I don’t know about this.
Mayor Sylvester Turner has chosen to select Houston’s next police chief through a private executive search firm, taking the position that the applications and résumés of job candidates do not have to be made available through the Texas Public Information Act.
The process stands in stark contrast to that used by his predecessor, Annise Parker, who in 2010 released the applications of 26 candidates for police chief in response to a records request.
“I am not going to conduct this process in the media,” Turner said via email Friday. “I didn’t do that with the searches for a new city attorney, the Flood Czar, the Education Director and other positions within my administration. My goal is to find the best candidate for the job and you don’t get the best candidate when the search is conducted in the media, especially if the publicity could endanger an applicant’s current position. It will be done on my time line. In the meantime, HPD is operating quite well under the very capable leadership of Acting Police Chief Martha Montalvo.”
The mayor’s spokeswoman, Janice Evans, said the search for a new chief is being handled by a six-member transition team along with the executive search firm of Russell Reynolds Associates. She declined to provide any records on the city’s arrangements with the firm, saying its services are being provided at no cost and without a contract.
Civil rights activists and open records advocates have been sharply critical of what they see as Turner’s lack of transparency, which comes as they are demanding a new chief to reform police operations.
“This is not a transparent process they are using,” said Houston attorney Joe Larsen, who heads the review committee of the nonprofit Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas. “Besides the mayor, the chief of police is one of the most important positions in the city, and all the stakeholders should be aware of what’s going on.”
Larsen said the city has a legal responsibility not only to provide records it has but also records it controls.
After the Chronicle made a similar open records request for chief applicants this year, Turner’s staff first sought an attorney general’s opinion to allow them to withhold the information. The city later withdrew its AG request, saying it had no records of any kind relating to applicants for the chief’s job.
“The city does not have any responsive information,” said Evans, Turner’s director of communications. “As was the case with the City Attorney, this is being handled as part of the transition process.”
C.O. “Brad” Bradford, a former City Council member and Houston police chief under two mayors, said he doesn’t see a downside to Turner withholding the list of candidates as long as the finalists are disclosed after an appointment is made.
“Once the mayor nominates someone for council approval, then that’s when the questions should start – what was the process used to nominate this person, and who the other candidates were,” Bradford said.
“Now is not the time to do it.”
Bradford said that before he was appointed chief in 1997, then-Mayor Bob Lanier announced the names of 12 candidates from within HPD and four from outside the department who were vying for the position.
“I recall when 12 of us were competing, there were some nasty things that happened,” he said.
The story notes that Mayor Parker released applications of candidates who had been screened by a nonprofit group back in 2010 when now-retired Chief McClelland was hired. The story doesn’t say whether those applications, which were disclosed as the result of an open records request they made, came to them before or after McClelland was hired. If it’s the latter, then I think the distinction Bradford draws is a reasonable one. It can get awkward for some job applicants to be known to be looking elsewhere, which can cause some potential candidates to shy away from applying for a job if they know their status as an applicant will be made known. Disclosing the names of just the finalists for the job sounds like an acceptable compromise. On the other hand, it’s seldom wrong to err on the side of disclosure in matters involving the public interest, and there’s nothing untoward about people asking questions about who the candidates are for HPD Chief. Perhaps a full accounting of what we will know and when we will know it will suffice for now. We do need to know more than what we currently do.