City to select top candidates for police chief

Published 6:11 am Tuesday, June 8, 2010

With the city extending a job offer to a new fire chief Monday, the process of selecting a new police chief also took a step forward.

The city’s police civil service commission met to hash out interview questions for the seven candidates, and City Council debated whether Mayor Tom Stiehm alone should be conducting final interviews after the commission’s work is through.

And, on Thursday, the seven — whose names are not public at this point, although Det. Brian Krueger and Lt. John Mueller, who have shared leadership duties since earlier this year, both said on Tuesday that they are candidates — will meet with the civil service commission, which is a three-member panel consisting of appointed citizens. The commission’s job is to certify the top three, at which point their names become public.

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After that, however, there is some uncertainty about what the next step will be. The initial plan was to have the mayor — who, per the city’s charter, is in charge of the police department — conduct final interviews and recommend one person to the whole council.

But Stiehm was a 30-year member of the Austin Police Department before retiring in 2006, and will likely know one or more of the finalists very well, which could be a potential conflict of interest. That point was not lost on councilman Brian McAlister, who is also a retired Austin police officer.

“I’d want to separate myself from that,” the councilman said, referencing both his and Stiehm’s connections to the police department.

McAlister added that the conflict of interest aside, having just one person conduct final interviews is simply a lot to ask.

“I’m not OK with that at all,” he said. “I believe this is too important for one person to interview.”

The council generally agreed, and the plan will be to create a committee — much like the three member fire committee that recommended Michael “Mickey” Healey as the new fire chief — to handle final interviews. The police committee has not been formally established, though it will likely consist of Stiehm and two council members.

Council will have a little while to figure that out — after Thursday’s commission meeting, another meeting will still need to be held to officially certify the top three. That will likely happen next week.

After the top three are certified, the city will begin background checks on the finalists, a process that takes at least a few weeks. It will be after these are complete that council’s police committee would conduct their interviews.

If everything goes smoothly, city human resources director Trish Wiechmann said she’d like to have a recommended candidate for the whole council to vote on by early- to mid-July.

News Editor 6/8/10 The new chief would be replacing Paul Philipp, who retired in January after an internal complaint was filed against him. Details of the complaint have not been made public, though Philipp has said that it involved alleged “misconduct.”

The former chief said in a written statement released in January that allegations were “largely untrue and unfounded,” and the city concluded the investigation without taking disciplinary action in February.