PORTSMOUTH — After two hours of interviews, with six candidates to fill an open seat on the Police Commission, a majority of a special committee selected former City Councilor Stefany Shaheen as its top pick.
The vacancy was created by the November resignation of Commissioner Arthur Hilson and the position is for the remainder of Hilson's term, which ends after the November 2019 election.
Selection committee members City Councilor Doug Roberts, attorney John Lyons and former mayor and attorney Tom Ferrini all cast votes for Shaheen as their top pick. Mayor Jack Blalock and City Councilor Nancy Pearson, also serving on the selection committee, chose Tom Hart, a retired Rochester police officer and Strafford County investigator, as their top recommendation.
The committee's majority recommendation of Shaheen goes to the City Council which will vote at its next meeting whether or not to accept it.
During her interview before the committee, Shaheen said her inspiration for running for the position was her tenure on the City Council when she saw the Police Department go through a "tumultuous time" and her wish that it doesn't recur. She said her experience includes work as a business owner, youth sports coach, city councilor and with nonprofit organizations.
Shaheen said her focus as a police commissioner would be on school safety, the opioid epidemic and public trust, while continuing on the "great strides" the Police Department has made in the past two years.
"To me, the number one important job of government is public safety," she told the committee.
Daughter of U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, she told the committee she did a number of ride-alongs with police officers when she was on the City Council and said throughout her career she's been known as someone who maintains confidentiality and for being level-headed. In a questionnaire, she said if she is chosen by the City Council for the temporarily position, she will also run as a candidate for Police Commission in the next election.
Blalock, who chaired the selection committee, noted the city was very fortunate to have the high-level of candidates who applied to serve.
"Anyone of the six would make a great police commissioner," he said.
In addition to Shaheen and Hart, University of New Hampshire law professor and former ACLU NH chair Albert "Buzz" Scherr interviewed for the position. So too did Rep. Jacqueline Cali-Pitts, local coach and businessman H. Kevin Watt and former City Councilor Ken Smith.
The Police Commission is required by charter to have three members to meet so it has been unable to do so since Hilson's resignation. One outstanding matter is whether or not to appeal an arbitrator's ruling regarding former officer Aaron Goodwin who was fired for reasons related to his undue influence over an elderly resident while helping her make him the primary beneficiary of her large estate. His $2 million plus inheritance was overturned by a Judge Gary Cassavechia.
Terms of the arbitrator's ruling have not been made public and the Portsmouth Herald has taken the city to court to argue for its release.
The commission is also part of a subcommittee examining pros and cons of body and dash cams, on which Scherr currently serves.