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Ahead of Police Chief Interviews, Most on Council Voice Support for Search Process

The hiring search looked different—and quicker—for obvious reasons, but a Council committee gave its support to the city manager ahead of this week's interviews.

The seven finalists for Dallas police chief should know their fate by the end of next week. Today begins the formal interview process, starting with conversations with stakeholders from community groups selected by the city manager. On Wednesday, the finalists will answer questions submitted by the public in a three-hour panel that will be streamed online and broadcast on the city’s television channel. And on Thursday, they’ll sit with city manager T.C. Broadnax and members of his staff.

Broadnax, who has sole authority to hire and fire the top cop, said he anticipates spending the weekend deliberating and plans to make public his decision by Christmas Eve. Some of the seven may not make it into a room with him later this week, he said.

“I don’t really like to hesitate and spend too much time bemoaning and having consternation,” he told the City Council’s Public Safety Committee on Monday, a forum in which most Council members vocalized their support of the hiring process that Broadnax has helped oversee.

Part of Monday’s public safety meeting seemed aimed at allaying concerns that the hiring process had not been transparent or included enough input from elected officials. In other words, the meeting looked like it was set up to address criticisms the mayor has lobbied at the city manager this year. As we reported last week, Mayor Eric Johnson began airing these concerns in recent weeks in media interviews, in his state of the city speech, and in his email newsletters. Many of his colleagues disagreed with his assertion that the public had been shut out of the process. They came out in force during Monday’s meeting.

“It’s easy to criticize after the fact as opposed to providing good input prior,” Councilman Lee Kleinman, who represents North Dallas, said in Monday’s meeting.

The mayor was not present during the meeting, but chairwoman Jennifer Staubach Gates asked questions on his behalf. They questioned Broadnax, but also Gary Peterson, the head of the search firm that led the nationwide selection process. Peterson said he met with the mayor and City Council and based the job requirements on what he heard in those conversations. The job listing required five years’ experience instead of seven “to encourage broader participation in the search.”

“People of color are historically underrepresented in the executive ranks,” Peterson said. “This provides an opportunity for both those internal and external candidates who might have four or five or six years as a guideline an opportunity to participate in the search process and not be excluded.”

Only one of the finalists, Irving Police Chief Jeff Spivey, is White. Johnson also had concerns about the length of the search. If the chief is hired by the end of the year, the search will have lasted 83 days. In 2017, when Chief U. Reneé Hall was hired, the city took between 100 and 120 days to make its decision, according to Jon Fortune, the assistant city manager who oversees public safety at City Hall. Peterson said this was due to travel that isn’t happening because of the pandemic; it doesn’t take as much time to meet with someone.

“We knew going into this that it would be a quick process; we knew we needed a chief and it was going to be aggressive,” said Councilman Adam Medrano, the mayor pro tem. “As council members, we all had the opportunity to give and share input on the candidates we were going to be wanting to interview, and also the qualifications and the process. We all had an opportunity to share that with you guys early on, so I want to thank you for that.”

Dallas is competing with eight to 11 other cities that are already searching for a police chief or will be. Peterson said the accelerated process was designed to get the jump on those municipalities. “We’re vying for the top candidates, and so we’re competing with those folks,” he said. “Just keep that in mind.”

Council members Casey Thomas, Adam Bazaldua, and Carolyn King Arnold also voiced their support for the process. So, too, did Councilwoman Gates, the chair of the Public Safety Committee. Arnold said she was “disturbed” by what she saw as “a misrepresentation and a diabolical plan” to create fissures in the city charter, which gives Broadnax hiring power over the position.

“We want this chief to come here in an environment knowing, they gotta know their job. But we’ve got to also support this chief,” she said. “We don’t want to frustrate a chief coming in here in the first 60 days, because the honeymoon is only going to last 32 minutes.”

The City Council seems broadly onboard with the process. And now the important part starts: picking the right chief. Broadnax said that while he’ll take others’ considerations into account, the decision is ultimately his.

“There won’t be any weighted approach to it,” he said. “This outstripped belief that somehow, whether one individual or one organization is going to influence me, if you have not learned as a councilwoman and/or as a council body, I’m pretty independent in my way of thinking and I try to err on the side of the right thing to do, not what is most politically acceptable in some cases and/or expedient.”

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