OBERLIN — A background check for the new Oberlin police chief is expected to be completed this week, bringing him one step closer to taking the helm despite concerns from Oberlin sergeants about his qualifications and the process of how he was selected.
In Oberlin’s style of government, City Manager Rob Hillard alone fills the police chief role. Hillard announced in August that Elyria police Sgt. Clarence Warfield was chosen from a field of 16 applicants.
Elyria police Sgt. Clarence Warfield
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During a Council meeting Monday night, Hillard said the city hired an outside vendor to conduct the background check and that it’s expected to be completed this week. The next step is negotiating a salary and figuring out a start date.
However, three Oberlin police sergeants, Patrick Durica, Melissa Lett and Steve Chapman, sent a letter to City Council last week calling Warfield the “least-qualified candidate” for the job and questioned whether Hillard’s process was “fair and equal to all candidates.”
The sergeants declined to talk further about the letter but said the union that represents the sergeants, the Ohio Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, would be reaching out to Hillard to meet and discuss their concerns.
Council members declined to comment on the process, saying it was outside their bounds.
Before he was ultimately chosen, Warfield was named as a finalist along with Lorain Police Department acting Capt. Michael Failing, Oberlin police Sgt. Victor Ortiz and Oberlin police Lt. Michael McCloskey, who is serving as interim chief.
Hillard consulted with a panel of mostly retired police officials to vet the applicants and whittled down the field before announcing Warfield as his pick.
“Consequently, the panelists chosen to be part of the application and interview process consisted of two individuals who were employed together and worked closely with the chosen candidate at his current department,” the sergeants wrote. “Additionally, another panelist was also a personal reference for the chosen candidate.”
A public records request showed that the panel included Lorain County Sheriff Chief Deputy Dennis Cavanaugh, who both Warfield and Ortiz listed as a personal reference on their respective applications.
The panel also included Georgia Bates and Larry Barbee, who are the two panelists the sergeants say worked closely with Warfield. Barbee is a retired Elyria police detective and an Oberlin resident and a member of Oberlin’s Civil Service Commission. Bates is a retired Elyria police dispatcher and an Oberlin resident.
Also on the panel was Rosalind Watson, Oberlin’s human resources administrator; Phil Verda, a retired Oberlin police captain, an Oberlin resident and a member of Oberlin’s Civil Service Commission; and Bill Jindra, who is a retired Avon Lake police lieutenant and also served as an Oberlin Municipal Court bailiff and probation officer and is an Oberlin resident.
Jindra also is a former member of the Oberlin City Council and is running to serve again this year.
When reached Monday, Barbee said his association to Warfield had nothing to do with the selection process.
“Nothing was done inappropriately,” Barbee said. “There was no favoritism.”
Barbee said he believes Warfield is “an excellent candidate.”
Cavanaugh said that he wasn’t aware that he was listed as a reference for either Ortiz or Warfield.
“Quite honestly, I know all four of these guys that made it to the finals,” Cavanaugh said. “They’re all qualified professionals. “
Hillard declined to comment on Cavanaugh being a reference for two of the finalists.
Another issue sergeants had is with Warfield’s education and experience.
The sergeants said Warfield “did not even meet the minimum qualifications specifically sought by the city for the position, which is cause for concern when the chief inherently has such a vital role.”
Of the 16 candidates, 12 were not given second interviews, including five applicants who had reached the rank of chief in their current departments.
According to job posting from the city, Hillard sought a candidate who has a bachelor’s degree in law enforcement, police administration or related field or an equivalent combination of education and experience along with advanced training from the FBI national academy.
McCloskey has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and a master’s degree in homeland security administration; Failing has a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in criminal justice; Ortiz has training from the Police Executive Leadership College and the FBI National Academy and the University of Akron Police Academy. Warfield has a high school diploma and attended the Ohio State Patrol Academy and has peace officer certification.
This story has been changed to reflect the following correction: A photo incorrectly identifying its subject as Clarence Warfield was added, then removed.