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On finding the next HPD Chief

I don’t know about this.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner has chosen to select Houston’s next police chief through a private executive search firm, taking the position that the applications and résumés of job candidates do not have to be made available through the Texas Public Information Act.

The process stands in stark contrast to that used by his predecessor, Annise Parker, who in 2010 released the applications of 26 candidates for police chief in response to a records request.

“I am not going to conduct this process in the media,” Turner said via email Friday. “I didn’t do that with the searches for a new city attorney, the Flood Czar, the Education Director and other positions within my administration. My goal is to find the best candidate for the job and you don’t get the best candidate when the search is conducted in the media, especially if the publicity could endanger an applicant’s current position. It will be done on my time line. In the meantime, HPD is operating quite well under the very capable leadership of Acting Police Chief Martha Montalvo.”

The mayor’s spokeswoman, Janice Evans, said the search for a new chief is being handled by a six-member transition team along with the executive search firm of Russell Reynolds Associates. She declined to provide any records on the city’s arrangements with the firm, saying its services are being provided at no cost and without a contract.

Civil rights activists and open records advocates have been sharply critical of what they see as Turner’s lack of transparency, which comes as they are demanding a new chief to reform police operations.

“This is not a transparent process they are using,” said Houston attorney Joe Larsen, who heads the review committee of the nonprofit Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas. “Besides the mayor, the chief of police is one of the most important positions in the city, and all the stakeholders should be aware of what’s going on.”

Larsen said the city has a legal responsibility not only to provide records it has but also records it controls.

[…]

After the Chronicle made a similar open records request for chief applicants this year, Turner’s staff first sought an attorney general’s opinion to allow them to withhold the information. The city later withdrew its AG request, saying it had no records of any kind relating to applicants for the chief’s job.

“The city does not have any responsive information,” said Evans, Turner’s director of communications. “As was the case with the City Attorney, this is being handled as part of the transition process.”

[…]

C.O. “Brad” Bradford, a former City Council member and Houston police chief under two mayors, said he doesn’t see a downside to Turner withholding the list of candidates as long as the finalists are disclosed after an appointment is made.

“Once the mayor nominates someone for council approval, then that’s when the questions should start – what was the process used to nominate this person, and who the other candidates were,” Bradford said.

“Now is not the time to do it.”

Bradford said that before he was appointed chief in 1997, then-Mayor Bob Lanier announced the names of 12 candidates from within HPD and four from outside the department who were vying for the position.

“I recall when 12 of us were competing, there were some nasty things that happened,” he said.

The story notes that Mayor Parker released applications of candidates who had been screened by a nonprofit group back in 2010 when now-retired Chief McClelland was hired. The story doesn’t say whether those applications, which were disclosed as the result of an open records request they made, came to them before or after McClelland was hired. If it’s the latter, then I think the distinction Bradford draws is a reasonable one. It can get awkward for some job applicants to be known to be looking elsewhere, which can cause some potential candidates to shy away from applying for a job if they know their status as an applicant will be made known. Disclosing the names of just the finalists for the job sounds like an acceptable compromise. On the other hand, it’s seldom wrong to err on the side of disclosure in matters involving the public interest, and there’s nothing untoward about people asking questions about who the candidates are for HPD Chief. Perhaps a full accounting of what we will know and when we will know it will suffice for now. We do need to know more than what we currently do.

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5 Comments

  1. Steve Houston says:

    At very least, the mayor could release the specific criteria used for the search, until the list of finalists comes out. I disagree with Bradford’s comments of course, which person is picked to head the most expensive department in city government, a department that literally holds the power of life and death over people at times, is one where all the usual groups should be able to publicly comment before it is a done deal. Of the names mentioned so far, the only two that make sense are Dirden or Munden, but there should be time for public comments when there are still finalists.

  2. Paul kubosh says:

    SH, I am conflicted here. I certainly fall in line with open government almost all time. However, lets say I am the police chief of Pittsburgh and I would like to get out of the Snow. If i send a resume to Houston I sure would like to keep that confidential because the people of Pittsburgh may not like me applying for work in another City. Then if I don’t get the job in Houston I then get fired in Pittsburgh. A whole lot to risk. Maybe I just don’t apply for the Houston gig because I don’t want to take the risk. What do you think?

  3. The only snow day is happening at Houston City Council, Nonprofits and Industry executives.

    They still can’t seem to figure out basic paid maternity leave, paid sick leave ordinance or a ban the box ordinance.

    It’s time for a snow truck… because these do-nothing, know-nothing, dinosaur baby-boomers have got to go.

    Why should we wait another 10 years for Radack, Blanchard, Babin, Turner, Lufburrow, Harvey among others to figure this out??

  4. Steve Houston says:

    PK, that is the reasoning Clarence espoused but given he co-chairs the Mayor’s public safety group, much of what he wants changed seems likely to happen. Given all the scandals that took place under his watch, and his repeated denial of knowledge, perhaps he should have been vetted more closely but given he was promoted from sergeant to AC to chief, what can one expect?

    But seriously, I look at it this way, if a standing chief for another city is being courted, and he might be asked rather than submit an application himself, his current employer should consider his track record. If he is a good chief, they might want to give him a raise to keep him from having wandering eyes and if he is a bad chief, they should welcome his departure as it would likely save them from paying out an existing golden parachute. As it stands though, most candidates for chief in recent years were not chief somewhere else, they were captain’s, Lt’s, and assistant chief either in Houston or elsewhere. As such, it is understandable that they would want to move up to a bigger role, some of the perennial candidates locally remain terrible choices here and elsewhere.

    But if a candidate is skilled and shows the right stuff, they should be secure in an existing job because very few such people exist; would you ever support someone for chief that dictated an officer refuse to speak to defense lawyers, demand they be ready for every case regardless of their memories, or allow evidence to remain in locations that were pointed out to you as having contamination issues? I think not… 😉

  5. Paul Kubosh says:

    Well said…have a good weekend.