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Manager’s push for outside help raises concerns

Finding a new police chief for Sylva might take more time than anticipated after some of the town’s board members balked at using outside help.

In early August, Town Manager Adrienne Isenhower notified commissioners via email she intended to enlist “three other people … on the police chief selection,” with interviews starting the following week. Town leaders last week questioned her approach and instead decided to discuss the matter further at their next meeting Sept. 2.

Jeff Jamison, who became police chief in November 1997, retires Oct. 1. State law gives hiring choices and day-to-day management of town affairs to the manager. Sylva hired its first manager eight years ago. This represents the first time the town’s top employee has wielded such power. Before, town board members selected the police chief.

The new method means that commissioners aren’t included in the decision unless the manager asks for participation, according Frayda S. Bluestein, who serves in the School of Government for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Town Attorney Eric Ridenour asked Bluestein to review the matter earlier this month.

Isenhower wrote in her email to the town board that she has asked Scott Sutton, Maggie Valley’s police chief; Vickey Wade, director of governmental affairs at Western Carolina University; and Chris Cooper, director of WCU’s Master of Public Affairs program, to help her with the selection.

“I don’t think we should have an outside panel tell us who we should hire as police chief for Sylva,” Commissioner Ray Lewis said during last week’s meeting.

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Commissioner Harold Hensley questioned why board members were excluded from the selection process while people from elsewhere were being solicited to weigh in on the issue. Isenhower said she had formed the panel to help make it clear that politics were playing no part in her selection.

Commissioner Christina Matheson, though acknowledging she and the other board members might have been at fault for not requesting specific details, chastised Isenhower for failing to provide more information beforehand. She termed the situation a “communication glitch.”

“It caught me off guard,” Commissioner Danny Allen said in agreement.

Stacy Knotts was the lone commissioner to express unqualified approval for Isenhower’s plan, saying she didn’t believe board members should take any part in the hiring process. Mayor Maurice Moody, too, cautioned against board-member involvement.

But Hensley suggested that with two former police officers — Lewis and Allen — and a one-time assistant district attorney — Matheson — serving as commissioners, sufficient expert help probably could be found closer to home.

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