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Selection process under way for next top trooper

Candidates are being reviewed and interviewed, and there should be a decision "soon," a Highway Patrol spokesman said Friday. Col. W. Fletcher Clay is retiring.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — The selection process for the state Highway Patrol's next commander is expected to be complete "soon," a spokesman for the agency said Friday.

Col. W. Fletcher Clay, a 29-year veteran of the Patrol, announced earlier this year he is retiring at the end of the month after four years as commander.

His last official day on the job was this Wednesday.

But Patrol spokesman Lt. Everett Clendenin would not say when a new commander would be named.

Bryan Beatty, secretary of the state Department of Crime Control and Public Safety, will make a recommendation to Gov. Mike Easley, who has the ultimate authority and makes the final decision on the appointment.

The agency has about a half dozen internal candidates – each whom has been undergoing a detailed interview process and background review over the past few weeks – for the position, as well as a deputy commander position.

"We're looking for a strong leader who will get out and work with the community closely and who will be pushing our mission of highway safety," Clendenin said.

The next commander will also face other challenges relating to the Patrol's image and reputation.

Over the past year, the agency has been mired in controversy because of allegations of trooper misconduct ranging from late-night stops of female drivers to animal abuse to drunken driving.

"They know going into this, there are issues that have to be dealt with, and we have to continue to work to keep the public's trust," Clendenin said. "We believe we do have the public's trust, and we want the public to know that we will continue to work closely with them."