BY AMALIE NASH, News Staff Reporter
Wednesday, October 5, 2005
Daniel Oates was officially named police chief of Aurora, Colo., on Tuesday night, leaving Ann Arbor with the prospect of having all of its top public safety positions vacant at the same time.
City officials said they will soon begin a national search to replace Oates as police chief and a search is already under way for a permanent fire chief. Oates serves as the city's safety services manager, police chief and interim fire chief.
Oates isn't expected to begin his new job until the end of November. His contract binds him to stay 45 days after he gives notice, and City Administrator Roger Fraser said he will not be released from that clause early.
"I expect it will be sometime around Thanksgiving before he gets out of here,'' Fraser said. "Dan's done a great job.''
Fraser said it will take at least six months to conduct a national search. He is expected to appoint an interim chief in the meantime. After Carl Ent was forced out of the job more than five years ago, it took the city 17 months to find a replacement.
Oates, 50, joined the Ann Arbor department in August 2001 after retiring as a deputy chief of the New York Police Department. He said moving to a larger department as chief was a natural progression in his career.
"I think it's a tremendous opportunity for me and my family. ...,'' Oates said Tuesday evening. "It's been an emotional day. My family and I developed great friendships here, and it will be hard to leave.''
Oates will earn $131,000 annually in Aurora, which has a 600-member police force. He earns $128,000 in Ann Arbor, which has seen its police force shrink from 182 officers to 152 due to budget cutbacks over the past several years.
Aurora Deputy City Manager Frank Ragan said Oates rose to the top of the pool of candidates early during the interviews. He said the decision was cinched after a visit to Ann Arbor.
"We learned he's a man of impeccable character. ...'' Ragan said. "It sounds like he dealt with some difficult budget issues and managed through that, which is what we need. He has great relationships with the community and is well-regarded.''
Oates will surely face challenges in Aurora, which has been without a police chief since March, when the former chief accepted a demotion amid a scandal involving a serial rapist who was free for several months because of miscommunication between police and prosecutors. Some black residents have leveled charges of mistreatment by police there.
In Ann Arbor, Oates has been credited with leading the police and fire departments through tough economic times that involved shrinking both departments and building bridges between members of the community.
Washtenaw County Chief Public Defender Lloyd Powell, who helped found the Driving While Black Coalition, was heavily involved in racial profiling issues in the city during a series of meetings in the last few years. He said Oates set a good example for the city's police department.
"He has brought to Ann Arbor a caliber of world-class leadership that effectively promotes a safe and just community where citizens are treated fairly,'' Powell said. "His legacy will live on.''
Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje wasn't so sure.
"It's difficult to say how much of a legacy he'll leave because he wasn't here that long,'' Hieftje said.
Hieftje, who referred to Oates as a "good staff member,'' said he was glad he had found the bigger job for which he'd been searching.
Oates' name popped up for the police commissioner's job in Boston in December 2003, but he turned down an interview, saying his family liked Ann Arbor. Last spring, he was a finalist for the police chief's job in Coral Springs, Fla., but was not offered the job.
"In my mind, he would either take this (Aurora) job or make a commitment to Ann Arbor,'' Hieftje said. "That's what I would have asked for. It's difficult on the department when everyone knows he is looking for a job.''
City Council Member Bob Johnson, D-1st Ward, said he was not bothered by Oates actively pursuing bigger jobs in other cities.
"He is an ambitious guy,'' Johnson said. "He has been a very good police chief. I can't begrudge him the chance to move to a bigger position.''
During his four-year tenure, Oates butted heads with the city's police and fire unions over staffing and other issues, but also was a strong advocate for both departments.
"He listened to us and spoke up for us,'' Assistant Fire Chief Chris Brenner said. "He was definitely getting better every day and learning our operations and trying to move us forward.''
In Ann Arbor, Oates was accused by citizens of assigning additional officers to traffic enforcement to raise revenue for the city - a claim he denied. He also caused some controversy during a trip to Metro Airport in April 2004 when he ordered an officer to run lights and sirens so he could make a flight for a business trip.
Resident Craig Trombley, who has been a critic of the traffic enforcement measures, said he hopes the City Council will consider an internal candidate for the job.
"I hope they look long and hard because there are well qualified people in the department,'' Trombley said. "We need a chief with a more local base.''
Staff Reporter Tom Gantert contributed to this report.
© 2005 Ann Arbor News. Used with permission
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