OAKLAND -- The firm handling Oakland's search for a permanent police chief has abruptly cut ties with the city after learning that at least one member of the mayor's office had spoken to applicants during the hiring process.
The withdrawal of Bob Murray & Associates will indefinitely delay the naming of a permanent chief, which had been scheduled to occur by March, City Administrator Deanna Santana said.
Bob Murray, president of the recruiting company, declined to name whom he believed had compromised the search process, but multiple sources said privately that Mayor Jean Quan's chief of staff, Anne Campbell Washington, had a conversation with at least one applicant, who later complained about the nature of the discussion.
Quan's spokesman, Sean Maher, said that no one at the mayor's office, including Quan, talked to candidates after the Dec. 6 application deadline. He said the mayor had taken questions from potential applicants before the deadline but had not initiated conversations and merely encouraged them to apply.
He said Campbell Washington, an Oakland school board member, had on Dec. 5 contacted an applicant who she had met the day before at a social function, at the applicant's request. Maher said the conversation was casual, and Washington addressed questions about the city and her experience working at City Hall.
"We believe in the process and that no inappropriate conversations came from our office," Maher said. "We're looking forward to finishing the process and appointing a permanent police chief."
Oakland has been without a permanent chief since May, when Howard Jordan took a sudden medical retirement upon learning that the department's federal overseer was preparing to fire him.
Under Bob Murray & Associates' contract with the city, the firm was responsible both for recruiting and doing the preliminary research on the candidates to come up with a group of finalists. Any interference from the mayor's office or other city official could undermine the search, executive recruiting experts said.
"It eliminates any adherence to confidentiality, which is extremely important if you are trying to attract the best candidates, and it says to other candidates that this is a political process that has a high chance of being biased," said Teri Black-Brann, president of the recruiting firm Teri Black & Co.
In a Dec. 23 letter to Santana, Murray wrote that private "discussions have been held with candidates by representative(s) of the city. I believe the process of recruiting a new police chief has been compromised as a result. In addition, my integrity has been questioned."
Murray has worked for Oakland on several recent hires. He also is overseeing the search for a new city manager in Dallas, where Santana is one of five finalists.
The hiring of a new chief could be a political boon to Quan. She is facing re-election next year against a field of candidates who are already making the increased crime rate during her first term in office a major campaign issue.
Santana, who under the city charter is responsible for hiring the police chief, said she is determining whether the city can bring in a new executive search firm to finish the process and how long that would take.
Oakland police union President Barry Donelan said he was disappointed to learn that the hunt for a new chief was being delayed.
"I thought we were moving forward with this process," he said. "The citizens of Oakland and (the) officers who serve deserve a permanent chief."
Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435.