HIGH SPRINGS – Just days after High Springs Interim Police Chief William Benck submitted his resignation, which was to be effective in two weeks, Interim City Manager Jeri Langman dismissed him immediately, promoted another officer to sergeant and then promoted that same officer to chief by Monday afternoon.
James Steve Holley’s promotion comes at a tumultuous time for the city, as it follows the recent resignations of Benck, Commissioner Eric May, former city attorney Tom DePeter and the city’s engineering firm of Jones Edmunds.
After providing two weeks' notice, Benck was directed by Langman to leave on Thursday, Jan. 26, just days after he tendered his resignation. According to personnel action reports, Langman promoted Holley the next day on Friday, Jan. 27, from a police officer to a sergeant. She said the reason for Holley’s promotion was because the police office was understaffed.
During Monday’s city commission meeting, Langman announced that Holley had been promoted again, this time from sergeant to police chief earlier that day. Over the span of three days, Holley went from being an officer to the chief and his salary increased from $18.10 hourly to $55,000 a year, the equivalent of a $17,000 annual increase of nearly 46 percent.
Alachua County Today attempted to contact interim city manager Jeri Langman to clarify the city’s hiring process as well as other personnel matters occurring in the city, but as of press time received no response.
The Monday meeting, which had previously been scheduled to hash out a memorandum of understanding with the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO) to assist in running the city’s police department, was cancelled just minutes after it started. Those details would have included bringing a deputy from ACSO to fill the position of Interim Police Chief until a permanent one could be found. But with Holley’s promotion, city officials felt there was no need for the extra assistance the agreement could have provided.
When Benck resigned, Langman said she put out a request for anyone within the city that was qualified.
“It was important to me that we find someone here already, familiar with the department and who knows what to do,” she said.
Holley’s fellow officers, Langman said, felt that he was the best man for the job. He was the only one who applied. The new chief will bring a different managerial style and a sense of community to the city, said Vice Mayor Bob Barnas during Monday’s meeting.
Holley has 33 years on the job, with experience as a patrol officer, sergeant and a K-9 officer. He plans to focus on the police officers by providing them with new equipment and new training. Holley wants the officers to attend no cost salary-incentive courses taught at local institutions, focusing on courses such as Injury and Death Investigation, Traffic Homicide and Case Preparation.
“I will be a working chief,” Holley said. “In order to send someone to school, I have to take over their shift.”
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