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Chief Acevedo moves on to Houston

Friday, November 18, 2016 by Caleb Pritchard

Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo is Bayou City-bound.

On Thursday afternoon, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner announced that Acevedo will take over that city’s police department, confirming a report from Austin American-Statesman reporter Tony Plohetski earlier in the morning.

“To say I’m overwhelmed would be an understatement,” said Acevedo, flanked by Turner and members of the Houston City Council. He added, “I really look forward to the challenge of … working with these elected officials where they get the big picture and where they think big.”

The move marks the end of Acevedo’s nearly decadelong tenure at the top of the Austin Police Department. In 2007, he took over a department facing intense public criticism for the way it had handled several recent deadly shootings.

Since then, Acevedo has worked to rebuild the community’s trust, deploying as perhaps his most effective weapon his outsized charisma. A reliable presence at events large and small across Austin as well as an active voice on social media, Acevedo demonstrated a politician’s ability to work rooms, shake hands and find cameras.

However, that eagerness to engage the public occasionally created tension within the city and his department. Earlier this year, then-City Manager Marc Ott reprimanded Acevedo for violating Ott’s order to withhold comment during the investigation of an officer who had shot to death an unarmed teen in February.

In a statement released just after Turner’s announcement, Acevedo focused on the positive.

“Serving this great city has been the honor of a lifetime,” he said. “During my nearly 10-year journey with the city, many improvements have been made both within the police department and to our relationship with the community.”

As Acevedo was publicly accepting the job in front of a gaggle of reporters in Houston, Mayor Steve Adler held his own press conference at City Hall. Adler categorized the “rock star” chief’s departure as “a huge deal.”

“You know, from my perspective, this has come really quickly,” said Adler. “I just think this was an opportunity he needed to take.”

Adler also said that replacing Acevedo would be a daunting task, made even more daunting by the fact that close to 25 percent of the city’s executive positions are currently vacant or filled on an interim basis.

That includes the city manager position, held by interim City Manager Elaine Hart, who said she would recommend that the process of finding a new chief be executed by the yet-to-be-found city manager, not by her. Hart did say that she expected to name an interim chief within the week and would be looking internally. She mentioned that Chief of Staff Brian Manley will be the most senior person in the department following Acevedo’s departure.

“This is a very key, very public position for the city,” said Hart, “and my commitment to the Council when named an interim was that (on the appointment of) those kind of positions, I would hold off because the permanent city manager would want to have input into that kind of process.”

Hart gave her assurance that she would begin the hiring process, though she did not yet know the particulars. She noted that the effort to hire Acevedo a decade ago “took about a year” and involved a public process that would “certainly” take place again. Hart said the city will employ a search firm to find candidates.

Adler said he found the challenge of finding a new city manager and a new police chief at once “really exciting.”

“I think this is an incredible opportunity for the new 10-1 Council with voices from all over the city … to be able to engage that larger community and really put the 10-1 stamp on new governance moving forward,” said Adler. “I think it’s an exciting and unique opportunity.”

Acevedo’s departure also potentially signals an oncoming shuffling of leadership at Travis County. Tanya Acevedo, the chief’s wife, told the Austin Monitor on Thursday afternoon that she’s now reconsidering her future as the county’s chief information officer.

“I love my job and love what I do,” she said. “I still have a lot of initiatives that need to be completed.”

She said that she would likely stay on as head of the county’s Information Technology Services department through the end of next summer, a timeline that would allow her to finish that work and also allow the couple’s 8-year-old son to finish the school year in Austin.

Photo by Texas Military Department made available through a Creative Commons license.

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