After three months, 18 initial candidates and three rounds of interviews, the city council chose the new police chief in exactly seven minutes on Wednesday — from the end of the final interview at 6:40 p.m. to 6:47, when they decided on a winner.
“We’re unanimous: Keith Hiller,” said City Administrator Kris Busse, after reviewing the score sheets handed to her by a 10-person panel.
“I’m excited about the new challenges and about being part of the community,” Hiller said. “I think it’s going to be wonderful.”
Hiller beat out two other finalists for the spot as top cop at the Owatonna Police Department, which has been vacant since Chief Shaun LaDue left on June 2. The other finalists were former OPD captain Chuck Walerius and Tammie Key, an executive assistant and assistant special agent in charge at the Drug Enforcement Administration in Arlington, Va.
Hiller is currently the police chief of Waseca, where Busse worked as city manager before coming to Owatonna. Hiller joined the Waseca police department as chief in 2004.
As head of the OPD, Hiller said he would follow one key code of conduct and encourage his officers to do the same: “Don’t do anything that would embarrass your mother.”
This is a maxim that Hiller has put through trial by fire. As soon as he accepted the job in Waseca, he was confronted with quite an ethical conundrum. Hiller got a complaint that the acting Chief of Police Dan Timlin was stealing prescription drugs from a citizen.
“That’s not the way you wanted to get started,” Hiller said. “He was well-respected in the community, loved by the staff.”
On closer examination, the incident had “elements of a felony” Hiller told the panel. He was in an uncomfortable position, to say the least.
“It’s hard to say to your staff ‘trust me’ when you’ve only been there for four months,” Hiller said.
But trust him they did, and pretty soon Timlin faced some serious charges.
“I wanted it quiet and confidential and I wanted it done right and it was,” Hiller recalled.
Hiller asked that the case be transferred to another county attorney. Hiller asked the city manager to put Timlin on paid administrative leave.
Ultimately, in 2004 Timlin was charged with four counts, among them possession and theft of controlled substances. He was found guilty on one count — possession — and the rest were dismissed.
Timlin was terminated from employment.
Such incidents are the exception in Hiller’s long career in law enforcement, however. He brings 24 years of experience to the table.
Prior to taking the post in Waseca, Hiller worked in four different police departments around the state — Pelican Rapids, Blooming Prairie, Cannon Falls and finally the Oakdale Police Department, where Hiller spent the bulk of his career thus far. Oakdale is a town of 27,000, not far from the Twin Cities suburb of Maplewood. There Hiller worked up the ranks during the 1990s and 2000s. He began as a patrol officer, but was promoted to investigator, then sergeant and finally commander of the SWAT team and field training program.
If he takes the job, Hiller’s first concern will be the department’s budget, which faces challenging times ahead.
“Normal is not coming back. We’ve got to get used to the new normal,” Hiller said.
His plan would include overtime management, using volunteers for certain functions to cut costs, and raising revenues from forfeitures and administrative fines among other things.
However, he said he would stick with the business plan laid out by LaDue for the first year at the OPD.
In the first 60 days on the job, he said he would get “acclimated to the community,” or rather, re-acclimated. His arrival in Owatonna will be quite a homecoming.
“I was born and raised here. My parents and grandparents are from here,” Hiller said when asked why he wanted the job. “I went to school here. I rode my bike up and down the streets and ran through the backyards.”
Mayor Tom Kuntz asked if he would have any issues coming back to his hometown.
“Do you see any potential conflicts or pressure?” Kuntz asked.
“There are always pressures when you’re the police chief. Conflicts? No, I don’t believe that I’ve done anything to embarrass my mother,” Hiller said. “There’s nothing that will come back to haunt me.”
Hiller stressed that he was in it for the long haul.
“My goal is to live here and retire here and push daisies here,” he said at the end of his final interview.
The council agreed Wednesday to make Hiller an offer. The pay range runs from the mid-80s to low 90s, Busse said. If all goes well, Hiller will soon be installed on the corner office of the Law Enforcement Center.
“I will probably start in about thirty days,” Hiller said. “I just feel honored that I get to be the next police chief.”
Category: The New Chief