BALOG COLUMN: Summey should have reached out on police chief choice
You certainly can't call Keith Summey wishy-washy.
The North Charleston mayor makes a decision and sticks to it. He wanted Eddie Driggers to be the city's next police chief, and he made it so.
He has that right under the city's strong-mayor form of government.
And he told people gathered for a news conference Friday that he's sorry if he offended anyone in the process, but of course, he's not going to change his mind.
That's no surprise either. He is firmly in charge of his city.
The question that lingers, however, is why he didn't anticipate the blowback from the community he knows so well, or, why he didn't think it would matter.
Yes, there are clear advantages to getting someone in place to work side by side with outgoing Chief Jon Zumalt. Anybody who's been in a workplace environment where it's gone the other way, where someone's departure creates a months-long vacancy, can appreciate having that luxury.
And no, this is not in any way an indictment of Driggers, whose heart is clearly in the right place. He has the blessing — literally — of Rob Dewey, his boss at Coastal Crisis Chaplaincy. He has the endorsement of Charleston County Sheriff Al Cannon.
And he appears to have a combination of a big heart and, as mentioned Friday, a penchant for putting thugs in jail, both of which should serve him well.
His qualifications — 30 years with the Sheriff's Office and nearly five years with the chaplaincy — are strong, so strong that he probably would have made it to the finalists, if not the top slot, if there had been an open application process.
But that's not the point.
Starting on the right foot
Why not invite applications, or nominations from community groups? Maybe not a full-blown $50,000 cross-country search, but at least open up the process a bit? Summey still would have had his ace in the hole, and if he remained convinced Driggers was the best choice, then so be it. But it would have been better, politically speaking, to involve some other people in the process.
He could have harnessed that interest to his — and the new chief's — advantage. Instead, he has inevitably eroded some of the good will his current police chief worked so hard to accumulate — and yes, clearly, there is more work to be done.
It's a little difficult to understand why Summey did it this way. And his explanation didn't seem to change much from his introductions of the new chief Thursday and Friday.
In reality, no candidate could possibly have satisfied everyone who has a stake in this choice. But opening up the process would have made everybody feel a little bit better.
One thing's for sure: Now it's up to Driggers to perpetuate the good will established by Zumalt, and to work to continue bridging the gap between the police and the community. Too bad he has to start on such rocky footing.
Reach Melanie Balog at firstname.lastname@example.org or 937-5565.