With an interim leader in place, the village of Sunbury's search for a new police chief will continue for at least a few more months and may involve another request for applicants.
Sunbury Village Council members appointed police Lt. Robert Howard as interim chief during their March 1 meeting, temporarily filling the position a day after former chief Pat Bennett's retirement took effect.
Village leadership had known for several months that Bennett would retire in February, interviewing applicants and narrowing the field of potential replacements to two contenders as early as October.
But by the time the village was ready to make a decision, both of the finalists had taken themselves out of consideration.
Village Administrator Allen Rothermel said the city set a $70,000 to $85,000 range for the new chief's pay, a "very big jump in salary" for Sunbury. The reality, however, was that the candidates could earn similar wages in less-demanding positions around central Ohio, he said.
"For some individuals that are officers or sergeants in municipal situations with special duty and overtime pay, they're making that kind of money already," he said. "So I think when push comes to shove and you're making a decision, I think for a lot of candidates, in general, there's a moment of, 'this position probably won't pay as much initially, but I'll be a chief,' and how does that mesh with family concerns and all of that?"
Rothermel said it's likely the position will be advertised again, and that a new strategy for soliciting applications may come together over the next few months.
The idea of increasing the salary range is on the table, but Rothermel doesn't see it as the only factor in play.
"I personally think our salary range is probably appropriate, but we'll have to make it a little more clear to candidates in the posting so there's no misunderstanding about what the position is," he said, noting that increased salaries come with a new set of challenges.
"If the expectations are too great, the person might think they could never achieve success," Rothermel said. "You have to make sure you have the right setting and the right atmosphere for a successful merger for a new chief in the community."
Rothermel said he and Village Council members feel comfortable with Howard at the helm in the short term. Howard was appointed to the vacant lieutenant position in February and has leadership experience in other municipalities.
Though there may be frustration with the process, residents shouldn't expect to see any changes in the quality of local policing, Rothermel said.
"We thought we gave ourselves plenty of time before Chief Bennett retired at the end of February, and here we are with no chief," he said with a laugh. "But the department is doing well and we've got positions in the hierarchy in place ... so I don't think there's going to be any lack in coverage or service levels."
No timetable has been set to choose a new full-time chief, but Rothermel said he expects the search to go into the summer. The position will be appointed by council.