Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Chief misconceptions

I decided to wait on the debate Monday night sponsored by the Tom Green Democrat Club as to the elected/appointed Police Chief. Glad I did. A few minor hitches. Councilman Dwain Morrison was unable to be there, and Floyd Crider attempted to work from Dwain's notes as well he could. I point this out in case there was a slip up in communication in that process, otherwise, we have a crucial misapprehension by one of the appointed Chiefs' more prominent opponents.

One reason I was able to support this version, after going against it last time. we have clarified the appointment process, or we thought we had. The appointment itself is made by the city manager, then ratified by the City Council. Should it become necessary to remove a Chief, that is done by the City Manager on his sole authority.

If Mr. Crider's reading of the notes was accurate, Mr. Morrison seemed to believe a Chief could be removed anytime four Council members disliked him.

I suppose the case could be made, but it is a heck of a stretch. Yes, a bloc of four Council members can remove the manager, so in theory they could either threaten to exercize that authority to bend a manager to their will, or in the extremity, actually fire and replace the manager to get to the Police Chief. In practice such a move is nearly always a public relations disaster. Those of us who are old enough to recall the Nixon years can remember how well it worked for him as Nixon went through two Attorneys General in a weekend before a third finally fired Archie Cox.

I mentioned our meeting with WTOS. I do not intend to characterize their postion as a group, so I stress, these were questions from individual members. One set of questions went to the the possible process of removal/replacement under the current elected system. Well, in between four year elections, there isn't much. The recall mechanism was mentioned, but as a political reality, it is virtually undoable. A recall election would need over 5,000 valid signatures just to be scheduled and the group capable of mobilising that effort in San Angelo is non-existent.

A point that came up, what if the police dept. has become so factionalized that we might want to bring in a Chief from outside San Angelo, a qualified candidate with no ties to any group or internal candidate? Under the elected Chief system, that is not an option. While the qualifications for an elected Chief don't even mention a law enforcement background, a candidate has to be a two year resident of the city. On that, under the appointed Chief, by state law, we could hire a Chief from anywhere, but a candidate must have five years experience minimum, with at least an Intermediate Master Officer's certification.

I add, on this last, I would like it if we could "promote from within" when possible, having a new Chief familiar with the city. That would require stability in the Dept. and a process aimed at training a few promising candidates who show leadership potential. We have neither. The "house divided against itself" has been mentioned too often, by too many to be a fantasy. Under the elected system, what encouragement does any Chief have to train up a potential electoral opponent?

I think it is time to tackle this problem. The timing suits. If approved by the voters, the appointment process would take effect at the end of this term in May. We have, aside from the usually divisive election, a felony investigation of Chief Vasquez underway. However that investigation turns out, it points up a huge defect in the elected method.

I know of and understand the reluctance of many voters to yield direct elective say on any office, but in this case, I believe it's time to do so for good reason. Too few voters know the "rest of the story" well enough to make the best decision on this crucial office.

3 comments:

  1. san_angelo_ex_pat7:07 PM, October 03, 2007

    Sir:

    As I have indicated before, I have observed the identification of a police chief deserving of removal from office here in the Metroplex. The fact he was appointed made the process of removing him infinitely swifter and easier.

    He later sued for improper termination. His suit was rejected.

    Retaining an system wherein the police chief is elected constitutes a roadmap to future problems, and that is why the vast majority of municipalities have rejected it.

    It may be time for San Angelo to start acting like a city, and not the large small town I have always considered it to be.

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  2. I have met few people in the last few months who think the elected chief is still a good idea. My hubby and I vote in every election, but we are usually the youngest people in the voting area. I think some talking to the elderly needs to be done, so they know how important this vote will be to San Angelos future.

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  3. ex_pat, I recall the case, the Dallas Morning News was still delivered here then. Same process here might have taken an entire election period, a destructive choosing up of sides, and the replacement limited to choosing between divided factions of the resident force, a non-resident "clean broom" need not apply.

    Anon, I have dealt with, been friends and compatriot with people who, in my opinion, treasure the individual "right to vote" on any given office beyond the point I think reasonable. As a long serving election judge, I know the offices most confusing to voters are judicial. An ethical judicial candidate can promise nothing without compromising his open-minded consideration of some future case to come before him. An entire section of Election Code tries to reconcile the electoral process with legal canons, in my opinion, less than perfectly.

    I have had no luck argueing for initial appointment, even with a retention election following the initial term of appointment.

    As law enforcement is the introduction most people receive to the criminal justice system, it is greatly to be desired that a Chief of Police be beholden to no faction, within or outside his dept.

    I am personally on the verge of old-fartdom, your message encourages me. You are young, so was I when I ever so enthusiastically, and ever so inexpertly started doing this. I can hope for a good turnout, realistically, I will be surprised if it matches the school bond. Pass the message to your fellows, if you actually turn out and vote, your vote will count as many, due to the many who will not bother.

    There are those who think me radical, but in truth, I sometimes find myself being cautious in the framing of the topic or the phrasing of a presentation out of political consideration. This I tell you from the heart; there are two kinds of voters, shepherds or sheep. Encourage your friends to be shepherds. So few people try, at least locally, it doesn't take a big-time "machine" to make a difference.

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