Interim Police Chief Named




In a decision that sparked a bit of controversy, the Tappahannock Town Council last week voted to go outside its police department to name an interim police chief.

Council voted 3-2 to appoint Anthony J. “A.J.” Panebianco to fill the role until a permanent police chief is named following the retirement of current Chief James G. Ashworth Jr.

Panebianco most recently retired after serving 11 years as the police chief in Middleburg.

According to his resumé, Panebianco previously served as police chief in Louisa and has worked a pair of stints with the Warsaw Police Department as a consultant.

He is currently a special advisor to public safety/ emergency management in Colonial Beach.

The appointment is expected to be for a period of 90 days with the term beginning January 1, 2024.

Supporting Panebianco’s appointment were Councilors Troy Balderson (chair of Council’s Police Committee), Kay Brooks Carlton, and Fleet Dillard. Opposing the move were Councilors Carolyn Barrett and Kenneth “Skip” Gillis.

Councilor Anita J. Latane was not in attendance.

Barrett and Gillis supported the appointment of 21- year Tappahannock Police Department veteran Jacob Siddons to the post. Siddons previously filled the interim role following the retirement of Police Chief James Barrett in 2012.

Last month while addressing Council, Ashworth recommended Siddons be appointed interim Police Chief.

Balderson told the Rappahannock Times that Panebianco’s appointment was recommended by the Virginia Association of Police Chiefs (VAPC).

The Council also voted to secure the services of the VAPC to assist with the search for a permanent Police Chief.

During discussion, Gillis stated that he desired for someone “in-house” be named to the temporary role until the position can be permanently filled.

“I think we have a couple that’s qualified and I would like to see that happen,” he remarked.

Balderson said the police chief search committee suggested the VACP be utilized for the search for Ashworth’s replacement.

“I agree with having the outside people do this,” said Councilor Carlton. “It’s still the Council’s decision in the end. I just agree that an outside agency should do this.”

Barrett, the wife of retired Police Chief James Barrett, noted the VACP will charge the town $4,000 plus expenses for its services to conduct the assessment and interviews.

“They don’t even do a background check on these people unless we pay them to do it,” she said. “I think it’s ironic that we’re getting asked to get someone in here and pay them when there are many, many very top-notch leaders who could sit on a panel and give the very same (recommendation) and the only we’d have to do is feed them. This is a total slap in the face of officers that have truly been with the department and would really do a good job.”

Dillard noted that a November 28 meeting was held with the VACP.

“I saw clarity in that meeting in by what means do we have an interim and by what means do we have a permanent chief,’ Dillard said. “The advantages of that entity outweigh any other types of means we may create ourselves.”

“I think the money shouldn’t be spent,” Gillis remarked. “We have qualified people here that can do it. I agree with Mrs. Barrett, it’s a slap in the face to the guys who have been here trying to keep the town safe, and doing the best they can. I just don’t see (the need) for this.”

Balderson said he spoke with Ashworth some time ago and mentioned potentially using an outside agency for the search.

“As a representative of the constituents in this town, I feel this is the most independent, open process to go through to hire an executive position in the town. I do not take away anything from the employees of the police department. Every single one of them will have the opportunity to apply for this just as much as anyone on the outside.”

Balderson said he spoke with VACP about direct oversight of the process.

“This is why I am for this,” he said. “They are not going to hire our chief. They are going to follow an industry standard process to offer us the best that we can look at to hire.”

Dillard added that the VACP is “the facilitators and not the decision makers.”

“I would respectfully differ with references to slaps in the face,” he said. “I think that is not relevant to what the motion was.”

Earlier in the meeting, Barrett made a motion — seconded by Gillis — to appoint Siddons as interim chief. That motion failed on a 3-2 vote.

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