Fresno’s in­abil­ity to find a new po­lice chief raises con­cerns

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Opinion -

Fresno’s next po­lice chief is some­one who did not ap­ply for the job. If that sounds like an Alice in Wonderland re­al­ity, that’s sim­ply how it was suc­cinctly summed up by soon-tobe re­tir­ing Chief Jerry Dyer.

“The per­son best suited to be chief at this time is some­one who did not ap­ply,” is how Dyer put it.

The city is for­tu­nate to be get­ting a ca­pa­ble re­place­ment. City Man­ager Wilma Quan an­nounced Fri­day that Deputy Chief Andy Hall, a 40-year vet­eran of the depart­ment, is act­ing chief im­me­di­ately and will be­come full-fledged chief once Dyer steps down in Oc­to­ber.

How­ever, Hall him­self will sim­ply be a stop gap. He re­tires in the spring of 2021.

Hall was praised by Quan and Dyer as smart, ex­pe­ri­enced and fully com­mit­ted to Fresno. “Andy Hall is very as­tute. He is very wise. He knows Fresno PD be­longs to this com­mu­nity,” Dyer said. “He is a proven leader who is calm in the cri­sis.”

He takes on a big role: The Po­lice Depart­ment has 1,000 em­ploy­ees, a gen­eral fund budget over $180 mil­lion and han­dles an av­er­age of 1,200 calls a day.

In choos­ing Hall, Quan and Mayor Lee Brand bought them­selves some time to find the right per­son to be the next chief.

But the process to fill that im­por­tant post is prov­ing to be quite un­set­tling, and not what many res­i­dents ex­pected.

About two dozen peo­ple ap­plied for the job when the city be­gan its search in earnest in April.

The city held com­mu­nity meet­ings in each part of town to get the views of cit­i­zens, and 1,200 of them posted ideas on­line of what they were look­ing for in the next chief.

The list was whit­tled down to the top five can­di­dates, and some com­mu­nity lead­ers then were drafted to be on in­ter­view­ing pan­els. The group of five be­came the fi­nal pool of four, and those ap­pli­cants were in­ter­viewed on Aug. 16 by Brand, Quan, Dyer, Tim Or­man, the mayor’s chief of staff, and City Hall em­ployee Sandra Chavez Martin.

Quan praised the ap­pli­cants as highly qual­i­fied, just not right for Fresno. She could not de­tail it fur­ther due to the con­fi­den­tial na­ture of the hir­ing process.

How­ever, the city spent $30,000 with a re­cruit­ment firm to draw up the ini­tial list of two dozen can­di­dates. And it took from April to Fri­day to reach the con­clu­sion that Fresno had not found its per­ma­nent re­place­ment.

Be­cause Hall will be tem­po­rary, he will not be im­bued with the full author­ity to make ma­jor changes in depart­ment pol­icy. Brand and Quan might dis­agree with that point — they will likely say Hall has their full con­fi­dence to do what­ever he thinks is best — but log­i­cally he can­not move the depart­ment in a di­rec­tion that a fu­ture chief might not em­brace.

Then there is the may­oral elec­tion next March. The can­di­dates? County pros­e­cu­tor An­drew Janz — and Dyer. Brand could not say when the new search for a per­ma­nent chief will be­gin. But po­lit­i­cal re­al­ity sug­gests it won’t hap­pen un­til af­ter the elec­tion be­cause the in­com­ing mayor will want to have a say.

For months, Brand pledged that a new per­ma­nent chief would be hired by mid-Septem­ber. Now he in­sists he and Quan will have a new chief hired be­fore the end of 2020. He still ex­pects it to be the defin­ing legacy of his one term as mayor. At this mo­ment, how­ever, his legacy is Hall in the post un­til early 2021.

As to what kind of com­mu­nity in­put might be sought in the next search, Brand could not yet say. It is pos­si­ble the city won’t con­duct com­mu­nity meet­ings or gather com­ments on­line. That would be a mis­take. The city must ad­here to its trans­parency goal.

So un­cer­tainty is the main re­sult of Fresno’s search for a po­lice chief, and that is not the best way to run the fifth-largest city in Cal­i­for­nia. Fresno must con­duct another am­bi­tious search for a new chief, even though its lead­ers Fri­day pro­fessed their de­sire to find one from within the ranks. That only works if that per­son is the best can­di­date. Fres­nans de­serve no­body less.

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