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Community members ask for transparency, trust during forum for Longmont’s next public safety chief

From left: Dante Orlandi, Zach Ardis, Manny Almaguer, Longmont Assistant City Manager Sandi Seader, Kenneth Chavez and Michael Marino prepare for the start of a question and answer session with public safety chief candidate finalists Thursday in Longmont. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)
From left: Dante Orlandi, Zach Ardis, Manny Almaguer, Longmont Assistant City Manager Sandi Seader, Kenneth Chavez and Michael Marino prepare for the start of a question and answer session with public safety chief candidate finalists Thursday in Longmont. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)
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Longmont is one step closer to finding the next leader of its public safety department.

Finalists for Longmont Public Safety’s chief position on Thursday were asked about transparency, when use of force is appropriate and if selected for the position, how they would built trust and relationships with the community, during a forum with City Council members, city staff and local organizations.

The five finalists — Zach Ardis, currently the executive director of Policy, Planning, and Public Safety in Commerce, Ga.; Kenneth Chavez, a retired Denver Police Department lieutenant; Manny Almaguer, an assistant Denver fire chief in charge of that department’s operations division; Dante Orlandi, a former major in the Pennsylvania State Police; and Michael Marino, currently an assistant chief in the Prince George’s County, Md., Fire/EMS Department — attended a daylong panel Thursday where they met with city staff and ended the day Thursday answering questions during a forum.

Ariel Flach, a youth leader with County Collectives, said she hopes to have a public safety chief that can build relationships with the community.

“I don’t feel that there are clear relationships between safety officers and members of the community,” Flach said. “Obviously there are exceptions and I’ve had some outliers, but as a rule, I tend to crave more relationship between the community because I think that would help them be more in touch with what our communities are.”

During the event, Orlandi was asked how he handles community outreach and how he would work with the city.

“I think the key is listening to the community and listening to what your needs are and knowing that you have a voice and that someone is going to care about what you have to say,” he said.

A theme of the night was the topic of transparency and how — if selected — candidates would work with the community.

Ardis said his leadership style is to bring as many voices to the table as he can and sit down and have open, transparent conversations.

“What I have found in the last four and a half years that I have worked for the City of Commerce is we have been able to accomplish a lot of things by sitting down and having those transparent conversations,” he said.

Chavez spoke about use of force and when he thinks it is necessary, saying officers need to be “judicious” and use it when it is appropriate.

“It is an authority of police to utilize force and a duty at times, (but) it also comes with a great deal of responsibility,” he said. “(Use of force) exposes the city to great financial risk and great emotional and respect risk.”

Almaguer spoke about funding for mental health resources for law enforcement.

Something public safety workers struggle with is “compassion fatigue,” and it is critical that enforcement is able to access funding for officers to continue to care for not only their community but themselves, Almaguer said.

“Experiences become traumatic to us, so we need to be able to take care of ourselves to take care of you,” he said.

Marino said when he was young, police officers were people he looked up to and respected, and although having school resource officers can be controversial, it’s a position that can be valuable, he said.

“You see a shift (in law enforcement) from the warrior mentality to the guardian mentality,” he said. “We need to make sure we provide a safe learning environment in our schools that starts with emotional and physical safety.”

City Manager Harold Dominguez said he wanted Thursday’s interview process for the candidates to be similar to what he went through when he interviewed for the city manager position but also wanted to wait until COVID-19 restrictions were lifted to have face-to-face meetings with community members and the finalists.

“For me it’s really to get feedback from different groups — those that work for the position and those that work with the position — and obviously (see) how the community engages with the individual in that position,” he said. “It’s important for me to get that feedback as I work to make a decision on how we move forward.”

Longmont’s public safety chief oversees the city’s police and fire departments as well as its Office of Emergency Management and its Community Resilience and Support Services divisions.

The midpoint of the pay range for the position of public safety chief is $15,955/month, or $191,460 a year, said Joanne Zeas, Longmont’s chief human resources officer. Former Chief Mike Butler was being paid an annual rate of $193,375 when he left the city’s employment.

About 30 people including city staff, Council members and leaders of local organizations attended the forum.

Representatives for organizations such as Out Boulder County, Longmont Latino Voice, NAACP Boulder County, El Comité and County Collectives attended the event.