PELL CITY — The Pell City Council finished police chief interviews Friday with the final two candidates in the council’s five-candidate search.
During a two-hour called meeting, the council interviewed former DEA Agent Clay Morris and Gadsden Police Capt. Wayne Keener.
The two interviews were rather different than the first three the council took up Thursday, with the candidates not emphasizing the same themes like previous candidates.
Morris comes from a predominantly federal background. While he serves as vice president for an industrial maintenance company, he started with the United States Drug Enforcement Administration in the 1990s. Morris more recently served with that organization as assistant special agent in charge at the agency’s Alabama headquarters in Birmingham, which he left in 2020. In that position he oversaw the DEA operations in the state reporting to the special agent in charge in Louisiana.
Morris is a native of Monroe, La., and comes from a family of law enforcement officers and other public servants. His posting included Texas, Tennessee, and Washington D.C.
Councilman Blaine Henderson started the interview by asking why he wanted to get back into law enforcement in the first place.
Morris said he felt law enforcement was a calling and one that wasn’t done with him yet.
“I left the call, the call didn’t leave me,” he said. “I miss helping communities.”
Morris said he also always wanted to be a police chief. His interest in Pell City in particular he attributed to often visiting the community with his son, who was a high school angler and now competes in college. He said the son often participated in tournaments on Lake Logan Martin.
During the interview Morris stressed the importance of open communication not just with the mayor and council and inside the city administration but also with the community.
“You cannot be effective in policing your community in a silo,” he said, a refrain he revisited often.
When asked about recruitment, Morris also suggested reaching out to millennials and college students, particularly athletes. He said that often departments do not market to millennial adults well as they don’t focus on the mentality that generation has.
“They care about a salary and they care about benefits, but they care more about a cause,” Morris said. “If you give them a cause and a purpose and if you show them a little advancement with a decent salary package, you will win them, you will win them over.”
In contrast to Morris’ extensive federal experience, Keener has an extensive resume in municipal policing. A veteran of nearly 20 years at the Gadsden Police Department, Keener serves as operations captain for the department and oversees their patrol and special operations work.
Keener has worked in traffic homicide and special operations for much of his career. He currently works as assistant commander for Etowah County’s Special Operations Unit, which is made up of personnel from both the Etowah County Sheriff’s Office and GPD. He also serves as commander for the unit’s bomb squad.
Keener is a lifelong resident of Etowah County and before entering law enforcement full time worked as a plant manager and various manufacturing business.
During his interview, Keener highlighted his extensive experience working interdepartmental partnerships through the Special Operations Unit. He said the unit’s SWAT team is made up of members from both organizations, which gave unique challenges.
“Which makes it very unique, because I am sitting here as the commander of that SWAT team having to work out the logistics of getting everyone together for training,” Keener said.
He said it’s an exercise of managing schedules of several different individuals at several different organizations, which takes care.
Keener also highlighted the importance of community events not just as community engagement but also recruitment. He said things like Gadsden’s First Friday are useful because they give people the opportunity to interact with law enforcement.
After wrapping up interviews, Council President Jud Alverson said the council will need to take some time to consult with each other and City Manager Brian Muenger individually before making a decision on the final appointment for police chief. He stressed, however, that he did not expect any undue delay in the decision either.
“I think Monday night is ambitious, but I do think that we probably just need to have some conversations with Brian and some conversations between ourselves.” Alverson said. “I would think if not Monday night, maybe later in the week in a special-called meeting.”
Taylor Mitchell is a Daily Home reporter covering Pell City.