The city of Sebastopol’s prized pick for a new police chief of the Sebastopol Police Department retracted his candidacy two weeks before he was scheduled to assume the role on Dec. 14, but an original staff favorite is now returning for interviews.
Daniel Healy, second-in-command at the Suisun City Police Department, stepped away from the offered position in Sebastopol on Dec. 1, he said over email. The city has returned to a previously vetted candidate for further interviews, while retired Dixon Police Chief Don Mort carries on as interim police chief — a position he’s held since August 2020.
“As a single dad, balancing my personal life with professional development is always on my mind. While it wasn’t an easy decision, I am confident in my decision,” Healy said over email.
The commander said he wishes the Sebastopol community the best and is happy to remain in his current position with the Suisun City Police Department, “where I live, work and raise my family.”
Healy declined to interview over the phone, saying he did not plan to make any additional statements or interviews. According to previous reporting by Sonoma West Times & News, Healy said he planned to commute from Solano County to Sebastopol until his children were older and was considered by then-mayor Patrick Slayter to be a real catch.
The ultimate decision on the future head of Sebastopol Police Department lies with City Manager Larry McLaughlin. Upon learning Healy would no longer take the mantle, McLaughlin said the city asked their recruiter, Peckham & McKenney, Inc., to contact two candidates who stood out among the seven who made it to the final round from a pool of over 40 applicants since the search began in early 2019.
Both of these candidates had previously dropped out of the race prior to interviews at the city level, but the city council will interview one man who changed his mind again Wednesday morning in a closed session over Zoom.
If all goes well for the applicant, McLaughlin anticipates reaching a decision in the next couple of weeks.
“That person actually had been the one that was at the top of our list in reviewing the initial questions and the resume,” McLaughlin said, but Healy remained in the running and accepted the offer.
The city manager said he and the assistant city manager and city clerk, Mary Gourley, conducted a lengthy interview with the candidate.
“We think he’d be an ideal candidate for the position. We feel even more so than we did earlier in the summer when we were disappointed that he dropped out,” he said.
McLaughlin said the recruiter has already vetted the candidate in an abbreviated interview and a background check with mostly references.
While the city manager makes the final call, he said it’s important the city council and the community participate in the selection process. The city will likely invite the non-local candidate to Sebastopol for a live follow-up interview, as Healy did.
The candidate will also meet with community members representing local social activist groups as part of the same review process Healy took. Mayor Una Glass and Slayter remain appointed to the law enforcement committee tasked with finding community panelists, but they have settled on neither the participants nor the date, he said.
McLaughlin said he had promised to keep panelist identities confidential, but he confirmed the panel Healy faced included representation from the Graton Day Labor Center and the 100 Black Men of Sonoma County.
Following the candidate’s interviews with the city council and community panelists, McLaughlin said he may be offered the job and move on to discussing the salary and negotiations.
“Once that is successfully concluded, then typically at that point we would announce who the person is. But then at that point we also begin a background investigation and it’s extremely comprehensive,” he said.
That’s when a private investigator usually enters the picture, probing where the candidate previously worked, how colleagues describe them, any criminal or driving issues, personnel issues and anything else that may have gone under the radar in the earlier background check, resume and recommendations, he said.
The city reserves this level of scrutiny for positions like police chiefs and finance directors, McLaughlin said. But so far, the candidate has impressed a panel featuring McLaughlin, the assistant city manager, Mort and a police professional from the original panel over the summer.
As for the candidate’s previous withdrawal before interviewing, McLaughlin said he couldn't speak for the candidate or disclose personal information, “but people have families to consider, the people that they’re with and what their plans are, especially difficult in a pandemic.”
The candidate, among other contenders, was also concerned whether the police department had the community’s full support or would be fully funded going forward, according to the city manager.
“This was during the time where we were having the public city council meetings on the Black Lives Matter protests and we had all those people at that time calling in with ideas such as defunding the police and so forth,” McLaughlin said. “He didn’t want to make a major change in his life and go to work someplace and find out he really didn’t have a job there.”
He said the community engagement was of great assistance to the city, as former IOLERO director Jerry Threet is now auditing the Sebastopol Police Department and will deliver his report that will be relevant for an incoming chief.
“And I’ve responded that I believe our community overwhelmingly does support our police department and that I don’t have any reason to suspect that there will be any huge funding issues in the future with our police department,” he said.
McLaughlin said the candidate understood and can consider relocating on a personal basis as well. The candidate did not necessarily take concern with the movement but whether the community supported police, according to McLaughlin.
He said city personnel advisors counseled him against discussing Healy’s withdrawal two weeks before he was expected to swear in.
“A recruitment process is highly confidential and I just feel that a person who withdraws his application, that should be that person’s business. And if he chooses to talk about it, great. I just don’t think, for the city, that I should be discussing or speculating on his reasons,” he said.
It’s been a year since the search began after previous police chief James Conner retired in December 2019 in the wake of a vote of no confidence by the Sebastopol Police Officers’ Association to the city. When the pandemic hunkered over the county in March 2020, the city delayed recruitment for three months, processing candidates in summertime.
Of the current candidate, McLaughlin said, “We really like him, but if that falls through we’ll probably have to begin the recruitment process over again.”