Congratulations to Jerry Dyer on making his first appointment as mayor of Fresno.
Wait, hang on a second. You’re saying Dyer isn’t mayor … yet? He still has to be elected?
Huh. I guess that’s true. Technically, at least, Lee Brand remains mayor of California’s fifth-largest city for another 15 months. No one can say for certain who will succeed him.
But boy oh boy, it sure didn’t feel that way Friday morning as city officials and community dignitaries gathered at the City Hall Annex for a news conference naming Andy Hall as interim police chief.
Dyer may not have been the tallest person on the dais, but he sure cast the longest shadow.
Essentially, we’re supposed to believe Brand and City Manager Wilma Quan conducted the most “comprehensive and transparent” search for a new police chief in Fresno history – not exactly a high bar, mind you – only to come up with a guy (Hall) who didn’t even apply for the job.
“That we didn’t pick one of the candidates simply means that we did not find the individual we were looking for and more importantly that our community deserves, and that’s OK,” Quan said.
Allow me to offer up an alternative theory: With Dyer looming over this entire process, many prospective candidates read the tea leaves and said, “Thanks, but no thanks.”
Who wants to work for a lame duck when there’s an 800-pound gorilla waiting in the wings?
Brand gives himself some wiggle room
Because Hall faces mandatory retirement in the spring of 2021, he’s only a Band-Aid. The search is ongoing.
Numerous times during the news conference, Brand expressed his intention to name a permanent chief before the end of his tenure.
Except Brand didn’t promise or pledge to do this. He couched his sentences with terms like “I want to” and “My goal is” – just to give himself some wiggle room.
At this point, frankly, how do we take Brand at his word?
Barely a week ago, the mayor stated in an interview with Bee opinion editor Tad Weber that Dyer would have no role in the selection of the new chief.
Friday, the truth came out. Brand revealed Dyer was indeed consulted and included in internal discussions once the field was whittled to five finalists. “It would be foolish” not to take advantage of Dyer’s expertise, Brand said.
Actually, the only fools were those of us who believed Brand in the first place. That this search was really and truly transparent. Or that Dyer would get boxed out from the process.
Drawing the curtain of secrecy
Here’s a brief recap: Brand, Quan and other city officials held a series of public forums, six in all, asking the people of Fresno what they wanted in their next police chief. The forums were well-attended and everyone had their say.
But once the forums concluded, the curtain of secrecy was drawn.
Brand named a panel made up of city officials and community members to help interview finalists and advise himself and Quan, only the panelists’ names were kept secret. Panel members were also compelled to sign non-disclosure agreements. Meaning they weren’t allowed to talk publicly about the hiring process.
Brand and Quan insisted the NDAs were necessary to protect the finalists. More likely, it was Brand and Quan who needed protection from public scrutiny.
Councilmember Miguel Arias, an outspoken critic of Brand and Dyer, called it “a slap in the face to the public and the City Council.”
“All of us were promised the ‘most transparent and community-driven process in the city’s history,’ “ Arias said in a statement. “Instead we have a repeat of the good old boy hiring process.”
While I don’t agree with everything Arias says and does, in this case he’s right.
Mayor’s chief of staff a central figure
The other name that needs mentioning is Tim Orman, Brand’s chief of staff who is also advising Dyer on how to run for mayor. (I asked Orman directly if he was working for Dyer. He was coy about it.)
Orman is such a central figure in this process that Hall, during his turn at the lectern, thanked him before acknowledging Dyer or his own wife. Orman wields a ton of power behind the scenes. That he orchestrated this line of succession isn’t much of a leap.
Without casting any aspersions on Hall’s 40-year career with the Fresno Police Department, he was clearly Dyer’s preference. Provided Dyer gets elected next year – and right now he must be considered the heavy favorite – he’ll have major say over who gets the permanent job.
Certainly, Andrew Janz could throw a wrench in those plans depending on the results of the March election. Right now, though, it looks like business as usual at City Hall.
Dyer’s days as Fresno police chief may be numbered, but he remains large and in charge.