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Where are the chiefs?

People are beginning to wonder.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Six months after Houston’s top cop retired and 10 months after Houston’s fire chief resigned to take another job, both departments remain without permanent chiefs, prompting concerns that public safety could suffer during the transition to permanent leadership.

The delays are already among the longest in decades at a time when community pressures are mounting on local agencies.

“We need leadership right now, and no one wants to make any moves until a chief is named,” one longtime police investigator complained recently.

Acting Police Chief Martha Montalvo, a Houston Police Department veteran, has led the agency since Mayor Sylvester Turner named her to the interim post in mid-February. Acting Fire Chief Rodney West has been at the helm since before Turner took office in January.

Both Montalvo and West are reportedly interested in the positions.

City officials say the administration has been occupied with passing the city’s budget, dealing with historic flooding and responding to the high-profile murder of an 11-year-old boy in north Houston earlier this year and the recent, controversial shooting by police of an African-American man in south Houston.

“My preference would be to have permanent leadership for the departments to depend on and move forward with,” said Council Member Brenda Stardig, chair of the City Council’s public safety committee. “We have to prioritize and take care of the citizens and public safety.”

Turner’s office has remained tight-lipped about the searches.

“Nothing has changed. The mayor is working on his timetable,” city spokeswoman Janice Evans said in an email. “In the meantime, both HPD and HFD are operating well. Both Chief Montalvo and Chief West meet regularly with the mayor so that he is aware of what is going on in the departments. His concern is about getting the job done rather than the personalities of who is making sure the job gets done.”

The story goes on to note that while Mayor Turner is taking longer to name HPD and HFD chiefs than what we are used to, it’s not out of line for similar appointments in other big cities. I can’t speak to how any of this affects the internal dynamics of either organization, but at least for HPD there are some big issues involving things like recent shootings of civilians and how body cameras are being used for which it would be nice to get some clear direction. It’s better to be right slow than to be wrong fast, so as long as Mayor Turner gets the right people in place in not too much longer, all should be fine. The Mayor clearly isn’t going to be rushed, so we may as well wait till he’s ready to make his choices.

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2 Comments

  1. Bill Daniels says:

    ” It’s better to be right slow than to be wrong fast, so as long as Mayor Turner gets the right people in place in not too much longer, all should be fine. The Mayor clearly isn’t going to be rushed, so we may as well wait till he’s ready to make his choices.”

    I could not agree more, Kuff. The Turner administration has been a pleasant surprise thus far, although I do give you credit for telling folks that he is a consensus gatherer who wants to hear from all stakeholders before making a decision, prior to the election.

  2. Steve Houston says:

    “Community concerns deepen over delays in naming city chiefs” is the title of the article you linked to Charles yet having read it twice now, either the version I’m reading is different than the final version or the author failed to produce many examples of concerns existing, never mind growing. Are there actually people in the community that are concerned, not just union leaders or former chiefs that don’t even live in the city but residents, business owners, and other stakeholders that could reasonably be considered part of the community?

    The story barely mentions HFD, you don’t seem to have any concerns about them either, and each of the areas you mention about HPD are ongoing topics that have been around before this, each department having a temporary leader appointed with all the authority of a regular chief. As we are both fans of governmental transparency, the worst appointments the Mayor could make would not be able to be less transparent than previous chiefs in both groups and like it or not, the city police have a great record for shootings being labeled as justified by the federal authorities compared to other major cities that are now under consent decrees or being pushed into them.

    So while we could all get together with our respective wish lists for candidates, it would not have changed the boy being shot or his investigation, nor would it have impacted police shooting a guy in the middle of the street waving a gun at them any more than it would impact HFD’s ongoing pension costs, the only major issue tied to them of late. Even the internal comments made about the chief selection process seem pretty weak; with HFD, the career path limits most employees movement, and with HPD, the person at the top of the pyramid rarely takes a personal interest in the nuts and bolts investigations or patrol functions unless something goes wrong.