The city of Lodi has narrowed the number of potential candidates for the position of police chief down to four, but their names will remain secret.
Lodi traditionally has not released the names for department head positions that the city manager selects, city spokesman Jeff Hood said.
Most cities do not announce the finalists, he said.
"It's not a popularity contest, it's not an elected position, it's not a job that people campaign for," Hood said.
While most cities in California do not announce the finalists, larger cities throughout the country sometimes release the names and even have candidates speak at public forums.
Dallas, Atlanta, Seattle and Los Angeles have all publicly revealed police chief finalists.
Three members of the public did have the opportunity to give feedback on the Lodi candidates as part of the interview process.
The city hired headhunting firm Bob Murray & Associates to handle the recruitment process, which included contacting prospective chiefs and taking all the applications.
Then the seven finalists, who were all from California, interviewed with three different panels. Department heads were on one committee, community members on another, and police chiefs from around the area on a third. The panels also included union representatives and members of the council.
The city then narrowed the field to four candidates and plans to name the new chief in May, Hood said.
Part of the reason Lodi is not releasing the names is because it is important to prevent it from turning it into an election, Hood said.
"There are a lot of unusual challenges the city is facing now, so whoever the chief is might be faced with difficult decisions," he said.
Hood said he is not sure why bigger cities do release the names.
"Perhaps there is not quite the tight sense of community a city like Lodi has," he said.
The last time the city released candidate names was when Blair King was appointed city manager in 2004.
Providing confidentiality results in a larger pool of candidates, said Ray Samuels, Lodi's interim police chief, who retired as chief in the Bay Area city of Newark.
There is good reason for candidates to keep their interest in other jobs secret, he said. A friend who was a chief in the Bay Area applied for another job and was revealed to be a candidate.
He didn't get the job, Samuels said, and it took him months to rebuild bridges with his city manager, council members and his own officers, none of whom knew he was looking for another position.
Samuels added that while larger cities sometimes announce finalists and allow public vetting, smallers cities rarely do.
When Councilman Larry Hansen applied for Lodi's police chief position, the names of the final candidates were leaked to the media. He remembers that it caused problems for at least one of the candidates.
In the past, people have lost their jobs when cities have found out they have applied somewhere else. He said that if the city got down to two candidates, then that might be a time when it could consider releasing the names to the public.
"There are people who are working who do not want their employer knowing they are out finding another job. You have to balance the public's right to know versus the employee's right to privacy," he said.
When he hears that other cities have had a completely open process, he suspects there were qualified candidates who did not apply, Hansen said.
"Again, it's a policy call. It's one that we have to weigh the pros and cons, and we want to have the greatest field of people to apply," he said.
But some larger cities have released finalists' names to the public.
In Seattle, the public was even involved in public forums grilling the candidates before the city appointed the interim chief, John Diaz, in June.
As the city conducted its search, it released a list of the 12 to 15 potential candidates, said Sgt. Sean Whitcomb, a spokesman for the department.
Once the list was narrowed down to three potentials, the city then held three public forums and the local public access station interviewed them on air.
In April 2011, the Department of Justice started investigating the department for use of excessive force and discrimination. During the forums, some of the instances that prompted the investigation were fodder for the public, Whitcomb said.
"Because of the recent accountability issues, I think you will find that the forums were the home of some very pointed questions. The candidates genuinely had to express themselves clearly on how the department would move forward and improve," Whitcomb said.
Other topics included the budget, leadership style and dealing with crime, Whitcomb said.
Whitcomb said the forums helped with the department's image in the community because it gave residents an opportunity to participate in the process.
"It gives folks a flavor of how these chiefs would navigate all the different challenges that come with being a police chief. Different people have different concerns, depending on where they live in the city, what they are interested in," he said.
Editor Richard Hanner contributed to this story.