It is likely that the next chief of police in our fair city will be someone from within the department. I would put my money on Acting Chief Randy Gaber or Capt. Mary Schauf, though there are other very good candidates.
If it's Gaber or Schauf or any of the others who are already here, Madison will be lucky to have them. These are excellent cops who get this city and understand how to police it. And that's saying a lot -- Madison is a tougher place than most to be a public official. But that's a good thing. We have very engaged citizens who are not shy about expressing their point of view, even to guys who are wearing badges and guns. Being around this environment for a while is a very important asset.
In addition, if a department is performing well, as the Madison Police Department is, then it is best to maintain continuity. When there's trouble, that's the time to look for someone from the outside.
All of that argues for the successful candidate being an internal one. But that doesn't mean that the Police and Fire Commission, which makes the hire, shouldn't do a national search. (They also shouldn't make the hire; I'll explain why later.)
It is likely that, like Noble Wray, the next chief will serve a decade or more. Moreover, because the chief is hired and fired by the PFC and has no term limit or set length of contract, it is very hard to dismiss a chief once he or she is in place.
Under these circumstances it just doesn't make any sense to limit the search to internal candidates, although that is exactly what this PFC did when Fire Chief Debra Amesqua retired a couple of years ago. Their choice, Steve Davis, is by all accounts doing fine. But why not give the community the chance to see who might have been interested in the job from outside the Madison department? What was to be lost?
There is an argument to be made that cross-fertilization of ideas between departments in different parts of the country is a good thing and that too much reinforcement of existing norms, even when they are good ones, isn't necessarily a positive. That's why most universities don't hire their own Ph.D.s as tenure-track professors. There's a lot to be said for bringing in new ideas and approaches.
Readers who have been around long enough to remember Wray's predecessor may be rolling their eyes right now. Chief Richard Williams came from Maryland, had no experience with Madison, and never really connected with the community or his own department. In fact, most people understood that Wray was essentially the acting chief during much of the time Williams was here.
But I can point to several other examples of outside candidates who are doing a great job in their city management positions. These include City Attorney Mike May (private legal practice), Metro director Chuck Kamp (Appleton) and Treasurer Dave Gawenda (Dane County).
Finally, let me make what is probably a hopeless case: Wisconsin should eliminate the entire Police and Fire Commission system. There's nothing wrong with those who serve on the commission, but the panel is a relic.
Police and fire commissions go back to early-20th-century reformers who wanted to insulate these vital functions from the local politics of the time, which tended toward corruption. But the days of New York's Boss Tweed are long gone, and outside of Milwaukee, there never was much municipal corruption in Wisconsin in the first place.
It makes no sense to remove direct control of the police and fire departments, which together make up about 40% of the city budget, from the mayor and Common Council.
Because only the PFC can hire and fire a police or fire chief, it gives these positions much more leverage than the city attorney or the parks superintendent or the streets superintendent or any other department head. That tends to play out at budget time, when chiefs often run their own public relations campaign to get what they want. By eliminating the PFC middleman, elected representatives of the people would have more control over the public tax dollars that flow to these agencies. It would be more democratic, and it might result in a better allocation of resources among city agencies.
Despite the flawed PFC system, I had a good relationship with Noble Wray. I liked him both as a human being and as a chief. I felt that he was often unfairly criticized over the tragic officer-involved shooting of Paul Heenan. In fact, much of his legacy will be about how he restored confidence in the department after the Richard Williams years. He deserves our thanks for his service and our best wishes for his future.
And Madison deserves the broadest, most talented pool of candidates to replace him. The internal candidates are a great start, but we shouldn't stop there.
Dave Cieslewicz is the former mayor of Madison. He blogs as Citizen Dave.