OAKLAND -- The city's seven-month search for a permanent police chief is back on hold after the organization Oakland had tapped to finish the job was disqualified for denying equal benefits to gay employees.
After the original recruiter, Bob Murray & Associates, quit claiming interference from the mayor's office, Oakland turned to the International Association of Chiefs of Police to whittle down the applicant pool Murray had recruited and try to find additional candidates.
But negotiations broke off last month when the city learned that the Alexandria, Va.-based organization does not offer benefits for partners of gay employees.
"This issue is one that the city is very committed to and is not willing to compromise on," spokeswoman Karen Boyd said.
The chiefs association could not be reached for comment late Wednesday.
Boyd said that Mayor Jean Quan and City Administrator Fred Blackwell were still deciding how to proceed and that the new timeline for naming a chief would depend on their course of action.
Oakland pushed back the target date for naming a new chief from March to May after Murray backed out. Further delays carry political implications in an election year.
City leaders are concerned that having an interim chief during the November election could be a political liability for efforts to pass a major public safety property tax. But several officials also are concerned that Oakland could wind up with a new police chief on the heels of a November mayoral election that might usher in a new administration.
"If the mayor does not get re-elected in November, then she is binding the next mayor to a police chief he or she may not want," Councilman Larry Reid said.
Sean Whent has been interim chief since last May when a major shake up resulted in the department having three different chiefs in the span of 48 hours.
Quan announced the nationwide search for a permanent chief last August at a time when Whent's reputation had been damaged by his handling of the violent protests that followed a July jury verdict in the Trayvon Martin murder case.
But as the chief search has sputtered, Whent's standing has improved. Although he still lacks support from many officers, Whent does have backing from the department's court-appointed overseer Robert Warshaw, who has sweeping authority over the police force.
Whent was one 32 candidates who applied for the chief's job in December in a search overseen by Murray. After Murray resigned, the city turned to the chiefs organization to review the applicants and see if other candidates might be interested.
The city could opt to find another recruiter to do that job, or it could try to do it in-house. Another option would be to simply give up the search and name Whent or another candidate as chief.
Several council members said Wednesday they preferred continuing the search. "I think the city administrator will have a number of good candidates to choose from," Councilwoman Lynette Gibson McElhaney said. "And I trust his judgment."
Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435.