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Boise Police Chief is out; listening sessions, anonymous survey scheduled for the department

Boise Mayor Lauren McLean
City of Boise
Boise Mayor Lauren McLean

When Boise Mayor Lauren McLean asked for and received the resignation of Ryan Lee in late September, she said the then-police chief was “struggling from a management perspective.” Making matters worse, too much ill will had spilled into the members of the police department, leading some to think about leaving the department.

“When there's anyone that's working in an environment where they don't feel valued, you do have that risk of someone looking for another opportunity,” said McLean. “Would they have done that? I can't answer that question, but I can say that the importance … of feeling valued and welcome and part of a team … is a high, high priority.”

McLean visited with Morning Edition host George Prentice to talk about the reasons leading to her decision to show Lee the door, the process of finding a new chief and how she’ll be holding a series of listening sessions with the rank-and-file.

“I've directed our HR department, our organizational health team, to develop an anonymous survey so we can get the temperature of the members of the police department.”

Read the full transcript below:

GEORGE PRENTICE: It's Morning Edition on Boise State Public Radio News. Good morning. I'm George Prentice. The City of Boise is searching for a new full time police chief. Yes, for the record, the city has an interim chief, a familiar face. And that's Ron Winegar, who had retired just last year. But at the request of the mayor, he has returned to serve as interim chief -  that after the mayor requested and received the resignation of then-Chief Ryan Lee just a few weeks ago. So, to talk about that and a bit more, let's welcome Boise Mayor Lauren McClean back to the program. Mayor McClean, good morning.

LAUREN MCLEAN: Good morning, George. Thanks for having me.

PRENTICE: I'd like to frame our conversation with this question. How could you best characterize your reaction to the events that led to your request of the chief for his resignation?

MCLEAN: You know, that's an interesting question because as the CEO of the city, one of my jobs is to make sure that the leaders that we have in place for our different departments are equipped with the skills they need and the environment they need to be successful in their job so that they can serve their employees and serve the community as we all expect and deserve. And as any CEO or other manager knows, asking anyone for their resignation is a tough thing to do. But it's one of those things that you have to do at times at the moment demands it.

PRENTICE: So, was it an accumulation of issues or was it one or two things?

MCLEAN: This really gets to how I've made decisions throughout my term. It's both. A reaction to new information or information that I have and a changing environment in which I'm asking an employee to operate successfully. And in this case in particular, I had been working with the chief and his supervisor had been working with the chief on management improvements, how to best communicate and support a team as he was doing what we wanted him to do. And that was an act change and modernization within the department to maintain community trust. But we were coaching him on management; and then I learned that others as well. Members within the department union leadership were doing the same thing. And so, I knew that we had a situation where this chief, who was intent on delivering on the expectations of city council, was strugsurveygling from a management perspective, as often happens with employees. And then in this case, we had a highly unusual decision by individuals to take personnel issues into the public sphere, and that changes an environment for anybody to be working in. And I had to ask myself, with this new environment in which the chief is expected to lead and the community's trust in the department is so important, and the management issues that we and others have been working on. Can one be successful in this role? The community have in its leadership the person that they need at this time? And it was those things that really came together that led me to ask for his resignation.

PRENTICE: So, can I ask a little bit about the decision of some members of the department to go public with some of those complaints? And I've been thinking about this as a citizen…and how we relate to what we heard, and we've read. And I think about someone in their own workplace, possibly feeling as if they're not being heard. And “being heard” is a popular term right now, but it's an appropriate term. So, do you think we were at risk or heading down a path of being at risk of losing good men and women in the department?

MCLEAN: That's a great question. And I have to look at this as the department as a whole, the city as a whole. And we had nine officers that filed complaints in an organization of 400 folks. And from those complaints, we learn that there were management issues that we were seeking to address. And a part of that was that our rank-and-file officers that we value deeply were not feeling valued. And when there's anyone that's working in an environment where they don't feel valued, you do have that risk of someone looking for another opportunity. Will they? Would they have done that? Will they do that? I can't answer that question, but I can say that the importance across our entire city employee grouping in the police department and others, the importance of feeling valued and welcome and part of a team as we deliver on the mission of creating a city for everyone is a high, high priority.And in this department in particular, when we're asking our officers to do a really hard job every day, protect our public safety, serve our community, that's of utmost importance, that we provide them the support they need to be successful.

PRENTICE: We hear about “executive sessions” all the time, and we understand that's rather traditional because there are personnel issues. But I am curious: is there a lot that we as the public don't know?  Is there a lot behind that door?

