Sgt. Paul Schnell, whose name has become familiar in his role as public information officer with the St. Paul Police Department, is taking on a new high-profile job: police chief of Hastings.

The City Council's three-member Public Safety Committee gave its unanimous endorsement to Schnell at a meeting Tuesday morning after consulting with the city's Police Civil Service Commission. The full Hastings council is expected to approve Schnell's appointment on Mayor Paul Hicks' recommendation and finalize his salary and other terms Monday night, said City Administrator Dave Osberg.

Schnell's hiring culminates a very public search in which 29 candidates were narrowed to six, then three finalists.

"He met the criteria we were looking for," Osberg said. "He was very comfortable with members of the community; he engaged the people in our department and in our community."

Schnell also brings a breadth of experience to the job. Before joining the St. Paul Police Department in 1999, he was a Carver County deputy for seven years, and the St. Nazianz, Wis., native had worked in community corrections before that.

He was St. Paul's officer of the year in 2002, has been an investigator and patrol supervisor and has worked in the department's sex crimes and family violence units. Schnell earned a master's degree from St. Catherine University and worked briefly as an administrator with the Metro Transit police. He's been public information officer for about a year.

"He's a good man, and we're very glad to have him," Osberg said.

The other two finalists were Rick Mathwig, who had been interim police chief in Roseville before withdrawing when he got that job outright, and Wayne Hicks, a sergeant in the Hastings Police Department whose brother is the city's mayor.

Once the hiring becomes official, Schnell would start his new job in the next several weeks.

"I'm thrilled about it -- it's an exciting opportunity," Schnell said. "It's a great community and a great department. I look forward to just being a part of taking a good department and making it even better."

Schnell said he expects to spend a lot of time listening to and learning from members of his new department, from city leaders and from residents. "There are people that have served in this community that know its problems, know its issues and know its challenges in ways that I simply don't," he said.

"I owe a debt of gratitude to St. Paul -- without the great opportunities that the department and my colleagues have afforded me, I wouldn't be in this position.

"I'll really miss St. Paul, a place I've loved and where I've enjoyed working, but I'm looking forward to this new opportunity."

Jim Anderson • 612-673-7199