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New police chief decides he isn’t coming to Burlington


For city manager Hardin Watkins, it’s back to the drawing board to find a new police chief.

Watkins had made the announcement August 10 designating Burlington’s next chief of police, appointing Rich Austin, of Milton, Georgia.

But four weeks before his scheduled arrival on September 27, Watkins made a new announcement Monday (August 30) that the chief-designate “has chosen to step back from” accepting the Burlington job.

According to Watkins, Austin informed him Friday that a “family circumstance had arisen that would need his ‘immediate and sustained attention’ and that prompted him to reconsider the move.  He plans to remain in his current role as chief of the Milton, George police department.”

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Watkins said he would be “re-engaging” with the process for selection and hiring of a new police chief, using city staff, the human resources department, and the city’s consultant, the Mercer Group.

Austin had been selected from a pool of 32 applicants, Watkins said in making the August 10 announcement, which, he said, had drawn interest both locally and nationally.

A native North Carolinian from Charlotte, Austin has been police chief in Milton, Georgia for  the past 4½ years.  He has 32 years of experience in municipal policing, including 24 years of service with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department. Austin and his wife, Ashley, have an 11-year-old daughter, Claire, according to the original announcement.

Watkins said he did not know the “specific family circumstance” that necessitated Austin’s withdrawal from the post.

Retired assistant chief Eric Kerns will continue serving as the interim chief until a new chief arrives.  Former police chief Jeff Smythe retired in May after eight years in the post and who has since accepted a state position.

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