Thursday, July 23, 2009

Transitions: Bill Gardner

"A man's got to know his limitations."

-Clint Eastwood (as Insp. 'Dirty' Harry Callahan), in Magnum Force (1973)
I had the distinct privilege of working with Bill Gardner during most of my time as a 9-1-1 Supervisor in Grand Junction. Whether in his position as Operations Captain at the Sheriff's Office, Undersheriff, and later as Grand Junction's Police Chief, Bill brought a passion for excellence, leadership, and establishing positive relationships to every project or event that I was also involved in.

I was personally surprised and dismayed to read of Chief Gardner's decision to leave the GJPD. Considering that the PD had 5 different people serve as Chief during my 13 years there, it's not hard to imagine the stress associated with a leadership position of that magnitude, and the associated magnification in the public eye.

Chief Gardner stated in his press conference yesterday that he felt he was leaving "at the top of my game". I'm inclined to agree, but the man I saw making that assessment looked like someone who had played that game perhaps a little too long and a little too hard. Chief Gardner has always worn his emotions out on his sleeve. Even though I've only seen him lose his cool once (the other guy deserved it), I know that his capacity for laughter or tears, for celebratory praise and passionate persuasion, is always at the ready.

Yesterday I saw an emotionally tired man surrounded by deservedly grateful colleagues. All of the requisite smiles were evident, but looked forced to me. I felt a sadness inside, and perhaps imagined the same sadness around that room.

Many who make public safety their career path cushion the blow of the sometimes unpleasant nature of the job through families, faith, or through the understanding of peers in what is by definition a profession separate from the mainstream working world. Many insulate (and sometimes isolate) themselves in cynicism, and by being overly judgmental; it's an easy trap to fall into. Chief Gardner's leadership skills and straightforward approach have endeared him to many who would have otherwise dismissed the entreaties of lesser leaders, and gave many at the PD hope for the future of that agency.

Bill Gardner came to my house after my wife died. We had a running bet whenever the Steelers played the Broncos; 2 pounds of Bison or Kielbasa, depending on who won. Even when our meetings were about less than pleasant subjects, he was always forthright, fair, and direct.

Bill Gardner is a good, honorable man who was in a bad spot. I wish him all the best.

As the City looks to find new top leadership (with the fortunate assistance of Chief Gardner), the continuing challenge to build infrastructure in keeping with the needs of a growing City and public safety workforce is but one of the significant challenges facing a new Chief and administration.

Today's Sentinel coverage of the effort to get property owners in the Fruitvale and Clifton areas to sign petitions for annexation left me with continuing concern over the ability of the GJPD to respond effectively to these areas, while maintaining adequate coverage of the existing City limits. These petitions, if approved, would annex some of the County's most service-intensive areas for law enforcement into the City.

While the story mentioned no specific timetable for this to happen, whomever is the next leader of the GJPD will have this issue to tackle, along with getting a much-needed new home built. Perhaps during this transition it would be prudent for the City to engage in reasoned discussions with the County and other entities about the possibilities of a regional law enforcement agency serving the entire Grand Valley.

In any event, Bill Gardner made sometimes unseen, but significant, contributions to the efficacy and quality of law enforcement service delivery to all citizens of Mesa County. Here's to the best future possible for Bill and his family.

Thanks, Chief.

No comments: