Brainerd names 3 finalists for police chief
George Vinson, Brent Baloun and Victor Siebeneck III are in the running to replace retiring Chief Corky McQuiston.
Three candidates from Becker, Fargo, North Dakota and Salt Lake City, Utah are in the final running to become Brainerd’s next police chief.
George Vinson, Brent Baloun and Victor Siebeneck III were the top picks coming out of the city’s civil service commission meeting Monday, Dec. 14.
Twenty-five applicants put their names in to replace Police Chief Corky McQuiston, who is set to retire soon. With the help of David Drown Associates, a hiring committee of City Administrator Jennifer Bergman, Human Resources Director Kris Schubert, police and fire civil service commission member Cathy Gray and McQuiston narrowed that list down to seven finalists, who were interviewed last week.
The seven candidates interviewed with the city council Thursday, Dec. 10, and with a community panel made up of Brainerd Fire Chief Tim Holmes, Brainerd Public Schools Superintendent Laine Larson, Mid-Minnesota Women’s Center Executive Director Shannon Wussow, Baxter Police Chief Jim Exsted and Bemidji Police Chief Mike Mastin.
Community panel members then rated candidates in nine areas: communication skills, clarity of ideas, innovation, articulated vision for the position, degree of research on the city of Brainerd, understanding of the position, theoretical knowledge, teamwork and interpersonal skills. Candidates were scored out of a possible 75 points.
The hiring committee awarded up to 20 points for each candidate’s application related to training and experience and five points for a pre-recorded video interview. The civil service commission then reviewed the scores Monday and certified the top three candidates, from whom the council is expected to choose a police chief Monday, Dec. 21.
Out of a possible 100 points, Vinson ranked highest with 86.9, followed by Baloun with 79.4 and Siebeneck with 70.15.
Other candidates were: Chad Worden, police sergeant with the Metro Transit Police Department in the Twin Cities, 57.6; Ty Sharp, police chief at the Dilworth Police Department, 53.5; James Carroll, patrol sergeant/supervisor in the Minneapolis Police Department’s 3rd Precinct, 49.05; and Peyton Fleming, patrol sergeant at the Mendota Heights Police Department, 47.9.
Additional points would have been given to internal candidates based on years of service, but none of the top seven were internal.
About the candidates
During the city council interviews, candidates fielded questions about leadership style, dealing with sensitive issues, integrity and ethics, community partnerships, visions for the future and past mistakes.
Vinson, a lieutenant with the Fargo Police Department, grew up in Ruthton, Minnesota, and said he always wanted to go into law enforcement. After studying at Minnesota State University-Moorhead, he said he had planned to work for a small town in Minnesota but ultimately took a position in the Fargo Police Department, which was hiring at the time.
“What I’d really like to do is get back to a community like Brainerd,” he said. “Brainerd specifically because I’m an outdoors person. I love what Brainerd has to offer in terms of hunting, fishing, the outdoors side of it.”
The Brainerd/Baxter community, he added, is similarly structured to the Fargo/Moorhead area he’s familiar working in.
Over the past 17 years, Vinson has spent time as an officer, detective, assistant emergency preparedness coordinator, sergeant, school resource sergeant and field service lieutenant and has worked in the canine unit. He has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and sociology and a masters in public safety and law enforcement.
Baloun, Becker Police Chief and emergency management director for the last 14 years, was born and raised in Brainerd, attending Garfield Elementary School and graduating from high school here.
“For me to be able to return where kind of I first started and grew up is exciting,” he said.
Baloun also served as a patrol officer, school liaison officer and sergeant for the St. Cloud Police Department and as a police officer and drug abuse resistance education officer in Crosby. He has worked as a crime scene analyst and attended the FBI Academy for forensic training. He has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice studies and a masters in public safety executive leadership.
Siebeneck, an executive officer in the chief’s office at the Salt Lake City Police Department in Utah, is looking to move to his wife’s home state of Minnesota. His daughter is a nursing student at Central Lakes College and works at Essentia Health-St. Joseph’s in Brainerd.
“I’ve gotten to know the area a little bit more, and Brainerd is just — it’s got that great community feel, and I really like the downtown area,” he said.
Over the past 19 years, Siebeneck has served as a patrol officer, lead officer, detective, sergeant, lieutenant and captain. He has a bachelor’s degree in geography and a master’s degree in criminal justice.
Police officer retention is perhaps one of the biggest issues facing the Brainerd Police Department in recent years. The department is budgeted for 27 full-time officers but only has 23 on staff.
Vinson said his approach to addressing the issue is finding a solution that balances the needs of long-time officers who may be getting burnt out and younger millennials who might not have as much job loyalty at this point in their lives.
“And you do that, in part, by listening to their concerns, developing them, understanding how they tick, what do they need,” he said, adding it’s important to figure out how each officer gains satisfaction from their job.
