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Olson says goodbye; McManus waits for vote

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Retiring Minneapolis Police Chief Robert Olson said goodbye to colleagues and city officials at a reception Monday. He is shown here with Deputy Chief Lucy Gerold, one of two internal candidates who were rejected as Olson's replacement. (MPR Photo/Art Hughes)
Minneapolis Police Chief Robert Olson bid farewell in a City Hall sendoff Monday. Olson's term expires just after the new year, but this was the day set aside for looking back on his nine years on the job. Meanwhile, Mayor R.T. Rybak officially moved to replace Olson with Dayton, Ohio Police Chief William McManus. However, the mayor still has to convince a majority of the City Council to confirm McManus' nomination.

Minneapolis, Minn. — A chart hung on the wall of the reception room next to City Hall police offices, where staff and friends of Police Chief Olson gathered. The chart shows the steady decline of serious crimes since Olson took office nine years ago.

Olson says the drop in crime and formation of a special unit to handle mental illness cases are two important accomplishments. He also says he's proud of the effort over the past seven months to hammer out a federally-mediated agreement with community members.

"What a way to close a chapter, to make that happen, and I think it's going to work and go right forward," Olson says. "You tie all those things together and you've got a safer city and a better police department."

I'm right now the second senior sitting major city chief in the United States. Our life span's usually around three and a half years. I've been here nine. For me to have lasted this long is remarkable.
- Retiring Minneapolis Police Chief Robert Olson

Despite those accomplishments, Olson says he wishes he had been able to tie up a few loose ends before leaving City Hall -- most notably the unsolved death in 2000 of Kevin Brewer, 11, who was killed by a stray bullet in a north Minneapolis park.

"Because it's kids and it was so senseless," Olson says. "What really troubled me about that case was there were so many witnesses. And we still don't have the killer behind bars. That's what troubled me most."

Olson was hired by then Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton in 1994. When R.T. Rybak came into office two years ago, he made it clear he would not renew Olson's contract. Rybak tried to buy out Olson's contract early, but the City Council didn't support that move. Olson says he's gratified to have lasted as long as he did.

"I'm right now the second senior sitting major city chief in the United States," Olson says. "Our life span's usually around three and a half years. I've been here nine. For me to have lasted this long is remarkable."

Olson's reception came the same day a committee completed a small but necessary administrative procedure to bring forward the name of Olson's intended replacement. Mayor Rybak formally entered William McManus into the record as the only nominee for police chief. A committee is expected to act on the nomination Jan. 7.

Only one committee member voted against accepting McManus' name. Robert Lilligren says the list of nominations should include Deputy Chiefs Sharon Lubinski and Lucy Gerold, two internal candidates for the job that Rybak excluded.

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Image Rybak and McManus

"There are other, more qualified candidates that could be on that list, and I would like to see their names there," Lilligren says.

As it stands, McManus doesn't have the seven council votes needed for confirmation. Rybak says he's confident votes will come his way. Lilligren says he's standing firm.

"I think I am representing a majority position on the council, and I'm finding a lot of support from my constituents for this position," Lilligren says.

The full council is expected to act on the nomination Jan. 16.

The police chief is the only department head that reports directly to the mayor. Olson's predecessor, John Laux, notes the drawn-out selection process is indicative of how hard it is to build consensus among a mayor and 13 council members.

"I think it sends a very confusing message to people that you have many masters to serve in this town. And it's difficult for any human to serve many masters and be successful," says Laux.

Robert Olson leaves officially leaves office Jan. 3. He says he'll remain a Minneapolis resident unless another opportunity arises elsewhere.