MCLEAN: I think it probably depends on who you ask. I guess I'd say there's a lot of discussion behind those closed doors. It's always things that relate, relate to legal issues, personnel issues, the other things that are allowed under Idaho Code in any organization that has 2000 employees. There are often many personnel issues that have to be addressed and discussed. However, what's different about this one in particular is I'm sharing more with the Council from a personnel perspective than is typical because these are management decisions, personnel decisions that really rests squarely within the management and administrative structure of my office and the executive management team at the city.

PRENTICE: So, one or two members of the council said they were surprised at the news when the chief resigned. So, walk me through that.

MCLEAN: Yeah, that's one of the things that I regret about the day. And I've talked with all of our council members about that. So, there was a lot happening on that day. I had a scheduled meeting with council leadership and walked them through my thinking and why in that meeting and this was before I had talked with Ryan, but I didn't pick up the phone and call every council member. And I've told the council members that that is something I wish I had done. I regret not doing. I apologize for it. It won't happen again.

PRENTICE: The Office of Accountability… with so much work on re-crafting that oversight last year, is there another opportunity here to visit that again…particularly when it comes to the person at the top of the org chart.

MCLEAN: You know, there are so many opportunities for learning from this experience. And you're right to ask about the Office of Police Accountability and that as well. One of the conversations that we've started with counsel will continue and it will be a public discussion is what policies and procedures ought to be looked at and changed because we followed policy and procedure and we find ourselves here. So when we revamped and created the Office of Police Accountability, it was with the focus on clearing up the backlog of public complaints that it was a legacy issue, had been there for a while, cases that hadn't been closed. And we wanted to address the changing expectations of the public around policing and create a system that would be more public facing in terms of inputs and outputs. And then we found ourselves in a situation where this became a very different and unexpected use of the OPA, if you will, and that he and the office took in complaints, transcribed them, and then brought them to my office where the office was anticipated to take in complaints from the public, investigate them, and then release reports to the public. But another thing that we have to think about is if you have. For in the city in general. Employees. Have one place to go if they have a complaint, and that is to. And with policing, there are multiple venues where officers go, and OP became one of them. So, we need to provide that same certainty and expectation of one venue, if you will, for police, if that's appropriate, so that they're treated the same way our general employees are treated. And that's a policy and procedure question that the Council will be picking up as well.

PRENTICE: Can we assume that there's some extra sensitivity in some of your communications with the men and women in the department over the last couple of weeks? And that's a work in progress… as far as keeping those channels open and taking the temperature of the rank-and-file… if you will.

MCLEAN: Oh, taking the temperature of the rank-and-file…our officers right out in the community is of utmost importance. My chief of staff has been spending quite a bit of time at City Hall West. I will be addressing shift by shift, all of our officers… and “addressing” is too formal a word…I’ll be speaking with them in the coming weeks. It's been scheduled. I just am not sure what day that was put on the calendar. I've directed our HR department, our organizational health team, to develop an anonymous survey so we can get the temperature of the members of the police departmentto really understand what it is that's working, what's not what they need to feel supported and successful in their jobs as they're on the front lines serving as we've asked them to do. And we'll take all of that into account as we think about what's next.

PRENTICE: What's the first step in finding a new chief, or has that step already been taken?

MCLEAN: I'd say the first step is that org assessment that I referenced, because we really want to know how our police officers are feeling and what they need in the day to day in their leadership as we grow into a bigger city and we intend to do that. The Council intends to look at policies and procedures and think about what of those need to be addressed right now. And then we will also seek to have a public process. We did last time it was, but this time we're going to do some public facing listening sessions, get feedback from the community about what's important from a public safety and relationship with the department perspective in advance of putting together a job description and going out for a search. But you can expect in that search community panels, agency panels, other leadership panels. What was different last time is that the final interviews and what was supposed to have been community open houses were scheduled for the week, the first week that the governor shut down order went into effect. I don't expect another 100-year pandemic, so I fully expect we'll have open houses and all of that moving ahead to.

PRENTICE: I know you're always looking for the ”best of the best,” but can I also assume that the CEO is anxious to look within the organization for leadership?

MCLEAN: That's important. And I'll point out that one of our goals with the fire department and hiring Chief Niemeyer was to create a leadership ladder within the department so that the next time there's an opening for chief of the fire department, there are multiple candidates ready and excited to put their names in internally. So, grow Boise zone. And that is an expectation that we have of this department to develop that same leadership ladder so that folks are set up to succeed and have a have a place where they know they can end up if they work hard, check all the boxes, grow the skills within their department, and then seek to serve as chief.

PRENTICE: There is always plenty to ask you about and talk to you about but for this morning, thank you.

MCLEAN: Well, thanks, George, for having me and for the questions. And I hope you have a great weekend.

Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren

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