“Some people are high growth-need people; some people are low growth-need people, but that doesn’t mean that one is better than the other,” Vinson said. “It’s situation leadership to understand what the employee needs. One sure fire way to make an employee not feel valued is to not get their input or get it disingenuously and not try to implement it.”
Having the best training, the best equipment and the best leadership, he said, is the best way to retain the best employees.
Working in a small town like Becker, Baloun said he understands retention issues, as his department often serves as a training ground of sorts for new officers before they move on elsewhere. To combat the issue, Becker started a reserve program, trying to get students from area colleges and universities interested in law enforcement.
“I think we need to be active and going to these places where the students are coming and try and sell what we have — why it’s great to come to Becker, why it’s great to come to the Brainerd lakes area,” Baloun said.
The Becker Police Department publishes an annual report on its website to highlight what kinds of initiatives the department is involved in as a way to reach out to the community as well, he said.
Siebeneck attributed widespread police retention issues to civil unrest, low morale and officers often being overworked and vilified across the country. The best way to recruit new officers, he said, is to create a positive working environment for existing officers, who will undoubtedly spread the word.
“Your officers are the best recruiting tool that a department has,” he said. “... If the overall morale and the attitude in the department is, ‘Hey, this is a great place to work, the community loves us, we love working for the community, we like getting out and interacting with the community, our chief has our back, he supports us, he respects us, he listens to us,’ they’re going to say, ‘Hey, you should work where I work.’”
There are more factors to look at, too, Siebeneck said, but a good place to start is making sure the officers in place are happy with their jobs.
When asked how the department would be different in five years if they were hired, Baloun and Siebeneck both mentioned increasing retention. Baloun said he also wants to see police active in the community groups, while Siebeneck again noted his goal would be to support his officers as best he could.
Vinson said he hopes in five years officers wouldn’t be burnt out but be able to provide the best service possible and that residents would say their police are engaged in the community.
Owning up to the past
Each candidate was asked about a mistake they made in the past and how it was resolved.
As his department’s grant manager, Vinson described a time when he was putting grant details together but wasn’t communicating some of the necessary information back to the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services. He ended up authorizing overtime for officers without realizing the expenses did not meet the grant requirements, which ended up costing the city extra money. Vinson said this experience taught him about relationship-building and to take his time and consult with the necessary authorities and rely on their advice when needed.
Baloun mentioned the large recycling plant fire earlier this year in Becker and said he was the one tasked with talking to the media while the fire chief was busy. He said a comment he made was taken out of context, leading to a lot of backlash.
“I don't know if I call it much of a mistake versus a kind of a learning experience of how media actually deals with things, or maybe can kind of twist things,” he said. “So I guess I would say I’m better prepared next time on how we’re going to deal with the media out of Minneapolis.”
Siebeneck spoke of when he was an executive officer of a patrol division and in charge of staffing various beats according to call volume. He said he made a critical mistake of forgetting to include specific times and how officers were supposed to log on to the software, as it was during the pandemic.
“I made the appropriate contacts with our IT guy and with the person who’s responsible for our bidding software, and I was able to rectify it,” he said. “It was very embarrassing, we got off about a half day late, but that was my responsibility, and I took full account for it.”
Vinson believes his small-town roots and bigger city policing experience give him the right combination of qualifications for the job. He has experience dealing with a wide variety of issues in Fargo, from natural disasters like flooding to civil unrest with protests and riots.
“I think that my progressive, inclusive leadership style will be a great fit for the city of Brainerd,” Vinson said.
Baloun said he still has many family and friends in the Brainerd area and would love the chance to finish out his career in his hometown.
“I think I’ve got a lot to offer with the experiences I’ve had with a bigger department and certainly now at the level that I’m at right now as the chief of police,” he said. “... I think those experiences I can bring to Brainerd as well.”
Siebeneck said he brings a wealth of knowledge, having worked in pretty much every area of his current department.
“I am great at building relationships, reaching across the table, reaching out to other resources, getting resources for organizations where they need and making those connections with the community,” he said.
The hiring process
The city established a police and fire civil service commission by ordinance in 1973. Under Minnesota Statute 419.05, cities with a police civil service commission grant the commission “absolute control and supervision over the employment, promotion, discharge, and suspension of all officers and employees of the police department.”
Essentially, with the creation of the civil service commission, the council has delegated part of its hiring authority to the commission, Schubert said.
Before the top three candidates were identified, council members asked what would happen if they did not like the candidates certified by the commission. Gary Weiers, of David Drown Associates, said he and Schubert would consult with the city attorney to determine the next steps if that were to happen, as the city council still has the final hiring authority for city employees.
The council is expected to make a final decision during its regular meeting Monday, Dec. 21.
THERESA BOURKE may be reached at email@example.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa .