The Gazette covers City Hall, now a flood-damaged icon on May's Island in the Cedar River

Forecast by national headhunter a little shaky: In-house O’Konek tops list of chief candidates

In City Hall, Police Department on April 12, 2008 at 3:19 am

City Hall turned to the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) in recent months for help in conducting a national search to find Cedar Rapids’ next police chief.

By then, PERF was no stranger to town: The Washington, D.C.-based consultant had spent considerable time at the Police Department over several months helping the department reorganize and modernize under the city’s new council/manager government.

As a result, it couldn’t be ignored at the end of January when two PERF representatives, one of whom had been at the department for months, told City Council members that the odds didn’t favor a current member of the Police Department becoming its next police chief.

No internal candidate would be discouraged from applying,  Drew Diamond, PERF director of training and technical assistance, said then.

But Diamond noted the next chief would need to be experienced in the police approach known as community-oriented policing, an approach the Cedar Rapids department had not been doing a very good job at in recent years.

At the same time, Rick Overman, a PERF consultant, said it was “not very often” that internal candidates became police chief in executive searches that PERF played a role in.

Flash ahead 10 weeks:

On Friday, the city’s Civil Service Commission announced the results of interviews and reviews of seven police chief candidates that PERF helped the city find.

The commission certified five of the seven candidates “qualified” to be police chief, and then the commission ranked the five.

Two of the five are the two internal candidates in the competition, Capt. Steve O’Konek, 46, and Capt. Bernie Walther, 47.

O’Konek was ranked first of the five.

Behind him in order are Kenneth Greg Graham, 46, deputy chief at the Ocala, Fla., Police Department; Jeff Hadley, 37, captain at the Fort Wayne, Ind., Police Department; Joseph D’Agostino, 49, captain at the Port St. Lucie, Fla., Police Department; and Walther.

Those left off the certified list were Randy Bratton, 44, police chief in Paducah, Ky.; and Gary Maas, 57, former police chief in Littleton, Colo., and Sioux City, Iowa.

Jim Piersall, one of two Civil Service Commission members who participated in the seven-member interview panel, said Friday that the rankings were based on the interviews, resumes and written answers to questions. Only five of the seven were considered “qualified to be police chief in Cedar Rapids,” Piersall said.

On the interview panel were Piersall; Christine Landa, Civil Service Commission member; City Manager Jim Prosser; Fire Chief Steve Havlik; Conni Huber, human resources director; Mo Sheronick, assistant city attorney; and Bill Moulder, former Des Moines police chief.

Piersall said each of the seven on the interview panel scored each of the candidates, and he and Landa than complied the scores and ranked the candidates.

The list of five qualified candidates now has been handed to Prosser, who picks the next chief with the approval of the City Council. Prosser and the council can pick anyone on the certified list.

Prosser has said he will conduct a second round of interviews with an unspecified number of the certified candidates.

Late Friday afternoon, Prosser said it would be a few days before he made any decisions about those on the certified list.

“I really want to take a look at it, and we’ll go from there,” he said. “… But we have to move on it quickly.”

He repeated Friday that he would like to hire a new chief by early May and have him on the job by early June.

 He called the Civil Service Commission’s interview process “thorough.” “I appreciate their guidance,” Prosser said.

 O’Konek and Walther both are district patrol commanders. O’Konek joined the department in 1985, Walther in 1981.

 The new chief will replace Mike Klappholz, who retired March 7 after a 9-year run as chief.

One of the candidate interviewers, Mo Sheronick, noted to the candidates that Cedar Rapids had not hired a police chief from outside the Police Department since about 1975.

To see videotapes of the interviews of the police chief candidates, go to


  1. I watched all seven interviews and felt Graham gave the strongest interview. I know Steve O’konek, he’s a fine person but he didn’t do as well in the interview as I thought he could have. In following Jim Prosser past actions, he rewarded the Dept’s Chief Union Steward by promoting him to Segregant for the Officer’s help in making changes within the Dept. That promotion was handled diffferently then most previous promotions. That officer was then assigned to a day shift with weekends off. Steve O’konek has also helped Mr. Prosser with Dept changes. O’Konek is also from Minnesota. Prosser likes Minnesota connections. Then there’s the City Council, at lease two or three of them want an outsider. Whoever is picked as Chief I hope he can unite the Dept and be the Leader the Dept so deperately needs. We have a great group of men and women who serve, they deserve the best.

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