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Palmetto chief search a closed process

PALMETTO — Even though Palmetto Police Chief Garry Lowe turned in his resignation Wednesday, Mayor Shirley Groover-Bryant said she began searching weeks ago for his replacement.

Her choice, Manatee County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Rick Wells, was one of three candidates in a selection process that took place behind closed doors.

“I just really reviewed them. I would say three that I explored,” Groover-Bryant said, noting two of the candidates worked at other local agencies and one was from within the Palmetto Police Department.

Groover-Bryant said she selected the candidates primarily from her own personal knowledge.

“I’ve lived here my whole life and I kind of have a handle on who and where and so forth,” she said, “but I feel very comfortable with the selection.”

According to Palmetto’s city charter, the mayor has the authority to nominate a candidate and the city commission confirms the selection.

“It’s my option to nominate. We’ve done it a lot of different ways in the past,” said Groover-Bryant, when questioned about why the process was closed. “Why do a major search when you get people’s hopes up? They take the time to apply, when you pretty much have your mind set already, which I did. I didn’t feel the necessity to do that.”

Groover-Bryant declined to reveal the other candidates’ names. She said the candidates did not submit resumes, nor were they interviewed. However, she said she reviewed a copy of Wells’ resume.

“One of the things that was very important to me was the diversity in their background, the training they already had and, so, I knew Rick Wells from some of the boards and different things. I had met him at Keep Manatee Beautiful and heard him speak,” she said.

The nomination is now scheduled to go before the Palmetto City Commission at 5:30 p.m. Monday. Four out of five commission members must approve Wells, the son of former Manatee County Sheriff Charlie Wells.

Lowe, who had considered retirement off and on for the past couple of years, made his announcement at the same press conference Wednesday afternoon at City Hall in which Wells was introduced as the mayor’s nominee.

Lowe, who was chief for nine years, declined to reveal the reason for his sudden resignation, only saying it was something he decided after “much thought and consideration.”

The retirement announcement came amid scrutiny about the department’s high number of unsolved murders, as well as Lowe’s thousands of dollars in unpaid property taxes.

Mary Lancaster, a city commissioner and Lowe’s aunt, said she and other commissioners were unaware of the search and that Lowe was resigning.

“There’s a part of me that thinks it would have been good for it to be out and see who’s the better candidate,” said Lancaster when asked about the selection process.

Lancaster said most of the selections for chief in the past have come from within the department. She cited community-oriented policing in high-crime areas and making arrests in homicides as top priorities for the new chief.

“I’ve never seen it done this way,” she said. “I do not know (Wells). I do not know what his qualifications are. ... I spoke with him briefly. He seemed like he was willing to do whatever is necessary to address the issues.”

Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston, who also serves as Bradenton’s Police commissioner, said when he selected Police Chief Michael Radzilowski, he sifted through 84 applicants with an outside consultant.

“They may have a different way of doing things in Palmetto. I’m not faulting them for that. For me, it worked. Crime is down for the past seven years,” he said.

Wells has worked in law enforcement for 26 years, holding numerous positions with Florida Highway Patrol. He left as a sergeant and was named a lieutenant at the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office about three years ago.

Groover-Bryant said she is recommending Wells for a two-and-a-half-year term as chief to coincide with her current term as mayor.

When asked how the public can contribute to the selection process, Groover-Bryant said, “They are welcome to come to the meeting.

“It’s a public meeting.”