Covington mayor says he will consider internal candidates in search for police chief

Despite a contentious split with his former police chief in April, Covington Mayor Mike Cooper said this week that he isn’t ruling out internal candidates for the still-vacant post.

Cooper said he hopes to have a new police chief in place by Oct. 26 when interim Chief Jack West’s 90-day appointment ends. However, the Covington Fire and Police Civil Service Board on Monday will consider whether to appoint West for a second 90-day term in the event the position isn’t yet filled. Interim appointees can serve no more than two terms, Cooper said.

The board is accepting applications until Wednesday, and the chief’s test will be administered Aug. 13. After the results of the test are certified, they will be presented to Cooper for consideration. Cooper told the Covington City Council he intends to present his choice for the post by Oct. 15.

He insists the job is open to internal candidates, despite saying that the department “may need new guidance, new direction and new training policies.”

“I am very careful not to prejudge,” Cooper said. “I don’t want to preclude anybody from applying — there is no preconceived candidate.”

When Cooper fired former Chief Richard Palmisano in the spring after two officers were arrested for using excessive force, it was the last straw for the pair, who already had a “cool relationship,” he said.

Before taking office in July 2011, Cooper told Palmisano that he planned to “go in a different direction” in the police department, he said. But Palmisano refused to resign and an Attorney General’s opinion said the chief couldn’t be fired without cause.

Cooper put Palmisano on administrative leave in late 2011 after an allegation of excessive force by an officer came to light. After 11 weeks, Palmisano was reinstated, but further complaints of brutality continued until two officers were arrested in March of this year.

Palmisano initially filed an appeal, but withdrew it a month later.

Cooper now says he is ready to move the department forward.

Human Resources Director Cheryl Andrus and a committee of citizens will vet the applications before presenting a list of up to five finalists, but Cooper will have the final say.

“I will probably have some independent citizens to sit in on the interviews,” Cooper said. The interviews will not be public, but Cooper will make the names of the members of the committee public, he said.

“It’s not a formal committee,” he said. Cooper wants “people familiar with Covington,” but “they will not select a police chief.”

He has six or seven names “in mind,” but refused to say who they were.

Cooper also said that the new chief’s salary will likely be lower than Palmisano’s, which was about $79,000. That is more than the $75,000 a year that Cooper earns.

“No other department head is close to that,” he said. “The two captains in the police department are not close to that.”

The new chief could expect to make in the low-70’s to oversee the 50-employee, 36-officer department, he said.

Cooper also said he expects the City Council to confirm whatever name he puts before them.

“The police chief works for me,” he said. “I expect he will be confirmed.”