Fresno Mayor Lee Brand has blessed a request that the city council have a larger role in the search for Andy Hall’s successor as police chief.

The compromise forged by the mayor and councilman Nelson Esparza comes amid lingering controversy about Hall’s appointment after the retirement of longtime chief Jerry Dyer last month.


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Hall never applied for the job and, with more than 40 years in the department, must retire by spring 2021.

City Hall also is dealing with community criticism stemming from a video released last month showing an officer fatally shooting a fleeing teen in the back of the head.

Photo of Nelson Esparza

“My goal in introducing (the Chief Selection Accountability Act) was to give the city council and the communities we represent a voice in the selection of the police chief. I believe that our resolution to add three city councilmembers to the interview panels achieves that goal. For that reason, I have withdrawn my resolution.” — city councilman Nelson Esparza

Brand, Esparza Issue Joint Statement

Brand and Esparza issued a joint news release Thursday morning about selecting the next police chief — which Brand has vowed to do before his term expires in January 2021.

“Councilmember Esparza and I have discussed these issues in great detail and based on these conversations, I have decided to add three city councilmembers to the first-round interview panels when we are selecting the next police chief,” Brand said.

There will be three panels and each will have seven members: community representatives, law enforcement experts, and one councilman.

“My goal in introducing (the Chief Selection Accountability Act) was to give the city council and the communities we represent a voice in the selection of the police chief,” Esparza said. “I believe that our resolution to add three city councilmembers to the interview panels achieves that goal. For that reason, I have withdrawn my resolution.”

Brand said that all panel members must sign non-disclosure agreements. The agreements forbid panelists from revealing the identities of the candidates or discussing what transpires during the interviews.

Esparza, Karbassi, Arias on Panels

Esparza will serve on a panel, as will councilmen Mike Karbassi and Miguel Arias. Esparza will be the lone councilman to participate in the second round of interviews.

Photo of Mike Karbassi

“They must choose one of the candidates interviewed. If they don’t like the candidates, then we will bring on more until the panels and mayor can agree on a successful candidate.” — city councilman Mike Karbassi

“My disappointment on the previous process is clear,” Arias said. “I am hopeful that this is a step in the right direction that will lead us to selecting a permanent police chief that will serve all of Fresno.”

Karbassi said that while he was “honored to be part of the process,” he would insist that a new chief be named.

“They must choose one of the candidates interviewed, “Karbassi said. “If they don’t like the candidates, then we will bring on more until the panels and mayor can agree on a successful candidate.”

Technically, the selection is made by the mayor and city manager, but the city council has increasingly flexed its political muscle lately in Fresno’s strong-mayor style of government.

Dyer, Janz Want to Pick Next Chief

The police chief search is complicated by the fact that Andrew Janz and Dyer, who are vying to become the next mayor, have said the winner of their race should pick Fresno’s next top cop.

Janz has said that the police department should be led next by someone with experience outside of Fresno. Dyer’s position is that the best candidate will emerge from Fresno PD’s ranks. And Hall says that his goal is to train one or more candidates from his command staff to take over when he leaves.

Janz said that Fresno is paying excessive amounts of money to settle court cases involving the police department. Dyer has defended the department, saying its record is as good or better than comparably sized California cities.

Voters will go to the polls in March 2020. If neither Dyer nor Janz garners majority support, there would be a November run-off.

Brand said that he selected Hall because he was dissatisfied with the quality or, in some cases, the experience of the candidates produced by a national search.

Law enforcement experts say that because Brand is a lame-duck mayor, this next search effort also could produce a dearth of highly qualified candidates.

 

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