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Swearengin administration tees up Assistant Chief hiring

GeorgeByline

Looks like the administration of Mayor Ashley Swearengin is serious about giving Fresno another assistant police chief.

City Manager Bruce Rudd told me last week that about 15 people have applied to be Fresno’s No. 2 cop.

We were at a news conference at Manchester Center to announce the headquarters site for the new Central Policing District. Off the top of his head, Rudd said, he couldn’t give me a precise inside/outside breakdown of the candidates’ current employment status.

But perhaps nine candidates are from outside the department and the other six or so are from inside, Rudd said.

Rudd wouldn’t give names, nor would he tell me when interviews begin. He said the top five or six candidates probably would be called in for formal interviews.

Chief Jerry Dyer confirmed to me that interviews haven’t begun. He said he’s leaving things at this point to Personnel Services Director Jeff Cardell. Eventually, Dyer said, he expects to be part of the interview panel since “he – or she – will be working for me.”

Dyer said he hasn’t seen a list of names, but assumes Deputy Chiefs Robert Nevarez and Pat Farmer have applied.

One source close to Police Department personnel matters told me last week that interviews were already underway. Maybe the discrepancy depends on one’s definition of “interview.”

By any definition, the assistant police chief process clearly is moving along swiftly. That means reorganization decisions over the next 10 weeks or so will be felt within the Police Department for years to come.

The fact that Swearengin and Rudd are looking for an assistant chief is no secret. The city’s job ads have been circulating in the public domain for some time.

There was thought a few weeks ago among several mayoral candidates about whether the filling of such a position should wait until January when the termed-out Swearengin leaves office.

That’s because Fresno doesn’t currently have an assistant police chief. In fact, there’s been just one in our town’s history – that person was Dyer himself. Dyer used that lofty spot to become chief on Aug. 1, 2001, succeeding Ed Winchester.

The Dyer era has featured only deputy chiefs on the organizational chart. Nevarez and Farmer are the only deputy chiefs now on duty.

There’s nothing in the City Charter that says the old chief has to be replaced by the assistant chief. The decision rests exclusively with the city manager and the Mayor who hires/fires the city manager.

But City Hall almost always hires a new chief from within its own ranks, and Fresnans always take a keen interest in who heads their Police Department. Might it not be appropriate to leave the assistant chief decision to the new mayor and his city manager?

To do anything less means the new mayor would take office with a new assistant chief (along with his/her contract) already in place. The new assistant chief would be justified as seeing the position as a springboard to the chief’s office. But the new mayor may come to see the assistant chief as less than chief material.

This timing dilemma has the makings of a bureaucratic mess initiated in the waning months of the Swearengin Era.

But Fresno County Supervisor Henry R. Perea made two points to me that explain why the assistant chief issue probably won’t be raised on the campaign trail.

First, Perea noted that Dyer has already publicly expressed a desire to remain chief for another two or three years. The next mayor probably will grant that wish.

That means an assistant chief selected in mid-2016 will be a veteran assistant chief when the popular Dyer heads to the Sun City golf course (we may be in the 22nd century when that actually happens). It would be less of an eyeopener to bypass a veteran assistant chief (sorry, things just didn’t work out) than an assistant chief with only a few months on the job.

Second, Perea said mayoral candidates must respect the current mayor’s right and responsibility to do her job.

In other words, the mayor is elected to wield the Charter-delegated powers from the first day in office to the last. What mayoral candidate in his right mind would say: Elect me and I’ll promise to stop doing the job when I’m close to being termed out!

Here’s another thing to keep in mind. What happens if the new assistant chief is someone from within the department who retires at the same time as Dyer? That would leave the next mayor with plenty of maneuvering room.

What’s next in the Swearengin/Rudd/Dyer search for an assistant chief?

I’d love to know the deadline for applying and the name of each candidate. City officials might be forthcoming with the former. The latter – I’m doubtful.

Reporters – call your “Deep Throat.”

Budget hearings begin in a month or so. If Swearengin is serious about finding an assistant chief, then the City Council can’t pass a budget without a spot in the spending plan for an assistant chief’s salary.

Let’s say the new assistant chief hasn’t been publicly introduced when budget hearings begin. That “assistant police chief” line item in the budget would be the perfect opportunity for a shrewd council member to dig into all the nuances of this issue.

Reporters show up in mass when the proposed Police Department budget gets the council once over.

Are you listening City Council Member – and mayoral candidate – Lee Brand?

George Hostetter
George Hostetter is The Sun’s Fresno Civic contributor – covering the City of Fresno, County of Fresno, and Fresno Council of Governments.

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