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Faulconer asked to add national search for new SDPD chief to budget

SAN DIEGO — The chair of the San Diego City Council’s Budget Committee demanded Wednesday that the mayor’s office fund a national search in the upcoming year for a new police chief.

The current leader of the San Diego Police Department, Shelley Zimmerman, is scheduled to step down next March when her participation in a deferred retirement plan expires.

Several council members listed a national search as a priority for the fiscal year that begins July 1, but it wasn’t funded in Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s $3.6 billion spending proposal.

At a hearing on the police budget, mayoral staff said they anticipated the need for a search, and would be able to dip into city coffers for $50,000.

Budget Committee Chairwoman Barbara Bry said she preferred the hunt for a new SDPD chief be included as a line-item in the upcoming budget.

“As most of you know, I come out of the business world and I’ve served on many nonprofit boards,” Bry said.

“It is a best practice everywhere I’ve ever been to do a national, or a very wide, search when you’re looking for a new executive of an organization,” Bry said. “Hopefully, this search includes both internal and external candidates.”

She also said the suggested $50,000 figure was “too little to do this adequately.”

“This is one of the most important positions in our city, and we have to get this right,” Bry said. “Getting it right includes extensive community input and participation in the process.”

Councilman Chris Ward called it “an irresponsible decision” to not fund a search.

However, another councilman with experience in the business world, Scott Sherman, said that a national search might not be necessary.

“It’s either one of two things, you don’t have anybody internally that you think can fill the position or things are broken and you want to shake things up,” Sherman said.

He said he thinks the department “is moving in the right direction.”

Hiring internally “gives you someone who know the business and the people inside the organization,” Sherman said.

Zimmerman became the SDPD chief in March 2014, succeeding William Lansdowne and becoming the city’s first female chief.

Just a year earlier, she enrolled in the city’s so-called DROP program, meaning she will have to resign her municipal employment by March 1 next year. The program was designed to benefit experienced workers by allowing them to collect pension payments in their final five years — in an account that they couldn’t touch until they left city employment.