Cottonwood will have a smooth transition for its police leadership. The Cottonwood Council, with Terence Pratt absent, agreed unanimously Tuesday to a negotiated salary for Steve Gesell as the new Cottonwood chief.
Though the chief serves at the pleasure of the city manager, council approval was needed when the salary offer rose above the mid-point of the range for chief. The approved salary be $115,000, which is consistent with the average of salaries paid to chiefs in Central Arizona.
Councilmen Jesse Dowling and Tim Elinski worried about offering above the scale. Dowling said he realizes there is a cost-of-living differential with California and, he said, "I hope we are not shooting ourselves in the foot."
City Manager Doug Bartosh responded that in addition to his breadth of experience, Gesell also has a wealth of education and should be rewarded for that.
When the number of candidates had originally been narrowed to six and met the public in Cottonwood, they were interviewed individually by four committees of department heads as well as a Public Safety Employee committee, community leaders and regional leaders.
At that point, the interviews were mixed so with two more candidates eliminated, according to Bartosh, a select government leaders committee was assembled and reached a consensus that Gesell was the most qualified.
Bartosh and retiring Chief Jody Fanning flew to California and interviewed staff and business leaders in both San Luis Obispo and Atascadero where Gesell had worked and they were given consistent feedback that he was very popular and effective.
Council members also asked Bartosh about Gesell's separation agreement with San Luis Obisbo.
Councilman Randy Garrison said he had a concern about any legal involvement with Gesell's former employer.
Mayor Diane Joens reminded the council that Doug Bartosh also had a falling out with the City of Scottsdale before accepting Cottonwood Police Chief job.
Bartosh said, though popular among staff and the community, Gesell had philosophical differences with the manager there. Bartosh explained that San Luis Obisbo is a college town and very liberal and police are not seen or heard much.
Bartosh said Gesell was especially popular among the business community and was positive about Gesell's leadership in working with the California homeless situation.
Gesell, speaking to the Verde Independent, said his family is excited about the move. He and his wife, Nesa, have three children. Lauren is 12 years old, and Lindsay and Nathan are 9-year-old twins.
After moving to California six and a half years ago, the family located in the ocean side, relatively rural part of California and came to love it. He said, "I couldn't imagine moving to another urban area. I still love the Phoenix area and what it offers, but with the consideration of the needs of my family, this opportunity is a blessing."
Even though the council is offering a conditional offer of employment, Gesell still must satisfy a vetting process with the Arizona-required polygraph, as well as medical and physical aptitude. There is also the Arizona re-certification. That process assumes that Gesell's training is consistent with Arizona standards, which should be straight forward since he received his training in Arizona.
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