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Decatur police chief field narrowed to 3

By Chris Paschenko
chris@decaturdaily.com 340-2442

Two familiar names topped the Decatur City Council's list of candidates it plans to interview for police chief.

The council Monday reached a consensus on three applicants:

  • Lt. Col. Ken Collier, Decatur's deputy police chief, was the only candidate listed among all five council members' top choices. He has been with the department 36 years.

  • Tom Little, a retired chief deputy from the Morgan County Sheriff's Department, was most recently in the news after a narrow defeat in the 2006 race for Morgan sheriff. Four council members listed him among their top picks.

  • Francis R. Donchez Jr., who is a Pennsylvania lawyer, retired as police commissioner in 2006 from the Bethlehem, Pa., Police Department, a position he held for six years. Three councilmen selected him for an interview.

    The council advertised the position nationally after Chief Joel Gilliam announced in November his plan to retire. Gilliam delegated his duties to Collier on Thursday until his Feb. 23 retirement.

    Gary Hammon, the council's liaison to the Police Department, said he spent about 11/2 hours perusing the 55 applicants' qualifications.

    "I culled it down to 18 from the ones who didn't meet the educational or management qualifications," Hammon said.

    When asked if he favored any one candidate, Council President Billy Jackson said it was important for all council members to keep an open mind through the interview process.

    "We have three strong candidates," Jackson said. "We must fairly evaluate each candidate. It's critical that we do that."

    Collier, who attended the council's business meeting later Monday evening, said he was flattered to be considered.

    "It would be an honor to serve," Collier said. "Ever how it falls out, I'm honored by the decision and would support whomever they chose."

    Little, when reached by phone after the meeting, said he was "happy to be among the finalists."

    A message left late Monday for Donchez at his law office wasn't immediately returned.

    Jackson asked Ken Smith, the city's personnel director, to contact the candidates as soon as possible to arrange interviews.

    Smith said he would begin coordinating schedules and could have interviews arranged by early next week or sooner.

    Smith suggested bringing all candidates before the council on the same day for 45-minute interviews. Jackson agreed, saying it would be the best option for comparing the applicants.

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