Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer and Fresno County prosecutor Andrew Janz will face off for mayor in the March primary election, but some say “the powers that be” in Fresno have already chosen the next mayor.
Critics said that became clear on Friday when Mayor Lee Brand and City Manager Wilma Quan announced Andy Hall is taking over as acting police chief, even though he didn’t apply for the job.
Sandra Celedon, president and CEO of Fresno Building Healthy Communities, called it a “dark day for democracy in the city of Fresno.”
“The fix was in from the beginning,” she said. “Mayor Brand and his inner circle picked the chief they wanted.”
Community organizer Stacy Williams was blunt. She said Brand has “conceded” to Dyer without an election.
“Basically what has happened is Dyer has taken over as mayor before he has been elected,” Williams said. “The powers that be have already selected him. … Brand has completely let go of all of his power.”
Both Dyer and Brand resoundingly denied that.
“That’s not true at all,” Brand said. “The voters of Fresno will decide who is going to be the next mayor. There are no sure things in politics. … It could be somebody else. It may not be Jerry Dyer.”
Dyer also called the statement “absolutely not true.”
“If that were the case, Lee Brand would’ve suspended the search when he made the decision not to run and I announced I was running,” Dyer said. “And he did not.”
Brand also pointed out that he hasn’t made an endorsement in the mayor’s race. Hall said at the news conference he won’t endorse political candidates as chief, either.
How much influence did Dyer have over Brand’s and Quan’s pick for the new chief?
Dyer did not sit in on the interviews for the initial five candidates. Those were panel interviews, and the panelists included nine community members and nine city employees. The panelists were chosen by Jeff Cardell, the city’s personnel director, and the city manager’s office, Brand said.
Four final candidates interviewed with Brand and Quan. Dyer acted as a consultant for those interviews, Brand said. But ultimately, Brand and Quan decided none of the candidates were “the right choice at the right time,” Quan said. Dyer said he did not encourage Brand and Quan to choose an interim rather than picking one of the four finalists.
That’s when Dyer recommended either Hall or Pat Farmer, both deputy chiefs, as an interim. Dyer told his bosses he believed Hall would be the best fit for a long-term fill-in.
Dyer said he’s happy and satisfied with Hall’s appointment.
“I have a sense of peace knowing the pathway forward,” he said.
Dyer’s role as chief and mayoral candidate
Brand acknowledged it’s difficult at times to differentiate between Dyer’s role as chief and as a mayoral candidate.
An example of that: Dyer spoke during the new conference Friday wearing his chief’s uniform. At that time, he couldn’t answer questions from reporters related to his run for mayor. Hours later, his campaign sent a statement on the chief selection, and he took questions about his candidacy.
In hiring a new chief, Brand said he and Quan couldn’t ignore Dyer’s 18 years of experience leading the police department.
“It would be foolish for us to not take his input,” Brand said.
If other mayoral candidates have a public safety background, Brand said he’d be open to listening to them.
“I would love to give Lee Brand input in this process as well,” Janz said. “I don’t have a problem with Lee Brand asking the current police chief’s advice on the search process. I am concerned, though, that good candidates may be reluctant to apply knowing that Chief Dyer is part of the process.”
Moving forward, Dyer will not be involved in day-to-day operations at the police department. He’ll use vacation time to take an extended leave to focus on his campaign.
Dyer’s influence on chief candidates
Dyer has maintained since at least March that several of his department’s top-ranking officers would make a talented chief. When he announced his run for mayor at Manchester Center, he noted there was someone in the room who would make a great chief. Hall was there, along with Capts. Mark Salazar and Phil Cooley.
Dyer said he has a favorite from within the police department to succeed Hall when Hall is forced to retire by the city’s system. “I don’t think I could say without tainting the process,” Dyer said.
He said he realizes his longevity as chief may intimidate potential candidates. He also said the process became muddled when Brand decided not to seek re-election.
“That changed the dynamic of whether or not people feel comfortable applying from outside,” he said.
Quan and Cardell said “a couple dozen” people applied for the job. The recruiter hired by the city asked how the mayor’s race might influence the candidate pool, Quan said, adding that’s normal for any executive position search.
Brand said he’s going to relaunch the search in 2020 in hopes of finding a permanent chief with no retirement limits.
“Before I leave office, my goal is to have our new police chief in place, no matter whoever the next mayor is – Jerry Dyer or Andrew Janz,” he said.
Dyer noted the future mayor doesn’t take office until January 2021.