Three months separated Edmonton's police chief from contract extension he wanted

Negotiations to extend the contract for Edmonton’s police chief fell apart when the two sides failed to bridge a three-month gap.

Rod Knecht says he was offered contract until March 2019 but wanted to stay until June

Edmonton police Chief Rod Knecht says he was offered a shorter contract extension than he thought he needed to finish projects close to his heart. (CBC News )

Negotiations to extend the contract for Edmonton's police chief fell apart when the two sides failed to bridge a three-month gap.

Police Chief Rod Knecht said in a news release Friday he was offered an extension that wasn't long enough to achieve the goals he had set for himself and the police service.

Knecht said in recent months he had discussed a contract extension with the Edmonton Police Commission and told members he had several initiatives he wanted to put in place or finalize before he left.

Those included, he said:

  • Setting up a cyber crimes strategy and increasing the police service's cyber-crime investigative capacity;
  • Working with governments, philanthropists and the private sector to set up a community wellness centre;
  • Ensuring the successful launch of an operations and intelligence command centre for the second quarter of 2019;
  • Seeing through two major capital projects, including the northwest division campus and a new administrative building, and;
  • Mentoring senior leaders to prepare them to better compete for the job of chief of police in mid-2019.

"I calculated that to best advance these initiatives, and assist with the selection of a new chief, it would take until the end of June 2019," Knecht said.

He said he asked for an extension until next June and the request was initially accepted by the chair and vice-chair of the commission in March.

A few weeks later, Knecht said, the commission offered him a contract extension until the end of March 2019.

The difference came down to three months.

The chief said he didn't think a five-month extension was enough time to address the priorities he had set out.

"I also felt it wouldn't be in the best interests of the organization or the community to leave in the midst of such significant organizational change," he said.

The commission offered no other options, Knecht said, so he decided to complete his existing contract, which concludes at the end of October.

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​Commission Chair Tim O'Brien confirmed Friday afternoon that timing was the reason the two sides failed to reach an agreement.

"Although we had lots of discussions with the chief in regards to another extension, we were not able to come to a mutually agreeable date to sign the extension," O'Brien said at a news conference at the commission office.

Edmonton Police Commission Chair Tim O'Brien said he hopes to have a new chief in place by the end of October. (Nathan Gross/CBC News)

O'Brien was repeatedly asked why the commission refused to budge on its proposed March 31 date, given that the chief wanted to stay until the end of June.

"His time frame was a little different than ours," O'Brien said. "He had his reasons. Our reasons were to get the search done as expeditiously as possible and make the switch to the new chief as soon as we could. That's how we ended up with March 31."

O'Brien said he took Knecht's proposed date to the commission for a decision, but the commission as a whole rejected keeping the chief on until the end of June.

Former commissioner alleges "toxic" relationship 

Retired physician John Lilley, who resigned from the police commission in mid-February, said he watched as the relationship between the chief and commission deteriorated.

Former member of the Edmonton Police Commission John Lilley. (Edmonton Police Commission )

"The chief and the prior chair didn't get along too well, and things deteriorated as a consequence," said Lilley, who ran to be commission chair in January 2018 and lost to O'Brien. "The fault lies on both sides, no doubt. But that's when I say he was treated unfairly. I think it stems from that. It's hard to be objective when you're mired in the midst of some interpersonal conflict."

Lilley, who had been a member of the commission since 2013, described the relationship as "toxic."

O'Brien strongly disagreed, calling that observation "incorrect."

"The relationship we have with the chief is professional and correct," O'Brien said. "Part of the role of the commission is to challenge the ideas that come from the service and to make sure that we stress test them. And when you have that kind of challenge going back and forth, sometimes that creates a natural tension.

"Would I call that toxic? No."

But Lilley said "interpersonal stuff" likely played a significant role in the chief's departure.

Commission secretly voted last fall to seek a new chief

Lilley also revealed that last October, a majority of commission members, including himself, decided it was time to launch a search for Knecht's replacement.

"So eventually it came down to a vote around well, are we going to start moving forward with a recruitment agency? So we made a decision some time ago to move that way."

Now the hiring committee has a tight timeline.

Though Coun. Scott McKeen said Thursday he thought the search could take up to a year, on Friday O'Brien said they hope to wrap things up in four to six months.

"It's a tall order, to have a new chief in place by the end of October," O'Brien said. "But that's the goal and that's the challenge we have in front of us."