In his weekly call-in show Monday with KLIV 1590’s George Sampson, San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed pulled back the curtain a bit on the city’s efforts to find a permanent police chief. The question is whether or not City Manager Debra Figone—the person charged with recommending who to hire—was ready for that curtain call.
Reed told Sampson he expects the city to officially name a permanent police chief by the end of this year. The City Charter states that it is the city manager’s responsibility to select a police chief, and the mayor and City Council must then ratify the appointment. But, according to the city manager’s office, the search to name a long-term police chief has not been active in roughly eight months.
Last week, Figone announced in a memo to the mayor, City Council and staff that she intends to retire later this year, with the date likely falling sometime in December. Sampson noted in his interview with the mayor that turnover and uncertainty at the top administrative level has been and continues to be an issue.
“This is going to leave San Jose without a city manager, without a permanent police chief, without a fire chief, without a planning director, without an IT director,” Sampson said. “I can’t think of a time when San Jose’s city government has had so many key positions left unfilled, much less so much turnover at the department head level. Why do we have so many department head openings all at once?”
Mayor Reed noted that the IT and library director positions have been filled, and he pointed out that many of the people who have recently left top posts with the city—Police Chief Chris Moore in February, Fire Chief Willie McDonald in August and Planning Director Joseph Horwedel later this year, to name just a few—are part of the “Baby Boomer” generation, which is increasingly leaving the workforce while fewer people enter into government jobs. This answer is only partially accurate, as McDonald left for a job in Las Vegas and Moore has since started work as vice president of a company that specializes in public safety communications. They’re department heads who left for new roles with less animosity, as budget cuts and pension reform have strained employee morale in nearly every department.
The real meat of KLIV’s interview with Reed came near the tail end of a clip provided to San Jose Inside, when the mayor noted that Figone is expected to fill several positions before she ends her 44-year career in public service. Sampson pressed the mayor on when a permanent police chief would be named, considering the city started a nationwide search as far back as December 2012 before calling off the search earlier this year.
“Well, it is up to [Figone],” Reed said. “Under the charter, it’s her job to hire senior management—subject to approval by the City Council. And she’s been working on that, so I anticipate we’ll have a decision on that before she leaves.”
Many of the top police chief candidates pulled out of the search to replace Moore, and Larry Esquivel was named acting chief. Since then, few people have been talking about the job—although some people suspected Esquivel may have lost some support with the rank and file after getting involved in a fight between City Hall and the police union. The acting chief has stated repeatedly that he did not apply for the job in 2012, but with Reed’s comments, it seems the city will either have him stay on in an official contract or carry out an expedited search.
City Manager Debra Figone was not available for comment Monday, but communications director David Vossbrink told San Jose Inside that no police chief search has officially resumed.
“I’m not aware of any movement on any decision in that direction,” he said. “We haven’t actually restarted that in an active way.”
Noting budget issues and ongoing labor negotiations—which are going great!—Vossbrink added that Esquivel and the San Jose Police Department command staff have made it easier to wait on making a formal decision.
“The reason we’ve been able to hold off on it is because Chief Esquivel and his command staff have been minding the store well during the interim period,” Vossbrink said.