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Top Gun-Shy

[whitespace] City manager leans toward hiring locals

By Will Harper

THE LAST TIME THE CITY OF SAN JOSE went beyond its borders to appoint a high-profile department head, it was a disaster. The city spent 14 months looking for a new fire chief before then-City Manager Les White hired Raymond Brooks, who had run a small department in a southern California town.

Brooks, an African American, quickly lost the confidence of his troops and the department split along racial lines. White firefighters accused him of giving their black counterparts special treatment.

Brooks' tenure lasted only 20 months. In November 1995, White's successor, Regina Williams, fired him and triggered a highly publicized legal battle.

Williams' tussle with Brooks may shed light on why the two finalists to become San Jose's next police chief are both well-known local products. Despite conducting a nationwide search for a new top cop Williams--now running two months behind schedule--has only two local candidates to show. Both acting Chief Walt Adkins and Richmond Police Chief William Lansdowne have spent at least 25 years of their law enforcement careers in San Jose. As known quantities, neither will deliver the surprises an outsider like Brooks brought with him.

San Jose's leaders have a tradition of keeping it all in the family, so to speak, when making top appointments. Williams herself, previously White's trusted deputy, was hired by the City Council to succeed her boss after an ostensibly nationwide search.

During her nearly four years as city manager, Williams has continued the family tradition. Many of the department heads she has tapped were groomed in-house, including Planning Director Jim Derryberry, Parks Director Mark Linder, Environmental Services head Carl Mosher and Fire Chief Robert Dorman (who replaced Brooks).

One of the few times she went outside to recruit a department head, Williams got burned.

In late 1995 she brought in Ellis Mitchell, who ran a lead-based paint abatement program in Virginia, to take over San Jose's $30 million parks and recreation department. City Council critics thought he was under-qualified for the job. Privately, City Hall insiders speculated that Williams hired Mitchell, an African American, to make up for Brooks' imminent dismissal.

Thirteen months later, Mitchell abruptly resigned amid whispers that Williams forced him out for misconduct. At the time, Williams curtly told reporters that Mitchell did "a reasonably fair job."

This time Williams appears to be taking no chances on outsiders. Hiring the next police chief is arguably her most important appointment, one that everyone will be watching, including mayoral hopefuls Pat Dando and Ron Gonzales, neither of whom have sung Williams' praises during the campaign.

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From the July 30-Aug. 5, 1998 issue of Metro.

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