Mukilteo police chief takes a walk on the wild side

By Sara Bruestle | Feb 05, 2014
Photo by: Sara Bruestle Rex Caldwell shows off his beard and collection of Jerry Garcia neckties he gets to sport as the interim city administrator. This is the first time in 30 years Caldwell hasn't been required to wear a police uniform and shave for work.

With his new title as Mukilteo’s interim city administrator, Rex Caldwell is also sporting a new look.

Caldwell, 53, is wearing a different Jerry Garcia tie every day until he runs out, and growing a beard during the estimated 3-6 months he will be the administrator. He’s been in his new role for about a month.

This is the first time in about 30 years that Caldwell hasn’t had to be in a police uniform and clean-shaven for work – and he’s making the most of it.

“Except for a year in detectives, I have been wearing a uniform to work every day,” Caldwell said. “The black and navy blue gets boring after 30 years. It’s been a fun opportunity to have something new every day.”

Mayor Jennifer Gregerson appointed the police chief as the temporary administrator as she works to restructure the city’s upper management and eliminate the position.

In the meantime, Cmdr. Chuck Macklin, who is second-in-command in the Mukilteo Police Department, is serving as acting chief.

“It’s an interesting change from the uniform of a police chief to the uniform of the city administrator,” Caldwell said. “Different role, different look. I’m enjoying laughing about it.

“I take my job really seriously; I don’t take myself too seriously.”

Caldwell owns more than 25 Jerry Garcia ties, most of which were gifts or bought at a discount. Once he wears all of his neckties once, he’ll start over. He has a few dozen other ties, too.

“I’ve got about two more weeks, and then I’ve got to recycle,” Caldwell said.

He was inspired by Michael Parsons, former director of the state Police Academy in Burien, who wore Jerry Garcia neckties, to start his own collection of the wild ties.

“He had an affinity for these ties, and I always admired [him],” Caldwell said of Parsons. “He was so straight-laced and buttoned-up that he would make a fashion statement by wearing a [Jerry Garcia] tie to work.”

Caldwell said it takes him five more minutes to get ready for work now that he has to pick out a suit and tie. He admits, however, that his wife helps him choose.

“Picking out my work wardrobe, when it’s uniforms, is really easy,” he said. “Everything is either navy blue or black. That simple. The only tie I have for my uniforms is a plain, black velcro tie, so you can’t get choked by it.

“So now it’s been more interesting to pick out something to wear.”

In addition to the ties, Caldwell hasn’t shaved since he switched jobs. He doesn’t know how long he’ll keep the beard, but he likes not having to shave once or twice a day.

“This is the first time in my entire career that I haven’t had to shave for work,” Caldwell said. “It’s glorious.”

He said his new look has taken others by surprise. They’re not used to seeing him out of uniform and with facial hair.

“A number of peers have been giving me grief about no longer being chief and going ‘to the dark side’ into administration,” Caldwell said. “I’ve had some good, fun conversations.”

Caldwell donned his police uniform on Saturday, however, when he dunked himself into the frigid waters of Puget Sound for the 2014 Polar Plunge in support of the Special Olympics of Washington.

For the uninitiated, Jerry Garcia was the lead guitarist in the band the Grateful Dead.

Garcia, who died in 1995, had a second career in visual arts off stage. His works included paintings and drawings in ink, oils, watercolor, airbrush and multimedia.

Some of his art – characterized by bright colors and abstract patterns – became the designs for the Jerry Garcia necktie line.

Caldwell marked his third year working for Mukilteo on Jan. 16, most of which has been in the police department. As the city administrator, he makes a point to visit the station once or twice a week.

“This new role is challenging,” he said. “It’s been an interesting learning curve and very educational.

“I worked closely with Joe Hannan and Joe Marine. I’m picking up where they left off and moving the city further toward its goals.”

Mayor Gregerson said Caldwell and his ties are a source of entertainment at City Hall. It’s funny to see each day what “he happened to put together,” she said.

“I’m happy he’s embracing his new role with enthusiasm,” Gregerson added. “[Though], I hope he’ll be ready to head back to his job as police chief, and trim up the beard and put the uniform back on.”

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