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Fresno mayor, councilman agree on new transparency process for selecting police chief

Mayor Lee Brand and Councilmember Nelson Esparza announced Thursday they’ve come to a compromise on how the next police chief will be selected.

The agreement does away with legislation proposed by Esparza last week called the “Chief Selection Accountability Act.”

Esparza’s proposal was geared toward giving the council greater say in the selection of future police and fire chiefs. Esparza said he came up with the policy following the “heartburn” felt in the community over the most recent search.

The compromise between Brand and Esparza will allow three councilmembers in on the three panels to speak with finalists for the next police chief.

“I’m very happy to announce the mayor and I have come to a resolution that I believe accomplishes the same goal of accountability,” Esparza said.

Esparza will also be involved in the second round of interviews for the top five finalists. Panel members will have to sign non-disclosure agreements, but will be released of the obligation once a new chief is announced.

“I think what we have here in our compromise is a cleaner agreement, a smoother way to go about the council being involved,” Esparza said. “I’m very pleased in the councilmembers that will be joining me. I believe we have a good cross section.”

The first search held five community meetings in April and May, and Brand said he asked panels to conduct interviews on finalists. The same people will be invited back for the next panel, but joining them will be Esparza and Councilmembers Miguel Arias and Mike Karbassi.

Agreement follows scrutiny over search process

Back in August, following months of community meetings and public comment gathering on the police chief to replace former Chief Jerry Dyer, City Manager Wilma Quan announced a short-term solution in Chief Andy Hall. He’s about a year away from retirement.

The process drew criticism.

Plus, Fresno police came under scrutiny in August when an attorney released video footage of a Fresno police officer punching a teen. In October, shortly after Hall was officially sworn in, another attorney released video footage of a Fresno police officer fatally shooting a fleeing teenager.

The city faces litigation in both cases. “It’s felt in the community that there’s little to no leadership in the police department,” Esparza said Thursday.

In Fresno’s strong-mayor system of government, the mayor’s administration hires the top public safety positions. Nelson’s proposal wouldn’t have changed that, but it would have called for councilmembers to approve compensation contracts.

Brand said he was pleased to come to a compromise rather than see a new policy. “I’m hoping next year we’ll have a process that works well,” Brand said on Thursday.

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Reporter Thaddeus Miller has covered cities in the central San Joaquin Valley since 2010, writing about everything from breaking news to government and police accountability. A native of Fresno, he joined The Fresno Bee in 2019 after time in Merced and Los Banos.
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