ITHACA, N.Y.—The City of Ithaca is officially reopening its search for a police chief, hiring an executive search firm to handle a nationwide search for the next leader of the Ithaca Police Department. The decision comes two months after the first search fell apart before reaching Common Council.
Mayor Laura Lewis said that an agreement with an unidentified search firm is being finalized this week and that city leaders will soon hold an initial meeting with the consultants. The current allocation for the search is $50,000, as approved by Common Council at last month’s meeting.
Lewis would not name the firm until the contract between it and the city was officially signed and sealed.
Filling the position has been a rollercoaster so far. Former police chief Dennis Nayor, burnt out from the protests, scrutiny and impending reforms that were a central part of the nationwide reaction to George Floyd’s murder in 2020 officially retired in May 2021. He was succeeded by then-deputy chief John Joly, who stepped in to be the acting chief at the time. The search went quiet for a time, all while the Reimagining Public Safety reforms that could fundamentally change the Ithaca Police Department progressed through its own turbulence, until finally three community forums were announced featuring the three finalists for the chief of police job: Joly, former IPD lieutenant Scott Garin (Correction: Garin was originally listed as a sergeant) and Binghamton Police Captain Christopher Bracco.
Early December saw the process take a more chaotic turn: Joly was initially selected as the chief, submitted by Mayor Laura Lewis to Common Council for approval of her first major hire and her most visible move since her November election victory. The selection was first publicized in the Common Council agenda released on a Friday. But cracks showed quickly, as Common Council members, angered by the pick and rankled that they had not been informed beforehand, began voicing their opposition to Joly over the weekend and by Monday evening, two days before the vote on Joly was scheduled to take place, Lewis withdrew his appointment.
Joly then made his anger over the process known at a subsequent council meeting.
Several sources have told The Ithaca Voice that the selection committee had recommended Garin (though not unanimously, as had previously been reported) but they were, ostensibly, overruled when Lewis chose Joly.
With the search now resetting to square one, and adding some outside help, the first step would appear to be identifying candidates who are willing to apply after the botched first search and confusion over the ongoing public safety reforms swirling around the department, which have not come fully into focus. That may not include the three finalists who vied for the job last year.
Garin declined to comment, while Joly said he would not be a candidate, calling the last process “a sh*t show.”
“I will not be reapplying,” Joly stated. “I have no interest in going through it again.”
Bracco, on the other hand, said he would consider reapplying, and that he would “love” to lead the Ithaca Police Department. But he would want to know that he was being “seriously considered,” something he did not feel was the case during the previous search—Bracco felt only Garin and Joly were actually being reviewed for the job.
“With the other two candidates, it was kind of centered around maybe not wanting to have one guy, and wanting to have the other guy, so I don’t know how serious they were about me,” Bracco said. “In terms of re-applying, they had a chance to hire me.”
Bracco said he’d have to do some “soul searching” before deciding whether or not to reapply, particularly if the process is as long and public as the last one was.
The Ithaca Voice is awaiting a FOIL request for the agreement between the City of Ithaca and its executive search firm.