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Minority member sought on panel

A group of Westminster residents is demanding a minority representative on the committee that will lead the search for a new police chief for the city.

But the mayor said the selection process is more open that it has ever been and there is no reason to expand the panel.

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"We want an opportunity to have a voice that allows us to participate in the search," said Phyllis Hammond Black, a former president of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Black organized a demonstration that drew about a dozen protesters Saturday to speak out against the makeup of the committee, which will interview candidates to replace former Chief Roger G. Joneckis.

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He retired last month after 29 years on the force, the last four as the head of the 41-member department.

Mayor Kevin E. Dayhoff appointed a search committee to define job characteristics, conduct interviews and develop a short list of finalists that will be presented to the mayor and Common Council.

The committee members - all white - are: retired state police Lt. Col. Roland Meerdter, a former chief of personnel management for the state police; council President Damian L. Halstad; Councilman Roy L. Chiavacci; Councilwoman Suzanne P. Albert; Sheriff Kenneth L. Tregoning; Carroll County State's Attorney Jerry F. Barnes; and Maj. Michael J. Fischer, former Westminster barracks commander.

Yesterday, Dayhoff defended the makeup of the committee.

"This has never been done in the city of Westminster," Dayhoff said, referring to the search panel.

"There has never been such an open and transparent search process. In the past, the police chief was just announced at the council meeting. There was no community feedback at all.

"I worked extraordinarily hard to bring the community into the process," he added. "I hope that's not lost on these folks. This is a great example of no good deed goes unpunished."

Dayhoff organized a community forum Thursday to hear comments from residents who felt that the composition of the committee was not sensitive to the needs of minorities. About a dozen people attended.

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"I thought the forum was an excellent way to get community feedback," Dayhoff said.

"If you were to put one or two different individuals on the committee, that wouldn't be inclusive."

Black and others said the forum was not enough.

"This shows total disrespect," Black said. "They're just trying to make us feel good and pacify us.

"Mayor Dayhoff is really not living up to the promises he made and his commitments in terms of diversity issues, trying to reach out to the community and address the needs of some of the areas that have been neglected."

Figures from the 2000 Census show that Westminster has a population of just over 17,000, nearly 9 percent of which is nonwhite.

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Black said that she has heard complaints over the years about the Westminster police force - mostly about how it treats African-American males.

Maj. Dean A. Brewer, acting police chief, said the department has tried to recruit minority officers.

Two members of the department are nonwhite - one is a civilian dispatcher, the other an officer.

Black said that the group will protest again Saturday if she or another minority is not added to the search committee.

Though their numbers might be small, minorities who live in the city said they deserve to be heard.

"I wanted someone from a metropolitan area more sensitive to minority needs," said Josephine Velazquez, a Westminster resident who ran unsuccessfully for city council this year.

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Like Black, she showed up to speak at the council meeting Aug. 11 and at the forum Thursday, but did not participate in Saturday's protest.

"We're a small town with big-city problems - drugs, crime and prostitution," Velazquez said.

"Just because we're a small town doesn't mean we have blinders to everything. Westminster is growing. We're not going to the city, the city is coming to us."


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