AP NEWS

Katy delays appointment of police chief

February 26, 2019

Responding to his constituents, Katy Ward B Councilman James C. Jimmy Mendez Jr. on Monday tagged appointment of a police chief and urged the vote be postponed until after the May election.

Tagging of the appointment didn’t delay the council from going into 75 minute executive session at the end of the meeting to talk about the appointment and interview the top applicant — Texas Ranger Noe Diaz, who lives in Katy. Ward A Councilman Frank O. Carroll III said Diaz was the top candidate among five finalists, all from the Katy area.

People who filled the City Council chambers on Feb. 25 applauded after Mendez tagged the appointment. Three people from the crowded meeting also spoke in support of delaying action until after the May election when voters will elect a mayor and a new Ward B councilman. Mendez is term-limited and cannot run for re-election.

Tagging, however, only delays the vote until the next meeting, said Mendez, who added that support exists on City Council to name a police chief next month. A motion to delay the appointment until after the election failed in a 3-2 vote with only Mendez and Councilman Chris Harris voting for the delay.

The top job in the department opened Jan. 15, the retirement date of Bill Hastings, who had served the department for 32 years and as police chief since 2008. He had announced his retirement in mid-December and the position was posted for a nationwide search on Dec 31, said Carroll. Assistant Police Chief Tim Tyler, who’s 27th anniversary with the department is in July, was appointed interim police chief. Tyler applied for the police chief position, but so did 75 other candidates, said Mendez and Carroll.

After the meeting, Mendez figured he had received probably 100 calls from people relative to the appointment of a police chief who favored waiting until after the election.

“I did what the constituents asked me to do,” he said.

Supporting Mendez’s position were residents Andy Wohlgemuth, Adrienne Davitz and Robert Wolfe, who spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting. Davitz and Wolfe discussed the issue, too, while council was in executive session. Wohlgemuth and Davitz also posted comments on the City of Katy Residents Forum website.

“I have real concerns about filling the position before the election,” said Wolfe. “It doesn’t pass the smell test for me.”

He said he understood the preferred candidate was someone from outside the department.

“We do not need someone coming in and telling the Katy Police Department how to run their department,” Wolfe said. “The chief of police should not be a training position.”

But Carroll said that council advised the mayor that “whoever the candidate is has to have deep ties to the community.” The councilman noted that Diaz has had an office at the Katy Police Department for more than 20 years as a trooper and then ranger.

The screening process included a five-member panel of four police chiefs from suburban cities around Houston who belong to the Houston Area Police Chiefs Association and Katy Mayor Chuck Brawner, a retired Spring Branch Independent School District police chief. That panel had 18 questions that covered facets from leadership to policing philosophy and problem solving inside and outside of the department, said Carroll. An independent firm also assessed leadership skills.

“Notes were taken and scores given by each individual member of the assessment panel on all 18 questions,” said Carroll. “Those scores were compiled together and candidates ranked in order according to the assessments. City Council last night was provided with the assessment scores. Noe Diaz scored the highest of the candidates that were ranked in order.”

At the meeting, Davitz said she understood that the chief already had been chosen and had already introduced himself at the police department.

“I’m concerned if that is true; it happened before the vote,” Davitz said. “It happened before city council exercised due diligence.”

Wohlgemuth, like Mendez, pointed out that it took the city three years to fill the position of fire chief and questioned why there was such a push to appoint a police chief before the election.

In his forum post, Wohlgemuth wrote, in part, “The building uproar surrounding the current mayor’s rush to install a replacement for Chief Hastings highlights that the community in all likelihood, would like that decision delayed until after the election.

“After being intricately involved and an active participant in delaying a permanent replacement (the delay being something in excess of 3 years) for chief Jordan, suddenly our Mayor is desperate to replace our police chief before the next mayoral election.

“We get varying stories about hiring boards who have been appointed, met, and already made a choice. There is even a name of a selectee and his background being discussed.

“Requests for information and policy positions posed to the city council have been met with denials, claims of ignorance, bald-faced obfuscation, pleas for patience, and sickenly sweet patronizing assurances that we will all have our answers in due time.”

Carroll said that there is no prohibition in any ordinance, charter or written rule against making an appointment during a mayoral election. If it is an unwritten rule, there is no way to confirm it, said Carroll, who added, that he did not rely on unwritten rules.

“We have outstanding six positions to be filled at the police department,” continued Carroll. “That’s approximately 10 percent of the force. The next police chief should have input on who is hired. I think that’s fair that the next police chief be part of what is the largest expansion of personnel since the year 2000.”

karen.zurawski@chron.com