Having failed to land its preferred candidate, the Kemah City Council has suspended its search for a full-time police chief.
Interim Police Administrator Chris Reed will stay on, for the foreseeable future.
The council met in executive session Wednesday evening before announcing its decision to retain Reed, who has overseen the police department since late October.
He came aboard after Greg Rikard, a 17-year department veteran who spent the past five years as Kemah’s top cop, retired.
An extensive search to replace Rikard attracted 75 candidates, a slate eventually winnowed to four finalists: the Kemah Police Department’s two lieutenant officers, James Heard and Carl Nunn; League City-based DEA Agent Michael Sanders, who is nearing that agency’s mandatory retirement age; and Freeport Police Chief Daniel Pennington.
“The gentleman we selected ended up turning us down,” Mayor Carl Joiner said, without identifying the council’s choice. “All four of the finalists were very qualified, but he really hit out of the park. He was our unanimous choice.”
The council subsequently declined to offer the position to any of the other finalists, feeling that doing so would be perceived as a slight, Joiner said.
“If we then went with a second choice, they would know they were our second choice, and we didn’t want a new chief to start out that way,” he said.
Pennington, who was the council’s top choice, two city officials acknowledged, became Freeport’s top cop in June 2013 after having served with the Pasadena Police Department for 25 years, during which he rose to the rank of lieutenant.
Pasadena city officials in August 2011 suspended him the day before he was to testify at an appeal hearing for a fired officer. The city’s reasons for the suspension were never made clear.
An independent arbiter in November 2012, however, determined the suspension was uncalled for, and the following month the Pasadena City Council reinstated Pennington and awarded him 16 months of back pay.
Pennington immediately resigned and joined the Freeport Police Department.
There is no timetable for resuming Kemah’s search for a permanent chief.
Reed, a former city administrator and veteran police officer, began his career in the U.S. Army, where he served as a military policeman and paratrooper.
He joined the League City Police Department in 1991 as a patrol officer. Two years later, he was shot while on duty and awarded the Law Enforcement Purple Heart.
Reed steadily rose through the ranks, becoming assistant police chief before leaving the department in 2006 and being named League City’s city administrator, a post he held until 2009.
He runs a management consultancy while serving as Nassau Bay’s city manager, a post he has held since 2009, in addition to his role as Kemah’s interim police chief.
He was praised Wednesday for his performance in the latter capacity.
“You’ve just done such a wonderful job in the time you’ve been here,” Kemah’s newly installed Mayor Pro-Tem Wanda Zimmer said.
Reed in February pushed the council to approve an across-the-board 5 percent pay raise for Kemah’s 20 police officers, including its three sergeants and the two lieutenants who were in the running for the top spot.
“Retention has been one of my chief focuses,” Reed said. “We have such a good group of folks, and I want them to stick around.”
For now, Reed, too, will stick around after agreeing to extend his $6,000 a month contract.
“We’re in really good hands with Chris,” Joiner said. “Morale in the department is really high.”
Joiner did not rule out attempting to bring Reed aboard full time, but the interim chief did.
“Although flattered, I feel like we have internal talent that will do a fantastic job,” he said. “My goal is to develop these individuals to their potential, and I am confident that at the end of this process everyone will see just how good these officers are.”