Grossman, Witt

Bismarck city commissioner Parrell Grossman, left, and Police Chief Keith Witt talk after commissioners voted against hiring any of the finalists for police chief. Commissioners felt the three interviewed had not met requirements. The city commissioners will restart the process to hire a police chief in the near future.

 The Bismarck City Commission will renew its search for a police chief after its three finalists scored too low in the interview and screening process.

Commissioners announced Thursday morning that none of the finalists — Bismarck Police Lt. Randy Ziegler, Capt. Rex Marks of Grass Valley, Calif., and Bath Township Police Chief Michael McNeely of Ohio — scored high enough. The process included an accomplishment survey, Monday’s commission interview of the three and an online process that rated how the candidates prioritized police chief tasks.

City Commissioner Parrell Grossman, who holds the police portfolio, recommended that none of the candidates be hired, during a special commission meeting. He said the police chief position is a critical one and Police Chief Keith Witt “has raised the bar.” All five city commissioners voted to re-advertise the position and name an interim police chief for when Witt retires on May 1.

“Our growth and emphasis on public safety highlighted in our recent strategic plan will require a police chief with extraordinary leadership and professional skills,” Grossman said.

He said the three candidates were very near one another in scoring — the highest being 77 on a scale of 100. “Our expectations for a successful candidate were simply higher,” said Grossman. “Despite three good candidates, the scores do not meet the rigorous requirements of this position. Bismarck simply requires a more qualified candidate for police chief with an expected level of performance.”

He praised Ziegler, saying he competed very well with two other applicants who have served as police chiefs. “He has some excellent accomplishments at the department in his current position and will benefit from the experience,” Grossman said.

In a phone interview, Ziegler said he was disappointed about the news he was not named chief, but will treat it as a learning experience. He said the commission handled the whole process professionally and notified him first. He said he applied intending to succeed. “I did very well on the whole testing process,” he said. “My goal is to still be police chief and I’m not going anywhere else. I’ll be more ready next time,” he said.

Mayor John Warford said the commission “set the bar very high” in the selection process. “It is unbiased and has chosen no favorites and brings out the best in all candidates,” he said.

Warford supported Grossman’s recommendation to not hire a chief. “With the high profile of police chief, you’ve got to have it all,” Warford said. “You need to have a wide range of skills, no weaknesses during a time of crisis. That’s when it’s crunch time as a police chief.”

Commissioners favor using the same screening/interview process as they advertise for more police chief candidates. “The system we used worked. We are not taking the easy road,” Warford said.

“We will advertise. We try to bring in the best candidates we can and go through the rigorous testing process,” Warford said after the meeting. “When the crisis comes, we need the person that’s a face of the city.”

The salary being offered for the chief position ranges from $86,439 to $97,244.

Commissioners are waiting for Grossman’s recommendations about naming an interim police chief after he consults with the department.

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Reach reporter LeAnn Eckroth at 250-8264 or leann.eckroth@bismarcktribune.com.