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Potter may cast wider net for chief

Mayor's actions signal that Rosie Sizer may have outside competition for job

 Will Rosie Sizer be Portland's permanent police chief?

   Perhaps the biggest question left unanswered last Friday, when Mayor Tom Potter announced the demotion of Derrick Foxworth, was whether he would promote Sizer, now interim chief, to lead the bureau permanently.

   At his City Hall news conference, Potter did say that Sizer, who has served as acting chief since April, would now be the interim chief while a search was conducted to replace Foxworth. One questioner piped up from the back of the room: Why not just promote Sizer to hold the job? Potter said that is an option he is considering - but he needs to discuss it with his fellow commissioners first.

   The exchange was potentially significant in that both police-bureau and City Hall insiders had considered the appointment of Sizer - a generally popular and respected 21-year bureau veteran - as chief a slam-dunk. So his failure at the news conference to clearly state where the bureau is headed - as well as his failure to publicly compliment Sizer on the job she's done so far - effectively created a question mark where earlier there hadn't been much of one.

   So does it make sense to do a national search for chief? Or is it best to hire from within?

   In the past three decades, Portland has promoted all of its chiefs from within except for two, and those two selections led to very different results. The first, Mayor Neil Goldschmidt's hiring of a Berkeley, Calif., cop, Bruce Baker in 1974, led to a successful tenure of seven years - a relatively long stint for the politically charged job of chief.

   'He was exactly what that department needed at that time,' says Penny Harrington, who served under Baker and later became chief herself. The bureau, she says, had been stuck in the '50s, and Baker brought in new ideas. 'He was like a breath of fresh air. He just grabbed that place and shook it, and really made it into a wonderful police department.'

   Similarly in 1999, Mayor Vera Katz wanted someone to modernize the bureau and lead it into the 21st century. Mark Kroeker, a veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department who'd also served the United Nations in Bosnia, seemed perfect for the job. For some, his appointment illustrated why you would hire from the outside: You're getting someone who looks good on paper who you think could, as Baker did, make a fresh start. Sometimes, however, the reality is different.

   'Personally I've worked for 13 chiefs, and every one has their strengths and weaknesses,' said retired police bureau spokesman Henry Groepper. 'There is no perfect person, and you'd like to believe there is.'

   Kroeker promptly ran into critics, internal and external, who viewed him as trying to bring the paramilitary style of the LAPD to Portland. Then a decade-old tape surfaced in which Kroeker, while addressing a religious audience, blamed homosexuality for the decline of society, suggesting it should be outlawed. Kroeker's controversial views on the topic, though known in Los Angeles, had been overlooked by the firm that did the background check on him. Later, after the controversial police killing of Kendra James, Kroeker resigned under pressure from Katz.

   

   Former chief backs Sizer

   

   Harrington, who now lives in California and runs a nonprofit called Women in Policing, said there are two considerations when deciding whether to hire from inside or outside. The first is whether you have good candidates within the bureau, and the second is the condition of the bureau itself.

   If there is a big problem at the bureau, such as corruption, then generally it is a good thing to bring in someone from the outside to shake things up, Harrington said. If not, then she thinks promoting someone from the inside, a known quantity who knows his or her way around the bureau, is preferable. She doesn't know how Potter perceives the bureau, but says she is squarely in Sizer's corner.

   'I think she would do an excellent job for Portland,' Harrington said. 'If he wants a community-oriented police chief, she is it.'

   Another concern probably will be whether he can get along with the person in charge, since Potter, a former chief himself, has some very definite views about what he wants to accomplish. Already, some at City Hall have speculated about whether Sizer is pliable enough for Potter's liking - which might seem ironic, since Potter, while chief under Katz in her first year as mayor, reportedly chafed at her well-known, hands-on managerial style.

   Groepper says a chief's success, and how he or she is viewed by the troops, rests partly on the perception of whether the person is independent and stands up for the bureau. Of Sizer, Groepper said: 'She has great values. She is not only hardworking, she has her head on right. … If the mayor gave her the leeway to run the bureau and the resources to do it, she could do a great job.'

   Regardless, Potter's decision on whether to do a full-blown search or simply hire someone, such as Sizer, for the job could be announced at any time.

   Said Potter spokesman John Doussard, 'He wants to move forward as quickly as possible.'