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Warner Robins mayor starts interim police chief search after John Wagner's retirement announcement

Warner Robins Mayor LaRhonda Patrick says she found out about Chief John Wagner's retirement plans Thursday afternoon.

WARNER ROBINS, Ga. — Before Monday night's Warner Robins City Council meeting, Mayor LaRhonda Patrick shared her thoughts on Police Chief John Wagner's retirement decision.

She spoke to us about the city's next steps in finding another leader.

On Thursday, Warner Robins' police chief announced he'd be retiring in two weeks.

Monday night was the first time the city council met since his announcement.

"It was a surprise to see that he was no longer going to be with us, but I have truly enjoyed working beside him for the nine months I have been here," Patrick said.

Warner Robins Mayor LaRhonda Patrick says she found out about Chief John Wagner's plans Thursday afternoon.

Wagner told 13WMAZ, it was "time to go."

"After three decades of service to our city, his time is his time, so I support him in whatever endeavor he does next and it has truly been a pleasure working with him," Patrick said.

Councilmember Keith Lauritsen says Wagner's retirement is going to create a "big void" in the Warner Robins Police Department.

"He is a people-person and I think the policemen and women looked up to him and supported him; and he supported them, so that's why I believe it's a big loss," Lauritsen said.

Lauritsen also says he's concerned about the police department's current manpower.

"I know it wore on Chief Wagner. I know that was a difficult situation for him to deal with. It is for all of us. I am concerned. We've got to recruit more people than the policing, and we've got to make Warner Robins an attractive place to work for a policeman, finances and quality of life. I will say, one area I think we definitely excel in is our equipment and resources that we have; and training. We just need the right people to come along and fill those vacancies," Lauritsen said.

"The City of Warner Robins is facing challenges that many departments across our nation are facing. Many of them are low-staffed when it comes to law enforcement. Warner Robins is no exception to that rule. We are working very diligently to be proactive about crime prevention and innovative to make sure we are maximizing the reach within of our department with the numbers that we have. Hence, the reason we are investing within our smart technology that will help us in policing areas without having a person boots-on-the-ground in that area, and they will also help on solve crimes more quickly," Patrick said.

13WMAZ asked Lauritsen and Mayor Patrick if Chief John Wagner left on his own accord, or if someone pushed him out of his role.

"I absolutely know that Chief Wagner has decided to retire completely on his own accord and he certainly deserves that. He has been a police for more than 30 years. We are going to miss him," Lauritsen said.

"I have no knowledge of anyone doing that to him. He's a great person. He's a great leader, and he has served our city delightfully," Patrick said.

Mayor Patrick says they are getting ready to start vetting candidates. 

"I wish Chief Wagner the best. He has done a great service here. Although the timeline is short, we are able to do it. As soon as I found out he was leaving, I went to work immediately," Patrick said.

"This is a bump in the road that is going to make it more difficult, for sure, but I believe the mayor and the leadership will be able to get us moving in the right direction," Lauritsen said.

One rumored candidate was Chief Lawrence Spurgeon, who retired from public safety in Fort Valley last year, but Mayor Patrick says they're not planning to hire him.

"No, not at all. Mr. Spurgeon is law enforcement from another city, previously. He is not interested in doing anymore law enforcement, anywhere. That's a misconception out there with people, but no, he is not interested in working for the City of Warner Robins when it comes to public safety," Patrick said.

Mayor Patrick says they'll have a new interim chief of police by October 2.

That's Chief Wagner's last day at the department.

Chief Wagner was not at Monday night's meetings.

Mayor Patrick says the city's Assistant Finance Director Holly Gross will also be retiring.

Gross's last day is at the end of this month.

Mayor Patrick says, post-retirement, Gross will be a consultant for the city.

Gross will help the city find their next finance director.

Wagner took over in 2019 after Brett Evans stepped down.

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