Strasburg police chief criticizes mayor in search committee selection

STRASBURG — Mayor Rich Orndorff has announced the names of members of a search committee that is set to choose the next police chief, drawing criticism from Police Chief Tim Sutherly that the mayor is trying to place a family member in the position.

During Tuesday’s Town Council meeting, Orndorff said that the members of the committee would include Shenandoah County Sheriff Timothy C. Carter and Frederick County Sheriff Lenny Millholland. In a tense exchange with Orndorff, Sutherly criticized the inclusion of those two people.

“Can I ask council why law enforcement members were named?” Sutherly asked.

“I selected them,” Orndorff said.

“You selected them?” Sutherly asked. “I don’t appreciate that.”

“I did,” Orndorff said.

In response, Sutherly asked Orndorff, “Do you want to line me up and kick me in the groin before I get out of here, too?”

In addition to Carter and Millholland, Orndorff said that he was placing council members Scott Terndrup, Jocelyn Vena, John “Red” Hall, Jr. and Don Le Vine on the committee.

In a Facebook post published following the meeting, Sutherly claimed that the appointments were part of an attempt by Orndorff to handpick a family member as the next police chief. Sutherly’s post did not include the name of the family member.

Orndorff denied Sutherly’s allegations.

“If I in fact wanted to handpick and pick through someone, then I in fact would probably be chairing the committee,” Orndorff said.

Orndorff said the council members he chose were selected because he thought they would be thoughtful in the hiring process. He said that he chose to have law enforcement personnel on the committee to provide expertise to council members.

Citing the towns of Front Royal and Middletown, Orndorff said that it is common practice to have law enforcement personnel on the search committees of police chiefs.

Orndorff also said that it is common for the mayor to choose members of a search committee. Town Manager Wyatt Pearson, in an email, concurred.

“It is very typical for the Mayor to appoint a ‘search committee’ to perform a preliminary review of applications prior to Council interviews and decisions,” Pearson stated.

But the choice of Carter is a particularly notable one, as Sutherly openly explored running against Carter for Shenandoah County Sheriff before backing out of the race in April 2015. Orndorff said that this history shouldn’t matter.

“This is about [Sutherly’s] successor, not him,” Orndorff said. “So I just don’t see where that has any relevance. Any history that they may have.”

According to Sutherly’s Facebook post, Orndorff heard about Sutherly’s plans to retire shortly after Sutherly told Town Manager Wyatt Pearson that he planned on retiring in January.

“The mayor almost immediately began parading around a friend (family member) as the next potential chief of police long before I ever made a decision or announced my intention,” Sutherly wrote. “The mayor obviously was trying to circumvent the hiring process by introducing his handpicked successor to council members.”

Sutherly stated in his post that Orndorff was not initially successful in getting his family member hired as the next police chief.

“After his intentions to have his handpicked successor fell through, the mayor announced his handpicked panel for the interviews for chief of police would be 4 council members and 2 law enforcement officials, one of which I was contemplating running against 2 years ago,” the post reads.

Orndorff denied that he had “paraded” any candidates, but said that he had mentioned to one council member that he knew of a prospective candidate. Orndorff declined to name the potential candidate but said that the candidate was not a member of his family.

In a subsequent interview, Sutherly said that Orndorff had spoken to multiple council members. Like Orndorff, Sutherly declined to provide the name of the candidate.

“You could call the council members one by one and they would tell you, if they have any integrity,” Sutherly said.