By Barney Blakeney
The City of Charleston is poised to hire both a new police chief and fire chief. In the past week city officials have interviewed finalists for both positions. City officials January 30-31 interviewed four candidates for the fire chief’s position and February 5-6 presented to the media the five candidates vying for the chief of police position.
In this city where much is influenced by race and ethnicity, the role of race in the selection processes, though publicly downplayed, is a consideration. Being played out in the shadow of North Charleston’s appointment of its first Black police chief, Charleston residents are waiting to see if the city will hire its second Black police chief. Interim Police Chief Jerome Taylor is among the five candidates. A veteran of the department since 1972, Taylor is well suited for the position. He joins Little Rock, Ark. Police Chief Kenton Buckner as the two African Americans in the field of candidates. There are no African Americans among the candidates for fire chief.
Recently Charleston Branch NAACP President Dot Scott said while she is not very concerned that a Black candidate be hired as fire chief, she is concerned that only about eight percent of firefighters are Black. When former Charleston Fire Chief Karen Brack was hired in 2012 of approximately 391 firefighters about 40 were black. As then, about 27 percent of the city’s population is black. Brack was the metropolitan Charleston area’s first female fire chief. She resigned unexpectedly last March.
All the candidates for the position are white males. Interim Fire Chief John Tippett is vying for the position. He joined the department in 2009.
Like Tippett in the fire chief selection, the inclusion of veteran Charleston policeman Jerome Taylor among the finalists for police chief will force the city’s administration to make an objective decision. Taylor’s sublimely suited for the job. He’s worked in just about every capacity in the department during his 44 years. He served under the late Chief Reuben Greenberg, a consummate leader who was the city’s only Black police chief.
While there have been vociferous calls for Taylor to become the city’s second Black chief, one colleague intimated Taylor probably will retire soon and would be happy as second in command, the position he held under former Chief Greg Mullen. The colleague noted that position remains unfilled.