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Whitewater OKs additional money for search

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Kevin Hoffman
May 4, 2011
— Whitewater’s Police Commission will have more financial flexibility in finding a new police chief after the city council Tuesday approved an additional $6,000 for the nationwide search.

The ruling by the city council brings the commission’s search budget to $14,000—the majority of which will be spent hiring an independent consulting firm.


The commission last week was expected to choose an agency but opted to go back to the city council after determining its $8,000 allowance might be too thin.


Seven bids came in from agencies willing to conduct a bulk of the search, including advertising, background checks and reviewing applications. Five of those were outside the commission’s budget, and some members felt choosing between two firms too restrictive.


“As a commission, there was a great deal of agreement that we did not want to necessarily take the lowest bidder,” Police Commission President Jan Bilgen told the council. “We felt that wasn’t the right way to go. We want to make sure the search is one that is inclusive, fair and will find the right person to serve our community.”


Bids were as high as $21,500 and the majority of them were nearly double the commission’s budget. Even with the extra $6,000 earmarked by the council, about half of those bids are too pricey.


Marilyn Kienbaum, council member-at-large, recommended Tuesday the city scrap its search all together and name Lt. Lisa Otterbacher the police chief. Otterbacher was chosen as interim chief in March, replacing retiring Chief Jim Coan.


Coan accepted a similar position with the Centennial Lakes Police Department, north of Minneapolis, to be closer to his family.


“I think we should give (Otterbacher) a chance at it, and I think so far she’s doing fine,” Kienbaum said. “Maybe a woman in that capacity might be a good change for Whitewater.”


Otterbacher has been with the Whitewater Police Department for 21 years and was second in command while Coan was with the force.


Bilgen didn’t disagree that Otterbacher was a qualified candidate, but said the commission might prefer to take the “right approach” to identify the best replacement for Coan.


It’ll now be up to the police commission to hire a consulting firm, which it expects to do at its May 12 meeting.


The commission still needs clarification on what services are paid for out of its $14,000 budget.


During its last meeting, commission members were unclear whether psychological and drug testing—services the city would have to pay for anyway—would be paid by the city.



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