University of Central Arkansas to restart hunt for police chief in '18

Only remaining finalist withdraws

The search for the University of Central Arkansas' next police chief will start over from scratch next year after the remaining finalist chosen by a search team withdrew his application Thursday.

The search for the replacement for former UCA Police Chief Larry James, who retired earlier this year, was whittled down from 47 applicants to two finalists last week.

Just before a scheduled campus visit Aug. 2 for the two finalists -- Roger Stearns of Kennesaw State University in Georgia and Tom Saccenti of Furman University in Greenville, S.C. -- Stearns abruptly pulled out of the running when news reports surfaced about his troubled history in the chief's job at Kennesaw State University.

After visiting the campus, Saccenti sent an email Thursday to UCA Chief of Staff Kelley Erstine, who headed the eight-member search committee, saying that UCA was not a good match for his personality.

"There isn't a single bad thing I can say about your institution or your police department. It seems to be an amazing group of individuals," Saccenti said in the email. "With that said I am a true change agent. I need the challenge of an agency that needs help.

"This is not your agency. They are well funded, well trained and have an excellent structure. If I came in now, I would fear that I would do more harm than good in implementing changes that may not be needed. I WANT to be in Conway, but I also know that I will become frustrated as my leadership style does very well in an environment needing massive change and that will not be good for UCA."

UCA spokesman Christina Madsen said Friday that losing a candidate because of the university's strengths is a good thing, but it means the search must start over.

"We will reopen the position beginning in 2018, or it may be sooner," Madsen said, adding that the committee has the luxury of taking its time because the interim chief, Maj. John Merguie, "is doing a fantastic job."

Of the original applicants, five semifinalists visited the campus for preliminary interviews before the committee settled on Saccenti and Stearns as finalists.

Saccenti has been police chief at Furman University since 2013. Before that, he was chief of the Marietta College Police Department in Marietta, Ohio.

Stearns' invitation to the UCA campus was rescinded last week after UCA President Houston Davis and the search committee were made aware of Stearns' abrupt resignation as police chief at Kennesaw State University. Stearns withdrew his application when contacted by Erstine.

The Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal reported that an internal review was called based on leadership concerns that centered on Stearns. The report revealed more than 60 employees left the school's public safety department during his 3½ years in the job.

Numerous complaints from the department and internal interviews with Stearns' command staff indicated Stearns had a lack of regard for his staff. The report, obtained by the Marietta Daily Journal, said morale was low and Stearns made it clear "he is the sole decision maker and doesn't make mistakes."

State Desk on 08/12/2017

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