About two weeks ago, Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle said he sat down for a conversation with the man he hired to serve as the city's police chief.
After 25 years with the department, 48-year-old Police Chief Alex Hayes told the mayor he was considering retirement.
Suttle said Monday he urged Hayes to reconsider and think about his decision on an upcoming vacation. “Family comes first — that's what I told him,” the mayor said.
During Suttle's cabinet meeting Monday morning, Hayes announced he would retire.
The city calculates Hayes will receive a $127,000 annual pension, higher than an initial World-Herald estimate. Hayes' salary is about $146,000 annually.
“My decision to retire at this time was personal and was not an easy decision to make,” Hayes said in a statement Monday. “I will be working with my staff, community leaders and the Mayor's Office to make sure there is a smooth transition for the community at large. It has been a privilege to work for the citizens of Omaha.”
Suttle declined to detail much of his initial conversation with Hayes, who has been chief for 2½ years. But the mayor said the two spoke about the progress they felt had occurred in the department, about Hayes' family, and about Hayes himself.
“We talked about the commitments and understandings that he and I had when I put him in this position, because I wanted a chief for the long term,” Suttle said.
The chief's final day in uniform will be March 30.
With Hayes' retirement, the mayor's new priority will be selecting interim and permanent chiefs.
It is the third time in four years that Omaha has had to find a new police chief.
The mayor said he will name an interim chief by the time Hayes leaves the force and likely decide by then whether to conduct a nationwide search for a permanent successor.
“We probably will, but I don't know,” Suttle said of the possibility of a national search. Suttle also said he would make a selection before next year's city election, when the mayor and all seven City Council seats are on the ballot.
The most obvious internal candidates for the chief's job are the department's four deputy chiefs: Dave Baker, Mary Newman, M. Elizabeth “Libby” Davis and Todd Schmaderer.
Suttle said that how close any candidate is to retirement will be “a big factor in my mind.” Baker has served in the department for 25 years, Newman for 22.
“This is a pivotal decision,” Suttle said. Whoever is named must build on Hayes' efforts to combat illegal guns and promote community policing, Suttle said.
“We can't miss a heartbeat here; we have to continue to build on the successes to date,” Suttle said. “That will be very, very key in the discussions we have with the four deputy chiefs and anybody else we're looking at at this point in time.”
With one of his key officials leaving, Suttle says he's learned about the stresses associated with being police chief.
“I now have a little bit more appreciation for what's going through the chief's mind,” the mayor said. “It is like playing a basketball game and never having a timeout, a rest or anything. It's 24-7, 365 days a year.”
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