When it came time for the city of Eugene, Oregon, to choose a new police chief recently, the whole town participated in the process.
There were four community panels – one composed entirely of young people – plus an open forum and a website so citizen input could be received and reviewed online.
Officials released the names of the three top candidates, who then went before another citizen panel and another forum leading up to the city manager’s final selection.
A Baltimore version of this good-government gauntlet was promised after Police Commissioner Darryl De Sousa resigned in May.
Naming De Sousa’s replacement would involve listening tours, Mayor Catherine Pugh said. City Solicitor Andre Davis promised a seven-member panel of community members.
It never happened.
Instead, the process dragged on for six months in secrecy until a week ago the mayor confirmed what had long been rumored – that her pick would be Fort Worth Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald.
His selection now leaves open this question: Will the City Council, which had batted aside critics and fast-tracked De Sousa’s confirmation last February, be any more independent and discerning this time around?
Young: Already a Supporter
Council members have been eager to show that they would be more diligent with Fitzgerald.
Addressing reporters last week, City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young outlined his game plan:
A delegation consisting of Young, Council vice-president Sharon Green Middleton and committee heads Brandon M. Scott and Robert Stokes would travel to Fort Worth next month to conduct interviews with community members and civil rights groups.
After the Christmas holidays, the legislative body will hold two public hearings, then vote on the Fitzgerald nomination by January 28 – or 64 days from now.
“I came up with it because of criticism we have received in the past,” Young acknowledged. “I want to be sure that we, as a Council, do our due diligence as well so that we can have a great understanding of Mr. Fitzgerald’s background.”
But it soon became clear that Young knew quite a bit more about Fitzgerald than he had let on.
Young and City Solicitor Andre Davis worked closely with Pugh on the months-long selection process.
He confirmed to the Baltimore Sun that – apparently unbeknownst to other Council members – he and City Solicitor Davis had worked closely with Pugh on the months-long selection process.
And, according to the mayor, Young favored Fitzgerald, too. “His top pick was the same as my top pick,” she told the The Sun’s Ian Duncan.
Scott: I Won’t Criticize
The disclosure deepened the cynicism of an already skeptical public as Baltimore nears the end of another violent year under three different BPD leaders who never gained traction.
Can the Council convince anyone that its Texas junket and follow-up hearings are anything other than choreographed political theater leading up to an inevitable conclusion?
Scott, for one, said there was much he could learn on the trip and demurred when asked to comment on Pugh’s secretive selection process.
“Yes, there could have been more transparency, but what I won’t do is criticize,” said the chair of the Council’s Public Safety Committee.
“The mayor has handled this process based on how the law exists today in the city of Baltimore and the state of Maryland.”
Scott was asked if he had any concerns about the peripatetic 47-year-old Fitzgerald, who has headed three police departments in the past five years, raising a fundamental question about how likely it is he’ll make a commitment to Baltimore.
“Well, that’s one of the things we’re going to have to ask him,” Scott primly told reporters.
Later, knowing how deeply the Council president has been involved in the closed-door selection process, Scott still maintained that the Fort Worth trip will be worthwhile.
Old Low, New Low
Online, Scott and his colleagues portrayed themselves as just as frustrated as their constituents over the done-ness of the deal.
Taking to Twitter, Scott complained of information being withheld from the Council and decried the mayor as “someone who says legislators shouldn’t legislate.”
He backed it up with a published quote in which Pugh advised Council members to stop trying to pass bills and focus more on constituent service.
“When I was on the Council, I asked [former mayor] William Donald Schaefer, ‘What would make me a good City Council person?’” Scott recalled Pugh having observed. “He said attend hearings, engage your community and answer your constituents.”
“My focus was on neighborhoods and communities,” Pugh’s quote continued. “I don’t remember a lot of legislation that I did.”
The quick response on Twitter, from @jedweeks, was “This quote is a new low. Wow.”
He was quickly corrected by Councilman Ryan Dorsey, who pointed out that the Pugh quote came from an article published in January.
“No,” Dorsey remarked. “It’s an old low.”
Some online concurred with Scott that the Council’s power to buck the mayor on police matters is limited without changes made by the state legislature.
“Keep pushing @CouncilmanBMS,” @BOvrsight replied. “The fight in annapolis this go-round will be history book worthy.”
Others met Scott’s assertions of Council helplessness with an eye-roll and the conclusion that the status quo at City Hall these days is safe and sound as ever.