MARCO ISLAND — When Marco Island Police Chief Thom Carr heard who will replace him when he retires next week, he was surprised, to put it mildly.
“I never in a million years would have thought of (former Collier County Sheriff) Don Hunter but actually it sounds like a pretty good fit,” Chief Carr says.
“He has done nothing but support our police department since its inception. We’ve had a very good working relationship, so he’s not coming in unfamiliar with the department.”
We asked Chief Carr what might be the biggest differences in Hunter’s more than 20 years as sheriff of Collier County and running a 34-person police department here.
“The sheer change in size. At the county level he had a tremendous amount of support staff. Here he basically has two full-time, a records clerk and an administrative assistant, plus three part-time people. He is going to have to do a lot of things personally that he would have had personnel to do for him before.”
“You just don’t have the people here. You’re dealing with councilors on a daily basis, getting phone calls all the time, dealing with the city manager; you dance to the tune of several people. Balancing that is the hard part.
“The thing that’s been the hardest for me is the ‘input’ from people in the community who want to tell you how to do your job and they know all about it and they know it better than you.
“As sheriff, Don Hunter was a little insulated from that. Here, they’re on your doorstep every day of the week. This is a very small community and a very active community as far as people getting involved or trying to get involved in city government.
“I’m sure he had the same there, but here’s it’s much, much closer.”
Favorable reactions to City Manager Jim Riviere’s choice for police chief include those from businessman Richard Shanahan, former president and now vice president of the Marco Police Foundation.
Shanahan has known and worked with Hunter since 1988, during the sheriff’s first term and Shanahan’s tenure on the Collier County Commission.
“He is qualified in every respect, background, education and more. We’ll benefit by his selection.”
Any advice for soon-to-be Chief Hunter?
“He’s got to come in and stabilize the police department and build morale. Those in the department seem to be satisfied, but they want to see the department grow. And they want to see outstanding leadership. If we get that everybody will be happy.”
We asked Hunter his thoughts on the differences between his former job and this new one:
“As sheriff we had six substations in the county and I recognized that each of those substations was created to respond to a community that had certain attributes that were different from the others – Immokalee, Marco island, city of Naples, East Naples, Everglades City, all different.
“Marco had always been a cosmopolitan area even more so than Naples, which I consider to be more sedate, more of a long-term residential population. Marco has a form of transience with a large number of part time residents including foreign nationals, plus a lot of retired business people.
“It will be exciting for me to focus just on Marco and learn more about it as opposed to considering the entire county.
“I look forward to that. I don’t pretend to be an expert on Marco or what its needs may be at the moment but I’m excited to learn more about Marco, its people and the people I’ll be serving and serving with. It gets me back in the law enforcement circles.
“I hope it will be a good and positive adventure for Marco. I appreciate Dr. Riviere giving me the opportunity and I wish Chief Carr all the best in his retirement.
“He leaves a professional agency and he’s done a nice job with that, as did Chief Reinke. I hope to learn from Thom Carr before he gets away too far.”
Speaking with City Manager Riviere right after he announced the appointment of Don Hunter as police chief, he addressed the selection.
“I wasn’t sure he’d be available but I made the inquiry and we just took it from there. We found out we liked each other; I hadn’t known him before.
“He brings an integrity factor. The guy has no personal axe to grind, he’s a professional and that’s what I was seeking. I think that philosophically we’re very close.
“The size of the territory or the quality of employees or the size of the budget never came into the discussion. We talked more in terms of community involvement, support and confidence that the community would have in the services proved by the police.”
So, no worries about the new chief transitioning from huge Collier County to Marco island?
“No,” says the city manager. “I can help him make that transition. The number of zeros on the budgets that I’ve been responsible for are quite a bit more than I‘ve got here. I’ve had bigger budgets too.
Sometimes it’s the affordability you wind up operating with less and doing more. We make up for (lack of staff) with enthusiasm.”
Council Chairman Jerry Gibson praised the decision.
“The citizens of Marco Island will be well-served with Don Hunter at the helm; he was highly regarded by law enforcement professionals and Marco Island residents when he was Sheriff and I look forward to welcoming him back to the community,” he said. “It also speaks well of the prestige associated with the position of Marco Island police chief to attract someone of the caliber of Don Hunter.”
Hunter will lead the Marco Island police department with 34 full-time sworn officers, five civilian employees, numerous volunteers and a budget of $4.4 million. One of his primary challenges will be to continue to provide high quality services to the community with a continually shrinking budget, according to a press release put out by the city.
Hunter would assume duties after being sworn at 10 a.m. Aug. 8 at Marco Island City Hall.
Hunter was among several candidates who applied for the position, including: Jeffrey Hadley, the chief of the Kalamazoo, Mich. Department of Public Safety; Kevin Canavan, the commanding officer and inspector for the Nassau County Police Department in Williston Park, N.Y.; and Robert Boone, former Marco Island Police Chief currently working as the chief of police in Rio Rancho, N.M.
According to Riviere, the position was not advertised. The city manager said he doesn’t publicly post jobs at the director level.
Riviere did not respond to follow up questions regarding the exact hiring process for the new chief before the Eagle’s print deadline. However, Tina Chiappetta, senior director of government affairs for the non-profit industry group, International Public Management Association for Human Resources, said it wasn’t unusual for a municipality to forgo advertising a position, especially if a local candidate fits the criteria sought.
“You don’t want the entire town (staff) to be sifting through resumes,” she said. “You look for a very few people who might be qualified.”
According to Ron Klein, a labor attorney and former professor who practices with the Naples law office of Jeffrey M. Janeiro, hiring decisions vary from town to town, depending on each city’s established governing charter. Although Klein is surprised that such a high ranking position was not advertised, he believes that “in the end they hire who they want anyway.
“It would seem that it’s not the best practice, but in the end you might have the same results (regardless of the search process.”
Hunter was born in 1951 in Tallahassee and has been a resident of Collier County since 1961. He graduated from Naples High School in 1969.
Hunter started with the Collier County Sheriff’s Office in 1979, years before Marco Island had its own and police department or incorporated as a city.
Hunter was first elected sheriff in 1988. He received nearly twice as many votes from Marco Island residents than his opponent in the 2000 primary. Hunter only faced token opposition in the general election, said Dave Hunter, qualifying officer at the Collier County Supervisor of Elections.
Hunter left the agency in 2009 after deciding not to seek a fifth term.
Most recently, Hunter was a consultant for the National Center of Missing and Exploited Children - a position he left in February 2011.
Additional reporting by Candace Rotolo, Kelly Farrell and Victoria Macchi.