(Opinion) This is more of a response to an advertisement for Proposition 8 than just my opinion. First of all, let me say that the Charter Review Committee are to be commended for the work they took on at looking at possible revisions of the charter. The charter is basically our own constitution for the city and on occasion it should be looked at and, when necessary, revised. Yet, some people would rather use this opportunity to try and apply their own agenda to the process and that is where things can go awry.
That seems to be what was done during this process. I attended two town hall meetings where this topic of the appointed versus elected chief was brought up. Overwhelmingly, on both occasions, the public voiced their opinion to keep the elected process. Now, perhaps in every other meeting the public spoke differently. I wasn’t there, but it seems unlikely to me at this point. The findings of the committee were then taken to the city council and the council chose which items were to be placed on the ballot.
There is an ad on San Angelo Live! that I would like to respond to. Mr. Trinidad Aguirre, a man I just met, would have us believe that we absolutely need to have an appointed chief. As I have just met the man, I do not know why he wants this item passed, but he seems rather passionate about it. Passionate enough to pay for at least one ad.
The ad gives us some of the reasons that the public gave against the appointed chief. Mr. Aguirre then tries to answer those objections himself. First he says that we elect our council members who would ultimately make the decision on who the appointed chief would be. Well, that’s not entirely true. The city manager and his staff would do the interviews and make a recommendation to the council and then they, the council, would either say yes or no.
Next, he says that the PD busts the budget every year. Well, that one is true, but, every year the department has asked for more money in particular areas of the budget where they have gone over year after year, and yet, the budget remains the same. If the budget remains the same and the money is available elsewhere, then why not adjust the budget? It does look bad on paper that the department has to come to the city to adjust the budget every year, but it is the city that sets the budget. Seems like they want the PD to bust their budget every year.
The “small town politics” in this city worked quite well when the city was indeed small, but that’s not the case any longer. The idea that the politicians will bring in their favorite is probably true and the voters know this, which is why the city council is not trusted. Of course the flip side of this is that San Angelo will never have a truly qualified person run for the position because the vote is not about qualifications, it’s about popularity. Most voters have no idea if a candidate is qualified, they only know the face and words of a candidate, just like any other candidate for any other office.
As far as a low voter turnout goes, yes we have had a small turnout at every election. Many people still don’t believe their vote will make a difference, and they see no reason to go out and vote. This time though, if people really want to retain an elected chief, they need to get out and vote. A small turnout would probably help the proposition pass. We all need to get out and tell the city council how we really feel with a resounding vote against proposition 8.
Do the citizens of the city really believe they are smarter than the rest of the state? That one, I don’t really have an answer for. I know what I saw at the town hall meetings. The citizens who stood up to speak against the appointed chief were passionate and convinced that electing a chief is a better way to go in San Angelo. I don’t remember anyone ever saying they were smarter than anyone. What I do remember is them saying that they didn’t trust the council to make that decision for them.
Under the present circumstances, I do not believe that a valid argument to pass this proposition has been adequately justified in the ad. The voters need to feel that they can trust the council, but recently they have done little to justify a vote of confidence by the citizens.
Don’t get me wrong, I for one would like very much to see an appointed chief here in San Angelo. I believe we could get a larger pool of very qualified applicants who would want to come and lead this fine department. Under the right circumstances I think a very valid argument could be made for the appointment of a chief, but this is not it.
I remember some time ago during a council meeting when the fire chief (not the present chief) stood up to say something and the city manager told him to sit down and shut up. The fire chief very promptly sat down and shut up. What we need is a chief who can stand up for his/her personnel in front of the council. One who will fight for equipment, salaries, and more manpower as the city grows. We need a chief who will do all of these things and won’t have to worry that if he says the wrong thing, he’ll get fired.
We need a candidate who meets the same type of qualifications as other cities use to choose a new chief. Years of command level experience, having one of the command college’s educations, plus, practical knowledge of management and finance. In addition to these, we can set our own additional qualifications for our own chief. I’m not sure this is really a fight for a new idea or just an old fight to control the police department.
I for one want a chief who will fight to lead our department. What I don’t want is a police chief who will “sit down and shut up”.
Sgt. John E. Rodriguez (Retired)
San Angelo Police Department