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Police Board spent $500,000 on discarded top-cop search

The Police Board recommended three candidates, but Mayor Rahm Emanuel bypassed all three finalists and handed the job to Chief of Patrol Eddie Johnson as the interim Chicago Police superintendent. | Brian Jackson/For the Sun-Times

The Chicago Police Board spent roughly $500,000 on the nationwide search for fired Police Supt. Garry McCarthy’s replacement, only to have Mayor Rahm Emanuel bypass all three finalists in favor of a candidate who didn’t apply: Chief of Patrol Eddie Johnson.

The spending covers everything from air travel, hotels and restaurants for out-of-town candidates to advertising and background checks in a search that started with 39 candidates and was winnowed down to a final three.

The Police Board recommended three candidates: Cedric Alexander, public safety director of DeKalb County, Georgia; Anne Kirkpatrick, retired police chief of Spokane, Washington; and the Chicago Police Department’s Deputy Supt. Eugene Williams.

Emanuel chose “none of the above” and handed the job to Johnson. The mayor called the former Gresham District commander uniquely qualified to rebuild community trust shattered by the police shooting of Laquan McDonald; reverse the alarming increase in homicides and shootings during the first quarter of 2016; and boost rock-bottom police morale that has caused police activity to plummet.

Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), former chairman of the City Council’s Police Committee, said the hefty tab underscores the need to do away with the “dog and pony show” of a second Police Board search and allow Emanuel to install Johnson as his permanent superintendent, a change the mayor has openly embraced.

“That’s a lot of money. There’s no need to spend another $500,000 of taxpayers’ money on a second search. Knowing the mayor has made it clear this is his pick, I don’t think you’ll get any more applicants,” Beale said.

Aldermen essentially have two options: permanently change an ordinance put in place 50 years ago after the cops-as-robbers scandal in the Summerdale District or make a one-time exception for Johnson.

Beale favors the one-time exception.

“This is a unique situation where the mayor is just looking to suspend these rules temporarily for immediate consideration of this particular pick,” he said.

Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th), the mayor’s City Council floor leader, and Public Safety Committee Chairman Ariel Reboyras (30th) could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Other sources said the City Council would be asked next week to remove the title interim superintendent and hand Johnson the permanent $260,044-a-year job.

The Public Safety Committee would then be asked to take a longer look at whether the Police Board should continue to vet and nominate candidates for police superintendent when the mayor has a free hand in choosing every other city department head, sources said.

The mayor’s request for the City Council to sanction his end-run around the Police Board comes at a time when aldermen have been pushing back, emboldened by the Laquan McDonald shooting video that has weakened Emanuel politically.

With that political dynamic in mind, O’Connor told the Chicago Sun-Times earlier this week he was not at all certain that an ordinance untying Emanuel’s hands would be introduced at next week’s City Council meeting.

“You can only do things quickly when you have consensus. I don’t think we have consensus. Whether or not we’d like to do something quickly does not seem to be an option,” O’Connor said.

“I’m not clear as to what will happen,” he said. “It’s kind of a fluid situation. Some people have very strong opinions to either resolve this thing immediately or let the process wait. It’s in flux right now.”

O’Connor argued then that a second nationwide search, even if there was one, would not be nearly as costly as Round One.

“People on the Police Board don’t live in a vacuum. I don’t want to call it abbreviated, but [they could conduct] a shorter search. And if they’re not happy with that, do their job and, if it costs that money, it costs that money,” O’Connor said of the $500,000 tab.

Police Board President Lori Lightfoot confirmed the $500,000 tab. She issued a statement last week saying she’s waiting to see what the City Council does before determining the board’s next move. On the day she released the names of the three finalists, Lightfoot made it clear that the Police Board was not about to conduct a second nationwide search any time soon.

After anointing Johnson, Emanuel said he expected the board to take a “normal deep breath” before embarking on the second search.

Days later, the mayor changed his tune.

“We have a very good person in Eddie Johnson who garners support across a spectrum of people. . . . When you have a consensus like that, not just me, but also the aldermen believe we need to move forward so Eddie and his team can be totally focused on the safety and security,” the mayor said.

“The Police Board did their work and they did it well, and I thank them for that. I also think they continue to serve a role,” he said. “What we’re dealing with is a situation — given the violence on our streets, particularly on the South and West sides — of how to make sure all our public safety is focused on that mission and not worried about anything else.”

Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, has argued that Emanuel’s decision to do an end-run around his hand-picked Police Board has rendered a second search meaningless and a waste of time and money.

“It will have an enormous impact on anyone else applying. It’s over. It’s done. . . . Why would any other candidate put himself in that position. It makes no sense. They’re going through the motions because it’s clear who the mayor wants,” Wexler said last week.

Former St. Louis police chief Dan Isom, who chose not to apply in Round One even though he was encouraged to do so, added, “I doubt whether any top candidates will apply for the position” in a second search.