ITHACA, N.Y. (WETM) – It appears that the City of Ithaca will remain without an official Police Chief for a while longer. The civil service exam which rates the candidates for a position has been canceled.

The exam was originally scheduled to happen on March 25, 2023; however, according to an unsigned letter on City of Ithaca Human Resources/Civil Services letterhead provided to WETM, the exam “has been postponed.” The letter continues to say that the City of Ithaca has contracted with an executive search firm to assist with the recruitment of a Police Chief.

Civil Service Announcement

Letter postponing Exam

In an effort to share all sides of the story, 18 News reached out to Ithaca Mayor Laura Lewis, Ithaca Civil Service, New York State Civil Service, and the firm that was contracted to find the new police chief. As of 11:00 a.m. on March 9, there has been no response from Mayor Lewis, nor the City of Ithaca Civil Service/Human Resources.

According to a press release from the Ithaca Police Benevolent Association (IPBA), there were at least five experienced law enforcement professionals from the Ithaca community that had thrown their hats in the ring to be considered to be the next police chief at Ithaca Police Department (IPD), as the department enters its third consecutive year without permanent leadership.

According to the release, there were enough candidates to establish a valid eligible list, and the IPBA believes that the Mayor is intentionally circumventing the New York State Civil Service Law, and questions the legality of a national search.

In our requests to the Mayor and the City of Ithaca, we also asked who authorized to contract with an outside agency for the search, but we did not hear back. Looking at the Common Council Minutes from February 2023, it does not appear to be included in that meeting, and the topic was not listed on the March 2023 agenda, (the minutes for that meeting are not online at this time).

With no response from the City of Ithaca, we have filed a Freedom of Information Request for the list of applicants to take the exam for police chief, both promotional and open-competitive, along with any communications related to the cancelation/postponement of the exam, any communication in relation to not proceeding with the previous appointment, any communications in relation to contracting an outside agency for the search, and copies of any policies, or precedent of other civil service exams being canceled after the closing of application period with at least three qualified candidates. We also requested a copy of the current list, since a new one has not been established.

When we reached out to the New York State Department of Civil Service to see if they could shed any additional light on if this is something in the normal procedure, or if this was something that should not have happened, the response we received is below.

In New York State, the responsibility for administering the merit system for positions in local government rests solely with the local service agency. As such, any questions on specific examinations should be addressed by the municipal civil service agency with oversight – in this case, the Ithaca City Civil Service Commission.

New York State Civil Service Public Information Office

We also reached out to the firm listed for interested individuals to contact if they would like to be included in the candidates for the position.

The company, Public Sector Search & Consulting, Inc. is based out of Rocklin, California. According to their response, the search for the police chief costs $45,000 plus expenses and the timeframe for the completed search is 90-120 days.

The company states that some of the other searches for police chiefs that they have conducted in New York State include, Rochester, Albany, Beacon, Syracuse, the University at Buffalo (SUNY), and the MTA in New York City. And that the company has conducted more than 65 police executive searches across the country.

Gary Peterson, who is a retired police chief, said, “We demystify the search process so stakeholders can trust the process.”

Public Sector Search & Consulting (PSSC) understands the police chief search in Ithaca will be a challenging search. We believe in an open and transparent process.  We are facilitating meetings with community members and police department employees so they can provide insight regarding the qualities and characteristics sought in the next Chief of Police

Gary Peterson, President/CEO of PSSC

In looking at the website for PSSC, it shows Coming Soon, Ithaca, NY under police chief recruitments.

In December, then Mayor-Elect Lewis made the recommendation that current acting Chief John Joly be appointed to the permanent position of Chief after filling in as acting Chief for 20 months. She withdrew that days later. Joly was a 17-year veteran of the Ithaca Police Department at the time and had previously worked for the City of Atlanta Police Department. At this time there had been two other candidates for the position. In a release Lewis stated that,

I respect that a number of my colleagues disagreed with my recommendation and so I will be removing this appointment from the December 7 Common Council agenda.

Laura Lewis, then Mayor-Elect of Ithaca

Below is the release when then Mayor-Elect withdrew her nomination of Acting Chief Joly from consideration for permanent assignment.

At some point, an exam announcement was put out to the public which had a deadline of February 9, 2023, for candidates to apply to take the Civil Service Exam for the position of Police Chief. On that posting, there are no residency requirements for the exam, which means that candidates from anywhere across the country were able to apply. Also noted on the exam notice that we were able to obtain, states that, “a promotional exam was also being held in conjunction with this open-competitive examination. In the event that a vacancy occurs in a department or agency for which a promotional list exists, the promotional list shall be used first.”

Was the recommendation for the appointment of John Joly from the promotional list? Were there others on the list? It is reported that there were two other candidates when Mayor Lewis made her recommendation in December. Who made the decision to hire a firm for $45,000 plus costs, when there is a Civil Service system in place? Was it a good decision for taxpayer money?