Oxnard hires its first female chief
By Joshua Molina,Ventura County Star
A woman now serving as an assistant chief of police in the Phoenix Police Department will lead the Oxnard Police Department.
Assistant Chief Jeri Williams, 44, will be the first woman to lead the city’s 237 sworn officers and 150 support personnel.
The 22-year police veteran is used to firsts. She was the first African-American woman promoted to commander in the 3,500 officer Phoenix Police Department and the first to rise to the level of assistant chief. In her current role, Williams is responsible for 1,000 sworn and civilian personnel in the Southern Division.
“I know that Jeri Williams is exceptionally qualified for the position and is the best fit for our city,” said City Manager Ed Sotelo, in a statement. “Jeri brings with her extensive community policing experience, which will serve to complement and enhance our city’s efforts in that area dating back to 1990.”
The job pays from about $150,000 to $208,000 and includes a generous benefits package.
One of the leading internal candidates for the job, Assistant Chief Scott Whitney, bowed out earlier this year for family reasons. Another internal candidate, Cmdr. Tom Chronister, made it as far as the final 10 before falling out of contention.
The selection process, however, has come under fire by some members of the City Council, led by Mayor Tom Holden.
Holden is upset that Sotelo did not include the council in the selection process.
“This is a continuation of a very troubling pattern, which is the city manager acting on his own, in secret, and in contradiction of established city policy, and something needs to be done about it,” Holden said.
The mayor, whose relationship with Sotelo has been volatile, said he was blindsided by Monday’s announcement of a new police chief.
“I was repeatedly assured that at some point I would be part of the process, even as late as Friday,” said Holden, noting that his concerns had nothing specifically to do with Williams.
Councilman Bryan MacDonald also first learned of the hiring on Monday. MacDonald said he didn’t know anything about any of the candidates, only that the Oxnard Police Association had asked to be involved in the process, but was not included.
Outgoing Councilman Dean Maulhardt said he believed Williams would do well, but the process of hiring her has caused concern among council members.
Incoming Councilman Tim Flynn said his concern wasn’t with Williams, but with the process, which he, too, believes is muddled.
Flynn said that a 1988 administrative manual states that the city manager is supposed to get approval from the council for hiring. That was not done in this case. Yet state law and the longtime practice of the city appears to differ from those rules. State law vests the authority to hire and fire city department heads with the city manager.
“I think there needs to be more clarity on those rules,” said Flynn.
But Councilwoman Irene Pinkard defended Sotelo. She said that she was fine with the selection process and that, historically, the council has not been involved directly with the selection of department heads.
“It is the city manager’s prerogative to make that selection,” Pinkard said. “We have not ever been included.
From the history that I have of the selections made in the city, the council has not been involved in it.”
Pinkard said Williams had impeccable qualifications.
“I think she will make an excellent police chief,” she said. “She is a good law enforcement officer. She is highly respected where she is. The fact that she is an African-American chief and female is secondary.”
Williams beat out several other top contenders for the post, including a top-ranked woman with the Los Angeles Police Department and a top-ranked officer with the Fresno Police Department, who is also African-American. The hiring process included interviews with a citizen advisory committee and an oral board with several top law enforcement officers.
During her time in Phoenix, a city of about 1.6 million people, Williams also served under former Chief Harold Hurtt, who prior to leading that department headed up the Oxnard Police Department for much of the 1990s.
When she was promoted to assistant police chief in Phoenix last year, she was recognized for her work on patrol and her fast ascent up the ranks. She handled positions with the overseeing patrol, working as a liaison with the city manager and heading up the central city precinct.
Williams is married to former Phoenix City Councilman Cody Williams. She received a bachelor’s degree from Arizona State University and a master’s degree from Northern Arizona University. She is currently a doctoral candidate at NAU.
Her recent accomplishments include management duties surrounding the 2008 Super Bowl, 2009 NBA All-Star game, and the LPGA tournament.
Holden said that he wants Sotelo to tell the full council why he felt the need to hire a police chief without consulting with the council.
“Mr. Sotelo has to explain to myself and other council members why this process was taken and we need to have a public discussion about what our options are,” Holden said. “I don’t know what will occur from this point on.”
Williams will become the second female police chief in the county. Kathleen Sheehan, a 25-year-veteran of LAPD, was hired in September to head Port Hueneme’s police department.