Dick Hammerstrom, a local news editor at The Free Lance-Star, is an advocate for open government and serves on  several statewide organizations that urge transparency. You can email him at

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Newport News giving residents voice in hiring police chief

Local government officials in Virginia should pay attention to the method Newport News is using to select a new police chief.

City residents were given a voice in questioning and commenting on the five finalists for the job.

According to the Daily Press in Newport News, the turnout of residents for the five citizen forums ranged from 40 to 70 people, and there were more questions for candidates than time.

Each candidate underwent 45 minutes of questioning and discussed their background and law enforcement philosophy and responded to any questions tossed at them.

Before the public forums, the finalists were interviewed by four other panels: city department heads, police officers, police department personnel and the city manager.

For residents unable to attend the forums, the city will post videos of each forum on the municipal website.

Whether this transparent process produces a better chief remains to be seen, but my guess is that it will.

After all, the police chief serves city residents and their opinions should be paramount.

Any public hiring process that involves citizen input is bound to be better than the way it’s done in most localities—behind closed doors.


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