How to select a Chief
A very important issue was added to the May 7th election at the last minute. It was proposed that the Police Chief be appointed. There has been a lot of confusion about this issue. First the ballot language (which I have a copy of here) is not widely published yet. Next, there is some confusion on how the chief can be selected, and the rights of a selected chief, qualifications, etc.. Here is some of what our research has turned up, and my analysis and opinions.
First thing to realize is that most of San Angelo's public safety personel are under the civil service code (the city adopted it in 1948). You can find the section of the Texas local government code that covers civil service here. You will notice that there are only three ways we could select a chief. First, we can elect one just like we are doing now. Next, the chief can be appointed by the chief executive with approval of the city council. The chief can also be appointed by an elected police commisioner, again with approval of the city council. There is a problem determining who is the chief executive of the city. The city charter gives the title "Chief Executive Officer" to the Mayor. The charter, and the code of ordinances give all the dutie, powers, and responsibilities of the chief executive to the City Manager. The Office of the Attorney General has issued this opinion that in a case like ours, the city manager is really the chief executive for civil service purposes.
The election of the chief is part of the city charter. Any changes will require a charter change. You will also notice that the ways a chief can be selected are very limited. Any board can only advise the appointing authority, whether it is the chief executive, or a police commisioner. The basic requirements for the chief are determined by the Texas civil service code, and by the civil service commission, a group that we haven't mentioned yet.
Every municipality in Texas that has adopted the civil service code must have a civil service commission. There are 3 commission members appointed by the chief executive and approved by the governing body of the municipality, each member serving staggered 3 year terms. The commission then selects a chairman and vice chairman, and will appoint a civil service director, who may or may not be a member of the commision. The director serves as the secretary of the commission, and can be paid. So now that we have a civil service commission, what do they do?
The civil service commission , with approval of the governing body, sets the qualifications and compensations for covered police and fire personnel. They administer the tests and examinations. They handle appeals. They appoint the civil service director, which handles the day to day personnel actions for all civil service employees. They do many things people think the chief does. They are the authority for personnel actions in the police and fire departments. A very important commision. One that is almost unknown. They are supposed to meet once a month, according to the code of ordinances, and are subject to the open meetings requirements. The have to select the chairman and vice chairman in January of each year. The last time they met before January was August 2004, to discuss some test issues.
So what is my opinion? I didn't like the conflict and dissension that was part of the last chiefs election. That being said, I am also not inclined to put the chief under the city manager or the mayor. Just rember the problems we had when the schoolboard appointed Joe Gonzales. Makes the problems with the chiefs election look very minor. Would Chief Vasquez have made it through the selection process? I can also see the police chief being too isolated from the people he protects and serves. I see a need for a more consolidated approach to public safety. I think it is worth looking at an elected public safety commissioner that would combine the functions of police commissioner and fire commissioner. A person the voters select and that is accountable to them. A person to oversee and coordinate all public safety issues for the community. A person to keep all politics out of the day to day operation of all public safety departments.