Fresno police chief finalists should take questions from public — for transparency’s sake

Mayor Lee Brand announced on May 20, 2019, that he will not seek re-election. One of the major decisions still before him is to pick Fresno’s next police chief.
Mayor Lee Brand announced on May 20, 2019, that he will not seek re-election. One of the major decisions still before him is to pick Fresno’s next police chief. Fresno Bee file

Interviews were to start this week with the finalists for what is a critical job in Fresno city government, that of police chief.

Those sessions will be done at City Hall, away from prying eyes to protect the confidentiality of the applicants and the 18 panelists assembled by Mayor Lee Brand to conduct the interviews. That is as it should be, with one exception:

Once the interview panelists have worked the list down from about 10 to the top two or three candidates, a public forum should be held so Fresno citizens can ask questions directly of the applicants.

Brand, who will make the ultimate choice in concert with the city manager, could use the feedback of the town hall as part of his decision-making.

However, the mayor did not want to conduct such a meeting for fear it might keep qualified applicants from applying. They might have worried how their current bosses would react to an application for the Fresno post, Brand has said.

That would certainly be a risk for the applicants. However, anyone seeking to be Fresno’s next chief is clearly ambitious, and it is hard to see how their current employer would hold that against them.

Plus they would also gain much from a face-to-face with Fresno residents. They’d hear firsthand what qualities are desired in the next chief and what problems that person will need to tackle. The applicants, in turn, would get the chance to directly make their case to residents.

Such transparency of process would result in greater buy-in by locals for whomever Brand and City Manager Wilma Quan ultimately choose. And the openness would earn goodwill and greater trust. Policing in America today is a difficult assignment, given tensions with things like officer-involved shootings. Fresno is not immune to those stresses. So anything that can add to the trust side of the ledger is beneficial.

Other communities have held such town halls when selecting a police chief. Phoenix did one in 2016 when it let the public ask questions of its top three finalists.

Brand did hold five community meetings to gather residents’ opinions on what they are seeking in the next chief. Those comments were then posted online.

The interviewing panels consist of nine people Brand picked from city staff, and nine people from the community “who represent a broad cross-section of Fresno from all walks of life,” he says. Brand will introduce them at the press conference when the new chief is named.

Fresno Chief of Police Jerry Dyer answers a question after announcing his bid for mayor Wednesday, May 29, 2019 in Fresno. ERIC PAUL ZAMORA Fresno Bee file

Some have wondered if current Chief Jerry Dyer would play a role in the selection of the next chief, given that he is also running to be Fresno’s next mayor.

Brand said Dyer will have no role until the new chief is hired. Once that happens, Dyer will help the transition for the first month. Dyer’s official retirement date is Oct. 16.

The mayor hopes to have a new chief named in just a matter of weeks. Even so, there is still time to pull together a public forum. Rather than reject the idea, Brand should give it serious reconsideration. The upside is too great to dismiss.