Despite messy selection process, St. Pete City Council, residents cautiously optimistic by police chief pick

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Unless you have been vacationing at some remote mountain hideaway — we’re looking at you, Rick Baker, you know that the police chief in Clearwater has been selected to head St. Petersburg’s police force.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman told city leaders on Monday that he has selected Anthony Holloway to fill the vacancy left by the retirement of chief Chuck Harmon. Kriseman is expected to hold a news conference with Holloway on Tuesday.

Holloway’s selection came after Kriseman decided to go outside the short list of chief finalists as part of a nationwide search that spanned several months.

Despite this messy selection process, which one senior law enforcement official in the Tampa Bay region has described as a “farce,” several members of St. Petersburg City Council, other leaders and residents are cautiously optimistic by the Holloway pick.

“The mayor had a difficult decision,” said Councilmember Darden Rice. “Ultimately he made an independent choice that appears to be very well thought out.”

Rice said she’d like to see discussion about how the process of future searches could be improved.

Still, Rice said “the key step is to … focus on supporting the critical work of our new Chief of Police.”

Councilman Steve Kornell expressed similar sentiments about the need for an improved search process, saying he did not understand why there were no outside-the-department female candidates identified in the national search.

“To think that there is no woman in the country qualified to lead (the St. Pete Police Department) is wrong,” said Kornell.

Kornell, who has been commendably frank on social media throughout the entire search process, capped his recent comments by writing that he fully supports the incoming chief.

Councilman Karl Nurse said he was “blindsided” by the decision to pick an outsider, but, he said, if Kriseman had to go out of the department “this looks like a promising choice.”

Mark Marland, president of the St. Pete police officers’ union wished the new chief well, while seemingly taking a swipe at the Baker-Bill Foster administrations.

“Congrats to Chief Holloway. I have been hearing good things about him and hope that continues into St. Pete as this agency has been needing a real leader for the last 20 years,” said Marland. “The troops are keeping an open mind and hoping for the best. The most important issue at hand is building morale back up and moving the department back to the forefront of policing where it was 25 years ago,” he wrote.

Holloway’s selection dominated local social media on Monday, drawing a range of reactions from those excited by the pick to those upset that Assistant Police Chief Melanie Bevan did not get the job.

Tampa mayor Bob Buckhorn posted on Twitter that he thought Kriseman made “a good choice,” while Clearwater mayor George Cretekos said he is “excited for Chief Holloway and disappointed for the city of Clearwater,”

Perhaps the most effusive in praising the Holloway pick is state Representative Darryl Rouson, who took to Facebook to praise the chief and Kriseman:

“Today Mayor Kriseman has selected a law enforcement professional well known to the St. Petersburg and Pinellas County Community. I extend heartfelt welcome to Chief Anthony Holloway and congratulate him on his new leadership position. 

“I believe that Chief Holloway has even handed leadership skills, knows the issues of our Police Department and our community as he has been our neighbor for many years. He is sensitive to strength in diversity within the department and respect for it outside the department. 

“Mayor Kriseman counseled with the people and in the process of reaching ‘clarity’, each participant added value, whether it came from the community or an applicant. In the end, the Mayor demonstrated strong leadership in the face of possible criticism which is what strong leaders do.”

The city has planned an official announcement for 11 a.m. to introduce Holloway to the city of St. Petersburg.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.