The Ottumwa Courier

April 25, 2013

Search for police chief in the homestretch

By CHELSEA DAVIS Courier staff writer
Ottumwa Courier

---- — OTTUMWA —The search for a new police chief has narrowed to three candidates.

The Ottumwa Civil Service Commission certified a list of six applicants for the position at its meeting Tuesday. The top three for the position include Tom McAndrew of Ottumwa; Jeff Jirak of Wilton; and Lawrence McNaul of Grinnell.

"They certified the list of six and then we're interviewing the Iowa candidates out of the six," said City Administrator Joe Helfenberger.

The other three candidates were from Alaska, New York and the Los Angeles area and are no longer in the running. Of these three, one had significant issues that Helfenberger said disqualified him from the running.

"We found there were issues related to employee relations, communication and handling public matters that I felt weren't acceptable," he said.

McAndrew has worked for the Ottumwa Police Department for 24 years and has served as lieutenant for the last five years. He stepped in as interim police chief when former chief Jim Clark retired in February.

"I think you have to give McAndrew credit for his local knowledge, but I think you have three strong candidates, and I think any of the three would do a good job for the city," Helfenberger said.

Jirak began as lieutenant with the Muscatine Police Department in 2010. Alongside this full-time position, he has served as chief of the Nichols Police Department since 2002.

McNaul has served as a chief deputy with the Poweshiek County Sheriff's Office since 2001. Prior to this, he was a police officer with the Grinnell Police Department from 1995-2001, serving in a number of different roles. He also has military experience dating back to 1989.

This is not the first time Jirak and McNaul have vied for a position as police chief. Jirak was a finalist for police chief in Dickinson, N.D., in 2011, and McNaul was a finalist for police chief in Grinnell last year.

"It was thought that they would be a good fit for our community," Helfenberger said of the finalists. "They're familiar with the area, and they all have experience in a lot of different law enforcement areas."

Thirteen people originally applied for the position, and seven dropped out of the race for a variety of reasons.

The six applicants took a written examination and participated in an oral interview with a panel that included Helfenberger, City Attorney Joni Keith, Mahaska County Sheriff Paul DeGeest, Fairfield Police Chief Julie Harvey, Ottumwa Public Safety Advisory Board member Jim Jackson and citizens at-large Himar Hernandez and Lorena Perez.

"We've made a lot of efforts to try to recruit minorities and women," Helfenberger said. "It seems like a lot of times we've come close to getting additional bilingual officers, and they get hired at a bigger city or metro area."

A public reception to meet the candidates will be held at 6 p.m. May 9 at Bridge View Center. Interviews with the City Council will be held the next day. The council will then formalize the appointment of a candidate at a future meeting.