When the Rapid City Council rejected Mayor Sam Kooiker’s choice for new police chief Monday night, it raised questions about the long-term leadership of the city's 153-member police force.
Under Kooiker’s plan, it was to be a night of perfunctory approval and celebration. Time was set aside on the council's meeting agenda to greet the new police chief and his family. But that time never came.
A week after Kooiker surprised many in the local law-enforcement community by selecting Lt. Elias Diaz as the new chief, the Rapid City Council refused the appointment on a firm 8-2 vote.
Council members praised Diaz, a 16-year department officer with limited supervisory experience, as a fine man and important part of the department. But they said he wasn't ready to be chief.
Diaz said after the vote that he accepted the council's will.
“I respect their vote and I truly believe they voted their conscience in this matter and they took all factors into consideration," Diaz said.
Diaz said he remains committed to the city and the department. That doesn't surprise former Chief Steve Allender, who admires Diaz but didn't recommend him for the chief's job.
“If I were mayor, I know what I would do. I would choose the assistant chief, who is well qualified and ready for this job," Allender said.
Karl Jegeris has served as interim chief since Allender retired at the end of May. He was one of three finalists sent to Kooiker by a selection panel that reviewed 26 applicants. Kooiker said last week that Diaz was the clear choice, for him.
But not, it turned out, for eight of 10 council members -- who said they hope they'll be more involved in Kooiker's next choice.
Kooiker didn’t take questions after the vote Monday night and didn’t respond to email and phone requests for an interview Tuesday. He did meet with officers at the police department and also with members of the city council to discuss the issue.