OGDEN — The Ogden City Council approved the appointment of Eric Young as chief of police Tuesday night.
And while the new chief was widely praised by city officials and citizens alike, some residents and council members expressed concern with the city’s process in appointing the position.
The council voted 7-0 to approve Young’s appointment, but the action was preceded by a lengthy discussion. Council members Ben Nadolski, Luis Lopez, Marcia White and Angela Choberka, along with a group of Ogden residents who made public comments at Tuesday’s meeting, lamented the city’s appointment process, saying it lacks transparency and community involvement.
Ogden resident Adrienne Andrews said she was disappointed the city administration did not involve its Diversity Commission more in the decision. Andrews is a member of the commission, which seeks to give a municipal voice to underrepresented groups in Ogden, and she’s also Weber State University’s chief diversity officer.
“It feels a little bit like we’ve been disregarded in the process,” she said. “Even though I’m very excited for Chief Young to begin his work.”
Ogden resident David Timmerman called for the city to form a committee to assist police and reach out to the community on matters like selecting the chief.
“My objection is with the process,” Timmerman said. “Why is there no community involvement in this process? Would it be possible to make Chief Young the interim chief until we have time to obtain some additional public input or participation?”
Ogden’s process for appointing department heads, like chief of police, is fairly standard and similar to other cities with a mayor-council form of government. Public involvement is essentially built into the process.
In a method that has been in place for decades, the mayor’s office, acting as the city’s administrative arm, makes the appointments, then the council, acting as the legislative body, votes on whether or not to approve it. After the initial appointment, the council discusses the selection in a closed session. Citizens can speak up on selections during regularly held council meetings and they can also contact council members directly before the appointment is finalized.
But for the aforementioned council members and Ogden residents, the process isn’t transparent enough.
The council members did not offer specifics about how they would change the process, but Nadolski made a motion, seconded by Lopez, that directed council staff to “draft an ordinance for council consideration that outlines a process for considering advice and consent of department directors” and to “research additional recommendations to further improve the transparency” of the process and to look for opportunities for additional community engagement.
Council Executive Director Janene Eller-Smith said state law and city code do not outline a specific process for appointing a police chief, but noted that the council could “set any process it wants to on its side.” Eller-Smith said council staff would begin working on the ordinance directive from Nadolski.
But Ogden City Attorney Gary Williams was clear in saying whatever the council comes up with, it would have no bearing on the administration’s process for appointments.
“I would just mention that we do have a council-mayor form of government,” he said. “Which means there’s a separation of powers and a difference between administrative powers and legislative powers. The statute gives the mayor the appointment power ... and the council the advice and consent powers. You are in clear waters when you focus on your own powers and what you’re going to do in the advice and consent portion, as opposed to getting too involved in the mayor’s powers of appointment.”
Mayor Mike Caldwell has often noted the importance of trusting members of his administrative team and in delegating responsibility to them. He said appointing department heads is a task he takes seriously.
“As mayor of Ogden ... (it’s) one of the most important responsibilities I’ve accepted,” he said.
Caldwell said Young was selected after much thought, considering many factors like education, experience, communication skills and extensive knowledge of police policy, procedures and training, especially as they relate to Ogden City.
Young is a 50-plus year resident of Weber County and has been employed with OPD since spring 1993. A graduate of Weber State University (he later earned a master’s degree in management from Western Governors University), Young started his career with the police department as a patrol officer, steadily moving up the ranks and becoming deputy police chief in 2012. He’s received numerous awards during his tenure and has served on several community service-oriented boards. Caldwell said he was also integral in established the city’s acclaimed Safe Neighborhoods program and its Area Tactical Analysis Center.
“A national job search may have yielded another candidate with training and years of service similar to Chief Young,” Caldwell said. “But nowhere could we have found a candidate with all those qualifications who also possessed Chief Young’s knowledge and understanding of OPD and Ogden.”
The council members who voiced concerns about the city’s appointment process all spoke highly of Young, as did most of the citizens who commented during the council meeting. Council member Rich Hyer also praised Young extensively, but offered a viewpoint that countered much of the discussion that took place Tuesday.
“I’m a little sad tonight that we couldn’t separate the two issues a little bit and keep the little rain cloud that’s been over this thing tonight for another time,” Hyer said. “And I’m going to stick up for the mayor a little bit. I think he inherited this process. It hasn’t changed as long as I have known, since I’ve been on the council and even before. To assume that he should have automatically known that a bunch of people wanted this process to be changed, when he had a candidate like Eric Young ... I think that’s a little bit of a stretch.”
For his part, Young has expressed a desire to listen to and engage with the community.
“I want everyone to know I listened very carefully,” he said Tuesday. “I just want them to know ... I’m here to be their chief.”