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Will Manley be made police chief? City manager remains mum

Tuesday, April 3, 2018 by Jack Craver

In spite of the praise he has received from city leaders for his response to the Austin bombings, Interim Police Chief Brian Manley is not necessarily a shoo-in to be the next permanent police chief.

City Manager Spencer Cronk is still in the process of deciding what to do about the vacant position, which Manley has filled in an interim capacity since former Police Chief Art Acevedo left in November of 2016.

“He’s going to be announcing shortly how he proceeds in that regard,” explained Assistant City Manager Rey Arellano at a meeting of the Public Safety Commission on Monday.

Cronk, said Arellano, “has the spectrum of options” for choosing a new police chief. He could appoint a successor directly or he could go the traditional route for filling top city positions, which is to hire a recruitment firm to conduct a national search for potential candidates.

But whatever route Cronk chooses, he will insist that it be subject to community input, said Arellano, including from the Public Safety Commission.

A number of commissioners voiced strong support for going through with a competitive application process.

“I think it’s really, really important that the community has a say,” said Commissioner Daniela Nuñez.

Nuñez highlighted the significant differences of opinion over policing that exist within the city, and said that the next police chief should have to hear from people on different parts of the spectrum, including “those who love the police and have never had issues with them” as well as “those who are more likely to be targeted” or victimized by police misconduct.

Chair Rebecca Webber agreed that it was important to do a thorough search, for the sake of the community as well as for whoever ends up in the position.

“Chief Manley is the most qualified,” she said. “But I think it would be a disservice to him to not have all of the stakeholders weigh in.”

Webber also urged City Council to learn from its “bungled” city manager search last year and to conduct the interviews with finalists for the police chief position publicly, even if that deters some people from applying for the job.

“It really seems that the fire chief search and the police chief search should just be out in the open,” she said.

Commissioner Sam Holt said that he was inclined to support Manley, but agreed that “we need to go through the process.”

The only pushback on the idea of a national search came from Commissioners Preston Tyree and Kim Rossmo.

Rossmo prodded Arellano, unsuccessfully, on how much it would cost to conduct a national search. Last year, Council paid consulting firm Russell Reynolds $122,000 to find city manager candidates.

Tyree also bemoaned the length of time that a search would take and the amount of money it would cost.

“I can see us going through a six month process, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars, and then picking Chief Manley,” he said. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Webber conceded that the outcome he described was very likely. But in that case, she added, “Then we’ll know, (Manley) was the best one.”

Chris Harris of Grassroots Leadership, one of the groups that has pushed in recent years to increase police accountability, challenged the notion that Manley’s handling of the bombings made him right for the job.

“You say it ain’t broke,” he said, referring to Tyree’s comments. “I think many other people in our community don’t share that perspective.”

Harris also argued that there were “unanswered questions” about the investigation into the bombings, including the police department’s initial theory that Anthony House, the first bombing victim, may have made the bomb himself.

It is similarly unclear how Cronk plans to find a new person to fill the vacancy in the Office of the Police Monitor left by former Police Monitor Margo Frasier. Complicating matters is the absence of a police union contract; the powers of the police monitor under the former union contract were greater than that allowed under the state civil service code, which the police department has been operating under ever since Council rejected a proposed contract with the Austin Police Association in December.

“At some point the city manager will decide how he wants to proceed in terms of recruitment,” said Arellano.

The one thing that is clear, however, is that there will be a national search to find a new fire chief to replace Chief Rhoda Mae Kerr, who has announced her plans to move to Fort Lauderdale this summer. City management is already setting the gears in motion to hire a recruitment firm, whose search will likely take between three and six months, said Arellano. In the time between when Kerr leaves and the new chief is hired, Chief of Staff Tom Dodds will serve as the interim head of the department.

Photo courtesy of ATXN.

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