted then subsequently turned down the job of Paducah police chief, some community members questioned why Curtis Brame of North Chicago (pictured) wasn't offered the position. Jacque Day has more.

This week, the stalled search for Paducah's new top cop caused a stir in the city commission meeting.

The dilemma bubbled to the surface when first choice hire Chuck Baker of Commerce City Colorado declined the job. This left the commission with four other candidates, all who'd been interviewed, vetted and ranked in a closed-session commission meeting. Paducah city manager Jim Zumwalt acknowledges that Curtis Brame of North Chicago fell next in the ranking exercise that resulted from the meeting.

Zumwalt: "And therefore if you took a weighted listing on that exercise that was made for the purpose of aiding their discussion, he was second out of the group."

However, Zumwalt clarifies.

Zumwalt: "There was no discussion of, That's our fallback candidate. I think if you ask each of the commissioners, was Curtis Brame unquestionably your second choice, you would not find that you have five city commissioners who would answer in the affirmative to that question."

It's a matter of public record that not all of the city commissioners preferred Chuck Baker at the outset. The commission had to work to come to a consensus on Baker, says Commissioner Gayle Kaler.

Kaler: "We were not united on Mr. Baker initially until we had about 30 minutes of discussion, and then we all came to the consensus that we would ask him to be police chief. All of us had a different candidate picked out for first choice."

When Baker fell off the list, they couldn't agree on a choice from the remaining pool. Here is Commissioner Richard Abraham.

Abraham: "I would like to stay with the five that we have."

But the commission ultimately decided to expand the search to include yet another fifth candidate, James Berry of Connecticut.

This move has left some scratching their heads, including local NAACP president Rosa Scott, who spoke to the commission directly.

Scott: "Mayor and commissioners, the policy and procedures have been established. Why are we not following what you have already established? The Number Two individual on the current list is an African American. Why has he not been offered the position?"

Community member Dhomynic Lightfoot also addressed the commission, voicing his concerns about what he perceives to be an abrupt shift in the process.

Lightfoot: "I don't care if he's black-white-indigo-green. I want the rules to be followed. I want to understand what's going on."

Scott says, her concerns revolve primarily around a lack of clarity in the procedure.

Scott: "I'm lost on this whole process because you had a consultant to go out, find you the best finalists that they could, and then came up with the five finalists, the best that they could find..."

The City of Paducah contracted Slavin Management Consultants to coordinate the nationwide search for the next police chief.

Scott: "You wan to do what's fair. You want to hire the right person. Well, to my knowledge, that's why you hired, with our taxpaying money, a consultant to bring you the best candidates."

After this week's commission meeting, Mayor Bill Paxton spoke to WPSD-TV and stood firm on the commission's decision to expand the search.

Paxton: "We're all working hard. And we're not interested in the color of their skin. We're not interested in anything other than their qualifications. And we're going to continue to do that to the best of our ability, and if people don't understand, then I'm sorry."

City manager Jim Zumwalt says they'll take the time they need to fill the job with the person who's "talented and right for Paducah," and who the commission agrees is the best choice. Scott says she'll continue to attend commission meetings and voice the concerns of the NAACP.

WKMS community correspondent Nevada Kennedy also contributed to this report.