FL Cop Named Canton's New Chief
Robert Merchant will begin the first week of June.
Nearly four months after former chief Jeff Lance was forced to resign in the wake of a scathing review of the Canton Police Department's work during the search for a murdered 7-year-old Canton girl, a permanent successor was named this morning.
Saying that the police department's best days lie ahead, City Manager Scott Wood introduced Robert Merchant as Canton's new chief.
"We are pleased that Bob Merchant has aligned himself professionally with the city of Canton," Wood said. "Each of the employees who work for our city eagerly look foward to working with him, to learning from him and to contributing to what we all can individually and collectively to making our city the best it can be. Chief Merchant, welcome to Canton."
Merchant, 56, joins the Canton Police Department a little more than seven months after he retired from the Altamonte Springs, FL, Police Department, an agency he served for more than 30 years, the last nine years as chief. There, he oversaw a police force of 103 sworn officers and 20 civilian employees. In Canton, he'll head an agency with 43 police officers.
He said a Georgia police chief contacted him about the opening in Canton because he thought the city "might be the place for me.
"I looked at the city, and what I was looking for is some place where my leadership style, my management style would be a good fit. And I thought, based on all the information that I compiled, that the city of Canton would be an excellent place to work."
He was selected from 43 applicants and eight finalists. Previously, Wood said 36 people applied for the job. Today, he said that was an error. Beyond Todd Vande Zande, the interim police chief, Wood did not name the other finalists.
"There's no requirement for us to release finalists for a managerial appointment," he said. "If it was an appointment by the elected body then that it is a requirement."
In recent weeks, as the city dealt with another public relations nightmare when footage of a traffic stop involving Wood was leaked to WSB-TV, Vande Zande publicly questioned the integrity of the search for a new chief after he overheard the city manager, Cherokee County Sheriff Roger Garrison and resident John Rust discussing his professional credentials.
"I wasn't pleased with it," he told Canton-Sixes Patch last month.
Vande Zande took his grievances about that and the traffic stop to Mayor Gene Hobgood and several city council members. During a special called council meeting on April 12, Wood was given six months probation "to evaluate his effectiveness" as city manager.
This morning, Wood said the city gave "a fair and objective review to each and everyone of" the applicants and "personally interviewed eight of the professionals whose resumes and backgrounds seemed the most fitting to our particular needs and circumstances."
Merchant rose to the top of the list, Wood said, because he is the "best person to lead our department into the future with integrity and energy and purpose."
During today's press conference, Merchant described himself as a visible, engaging, on-hands leader who believes in transparency and doesn't "delegate my authority or responsibility to maintain order, discipline or a productive work environment."
The former Marine said his managerial style is different.
"When we're solving problems or making decisions," Merchant said, "I prefer a participatory style of management where we involve multiple people in the decision-making process."
He briefly touched on the unflattering review of the police department's work during the search for Canton Elementary first-grader Jorelys Rivera in December. He said he contacted LaGrange Public Safety Chief Louis M. Dekmar, the man who Canton hired to examine the police department's tactics during that search.
"After reading the report, what stands out for me is to make sure that we as a police department have acted on the recommendations that he has made within it," he said. "Some of them dealt with policy revisions. Some of them dealt with training. Where are we as far progress in those areas? That report's been out for a number of months. And if steps have not been taken to move forward, I assure you that I'll be having some discussions with people to make sure that those changes do occur."
Merchant will be paid $94,500 annually. He starts the first week of June.
Stay tuned to Canton-Sixes Patch for more on this story.
CANTON INTRODUCES NEW CHIEF