Six finalists in running to lead La Center Police department

Public will be able to meet candidates for chief job at open house on Jan. 7

By Tyler Graf, Columbian county government reporter

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After a months-long search, La Center will hire a new chief of police by the end of January, city officials say.

The city has narrowed down its list of candidates to six finalists, who will gather at the La Center Community Center from 5-7 p.m. on Jan. 7 for an open house. Interviews with city panels will take place the following day, with the city expecting to have the new hire named within a few weeks.

Mayor Jim Irish will make the hiring decision with the help of three oversight panels composed of elected officials, department heads and police officials.

"I would obviously like to see someone who, besides being a good administrator, is also a good people person because of the size of the community," said Councilor Al Luiz, who also serves as mayor pro-tem of the city of 2,985 residents.

The new chief will take over for Tim Hopkin, who left his position with the La Center Police Department after reaching a separation agreement with the city in August. With his severance package included, Hopkin was paid $207,262 for eight months of work in 2012.

Hopkin's agreement to retire from his position followed the completion of a consultant's review of the police department, which cited low morale among a number of department staffers. He had worked for the La Center Police Department for 28 years.

Erin Nolan, who works for the Clark County Sheriff's Office, has served as the interim police chief since September and will step down when the city hires a permanent replacement.

Varied backgrounds

The finalists for the position include two candidates from Arizona border counties and another from a community that was targeted by a spree shooter.

Marc Denney is a 22-year veteran of the Cochise County Sheriff's Office in Arizona, and he currently serves as the department's commander of law enforcement. That's a position he's held since 2009.

He holds a bachelor's degree in occupational education and a master's in public administration, both from Wayland Baptist University. In 2012, Denney also graduated from the FBI National Academy.

Neil Gang serves as a lieutenant for the police department of Surprise, Ariz., located in Maricopa County. He's been at the police department since 2001.

Previously, he worked for police departments in Pembroke Pines, Fla., and West Windsor Township, N.J.

He told La Center city officials he plans to complete a bachelor's degree in justice administration from Wayland Baptist University in 2013.

Jeffrey Foster is a lieutenant for the police department in Aurora, Colo., a large suburb of Denver. The city was the focal point of media coverage over the summer after a gunman opened fire on a movie theater there, killing 12 and injuring 58.

Foster has 27 years of law enforcement experience and holds a bachelor's degree in business administration from the University of Colorado in Denver and a master's in organizational management from the University of Phoenix.

Not all of the candidates come from far away. Two hail from the Pacific Northwest.

Michael Knotts is a sergeant with the Vancouver Police Department, where he's worked since 1985.

He holds a bachelor's degree in business with an emphasis in personnel management from California State University at Fullerton.

Robert McCorkle lives in Colton, Ore., and is a retired police officer. He currently owns RDM Global Associates, a company that provides development and training for law enforcement agencies.

He retired as a lieutenant from the Henderson, Nev., Police Department, which is about 15 miles from Las Vegas.

McCorkle holds a bachelor's in criminology from Southern Oregon University in Ashland, Ore., and is completing his master's in criminal justice administration.

He has also served as an adjunct professor for the College of Southern Nevada since 2008 and has served as the board chairman of the Western Regional Counter Drug Training Center since 2010.

La Center's police chief will receive an annual salary of between $82,840 and $100,693.

Tyler Graf: 360-735-4517; http://www.twitter.com/col_smallcities; tyler.graf@columbian.com.