Inver Grove Heights selects new police chief


A meet-and-greet was held Nov. 8 with the final candidates for Inver Grove Heights police chief, the night before the Inver Grove Heights City Council held a special meeting to select the city’s new chief. The council selected Paul Schnell, a former Maplewood police chief. His official hiring is still pending.

Hiring of former Maplewood chief still pending

 

On Nov. 9, Inver Grove Heights City Council members selected the candidate they would like to see as the city’s new police chief. 

On a 3-2 vote, with Mayor George Tourville and council member Kara Perry as the dissenters, the council selected Paul Schnell, a former Maplewood police chief as the city’s new top cop. His official hiring is still pending.

 

Meet the chief

Schnell, 56, lives in Mendota Heights. His most recent position was as chief of police and director of public safety for Maplewood, where he worked from 2013 until retiring from the position in June. He has also served as chief of police for Hastings and held a variety of positions in the St. Paul Police Department. Schnell started work at the St. Paul department in 1999.

He has a bachelor’s degree in social work from the University of St. Thomas and a master’s in organizational leadership from St. Catherine University. 

In an interview after he was selected, Schnell said the broad range of needs that police respond to makes it an “incredible field.”

“I really missed law enforcement and working in it,” he said.

Schnell said Inver Grove Heights is poised for growth, and he thinks there are big, unique opportunities present in the community. He also said he has interest in working with those already at the department, who he described as highly skilled people.

“I look forward to working with the department and becoming a member of the department,” he said.

 

A long process

The city’s search for a new police chief essentially began when former Inver Grove Heights Chief Larry Stanger was placed on paid administrative leave in April 2016. He was accused of allegedly providing information to the subject of a search warrant, alerting the person when the warrant would be executed. 

Inver Grove Heights Lt. Sean Folmar was made interim chief when Stanger was put on leave.

The Dakota County Attorney’s Office turned the Stanger case over to Scott County citing a potential conflict of interest, and Scott County Attorney Ron Hocevar said in August 2016 there was not enough evidence to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt. Stanger’s separation agreement became official with the city on April 30 of this year, and he was never charged with a crime.

This July, the city council decided to use a search firm to help bring in a more diverse range of candidates, selecting Springsted Waters to do the job.

The process began with a number of listening sessions with city staff and members of the police department. 

The city also sent out a survey seeking comments about what the community would like to see from a new police chief, and comments were received from 291 people, with 250 identifying as Inver Grove Height residents. 

A field of 33 applicants was whittled down to five finalists.

Interviews were held Nov. 8 and the candidates met with two interview panels. One was the city council, and the other was made up of city department heads.

A meet-and-greet with the finalists was also held Nov. 8, during which residents could provide the city with feedback about the candidates. Kathryn Bauer, who is a city parks commissioner, was at the event.

“I think everyone should be aware of their city government and should know what’s going on. This is a perfect way to talk to someone one-on-one and really get to know them,” Bauer said. 

 

Top candidates

During the Nov. 9 meeting, council members were asked to name their top two candidates. Tourville and Perry both said Folmar, the interim chief, was their first choice, followed by Rich Clark, who is currently commander of patrol services for the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office.

Tourville said he looked at how each candidate would fit, pointing out he had more questions about the fit of the other three candidates.

For Perry, she said the two candidates she selected aligned with the feedback she received from citizens and the interview panel.

Council members Tom Bartholomew, Paul Hark and Rosemary Piekarski Krech all voiced support for Schnell and Clark as their top two choices.

Piekarski Krech said she thinks Schnell and Clark have more experience working with diverse populations and other issues outside the scope of the Inver Grove Heights police department.

Bartholomew said at each interview point, Schnell had the answers that he felt were most important. Hark said Schnell stuck out to him because of his experience, which would be a plus for the police department. 

 

Picking a chief

Perry said she was skeptical that Schnell would work as chief.

“I don’t see him fitting. I see him going in there and bulldozing that department and making it worse than it already is,” she said, adding she’s concerned with how long he would stay in the position.

Tourville said in terms of interview answers, Schnell was number one — if the department were looking to hire a spokesperson, he said, Schnell would be the right person. However, Tourville said there is more to the job than that. 

Pushing back against Perry, Hark said the city doesn’t have a bad police department. He said he wants to make the department the best it can be, pointing out the city has a a crop of young officers.

“If we can turn the ship in a certain direction ... we’re going to have an even better department down the road,” Hark said, adding he didn’t think the department had been poorly led since Stanger’s departure, but that he is interested in some change.

Bartholomew said Schnell best answered questions relating to key issues like mentorship and staff development, as well as community policing and body cameras. 

Piekarski Krech reiterated comments made by Hark and Bartholomew, in terms of needing a change in the department, saying someone new could refresh the organization.

City Attorney Tim Kuntz said Schnell’s hiring is dependent upon a psychological evaluation, a physical exam, a background check review, and his acceptance of a conditional employment offer. Schnell’s formal appointment could come Nov. 27.


 

Hannah Burlingame can be reached at 651-748-7824 or hburlingame@lillienews.com

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