Lexington police Chief Ronnie Bastin was promoted to public safety commissioner on Tuesday, and the city quickly began a search for a new chief.
Bastin, who was appointed chief Jan. 7, 2008, will replace former FBI agent Clay Mason, who is joining a consulting company.
"Ronnie Bastin knows Lexington; he knows public safety; and he knows how to be an excellent administrator and leader," Mayor Jim Gray said.
Bastin's promotion creates a vacancy for police chief. Gray has appointed a committee of city officials, professors and business owners who have been asked to give recommendations to the mayor on a possible candidate. The committee will take a look at all interested candidates, but "outreach will be focused on internal and local/regional candidates," a news release from the mayor's office said.
Bastin's appointment is subject to approval by the Urban County Council. Council members have scheduled a confirmation hearing for 5:15 p.m. Thursday.
Bastin, who was first in uniform as an officer at Blackburn Correctional Complex, joined the police force in 1984 and worked his way through the ranks, including the department's Emergency Response Unit and eventually becoming an assistant commander.
Bastin was appointed chief by former Mayor Jim Newberry after Bastin's predecessor, Anthany Beatty, retired and accepted a job at the University of Kentucky.
"As police chief it has been my pleasure to partner with community members to improve the quality of life in Lexington and make improvements at the Division of Police," Bastin said. "I am looking forward to using my experience, partnerships and energy to work to ensure our public safety team continues to provide the service our community deserves."
Councilwoman and search committee member Peggy Henson said there hasn't been a conversation among committee members regarding a new police chief, but she applauded Bastin as chief and said his appointment was a "good move."
"I think he's been wonderful for our police department," she said. "He runs a very efficient operation."
Henson, chair of the city's Public Safety Committee, touted the department's use of the Community Law Enforcement Action Response unit, or CLEAR unit, and community policing as huge strides in solving crimes. She said she hopes the next chief continues to build on that.
"I really think if they can continue with what we have ... I think what we have is good," Henson said. However, she said she shared community "concerns about drug addiction and so many social issues, including low-income areas" and targeting areas that need community support, emphasizing "strengthening those areas."
The public safety commissioner manages the divisions of Police, Fire and Emergency Services, Emergency Management/E-911 and Community Corrections. The commissioner also advises the mayor, the chief administrative officer and the mayor's chief of staff on issues of concern, needs, employees, accomplishments, accountability and the budget for each division.
When he was appointed public safety commissioner, Mason was asked to clean up a host of problems that were laid out in 2011 in a 67-page report delivered to the newly elected Gray. That report highlighted long-standing problems at the jail, the city's E-911 operations and its fire department. During Mason's nearly four years as commissioner, the city made changes in leadership in all three of those departments.
"We brought in new leadership in 911, corrections and in fire," Mason said in an interview. "We have been able to right the ship and build an unbelievable collaboration in the city's public safety division that we have never seen before."
Those changes included moving all public safety onto one radio system and building a new emergency operations center.
Mason said he's excited to start a new chapter in his life with new business ventures in the private sector. His resignation is effective at the end of the year.
"This has been a phenomenal growth period for me. I feel that we have accomplished more than what we should have accomplished considering the length and breadth of the problems mentioned in the transition team report."
Gray's spokeswoman Susan Straub said Bastin's current base salary as chief is $149,271.20, plus incentives. Mason's base pay is $124,847.80. Bastin will receive the same as commissioner, she said.
Straub confirmed that Bastin will retire as police chief in January. He'll receive a pension from the department as well as the commissioner's salary, she said.