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    Next chief may come from ski country

    He impresses Largo officials with his energy, experience, creativity and interest in the city. If all goes well, he could be offered the job in weeks.

    By ERIC STIRGUS

    © St. Petersburg Times, published December 13, 2000


    LARGO -- As police chief of the ritzy ski resort town of Vail, Colo., Greg Morrison shook hands with President Clinton, hobnobbed with former President Gerald Ford and is constantly being invited to parties with movie stars and professional athletes.

    It's a great job, but applying to be Largo's police chief is an opportunity Morrison said he couldn't pass up.

    City officials were similarly impressed with Morrison, who was named Friday as the top candidate for police chief. A team of city staffers will visit Vail, a town west of Denver, to learn more about Morrison from town officials, police officers, residents and reporters.

    "I'm both honored and excited," Morrison said Friday afternoon. "I have such a great job and a wonderful community that there are very few jobs that I would leave for. Largo is one of them."

    If the team likes what it hears about Morrison, he could get a job offer before Christmas, officials said.

    Morrison, 43, and four other candidates for the job visited the city recently to interview with a team of city officials and a team of employees. City officials said they liked Morrison's energy, experience and creativity. They also impressed by the level of interest he has shown in the job.

    "He took a lot of time to check us out," said Assistant City Manager Henry Schubert. "He rode along with officers. He did a lot of homework to see if we are the right department for him."

    Morrison said he spent five hours discussing the job with City Manager Steven Stanton. The conversation began at 11 p.m. Saturday and ended at about 4 a.m. Sunday morning.

    "We just kept talking and talking," Morrison said.

    If Morrison doesn't work out, Schubert said Largo will look to Lester Aradi, the deputy police chief of Buffalo Grove, Ill.

    Paul Sireci, who is in charge of public safety for the Memphis-Shebly County Airport Authority, sent a letter to the city this week saying he no longer was interested in the job.

    The other finalists -- Brent Larrabee, chief of police in Framingham, Mass., and Chuck Grover, chief of police in Prairie Village, Kan. -- were told they were no longer considered finalists for the job.

    Morrison said he became interested after discussing the position with Clearwater police Chief Sid Klein, who used to work with Morrison in Lakewood, Colo. Morrison has always wanted to live near water and he has three cousins who live in Palm Harbor.

    Morrison became Vail's police chief in December 1995. The police department has 68 employees and a $4.6-million budget. He reorganized the department, phasing out specialized programs in favor of encouraging officers to come up with solutions to problems.

    Morrison is not a micromanager, said his second-in-command, Deb Annibali.

    "He's very open and flexible," she said. "He let me state my opinion and we may disagree, but always come to a consensus."

    He also provides comment on public works projects and fire department issues.

    In a town where the rich and famous come to ski, Morrison has occasionally had to deal with celebrities who complain when they are given traffic tickets. Former Olympic champion skier Herman Maier was one such disgruntled celebrity, Morrison recalled.

    Some residents have complained that the police play favorites with these celebrities. But some who vacation here believe the police behave in quite the opposite manner, doling out favorable treatment to residents, Morrison said.

    Morrison said he has worked hard to make sure his officers give no special treatment to anyone, pointing out that the mayor's wife recently was given a traffic citation.

    Town Manager Bob McLaurin said Morrison has done a good job balancing the demands of residents and vacationers.

    "It's a very difficult position to be in and he's done that very well," McLaurin said.

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