Former Mayor Lown: Vote NO on San Angelo Police Chief Propositions


SAN ANGELO – J.W. Lown is the former Mayor of San Angelo.  He has written the following Op-Ed for San Angelo LIVE!

On Saturday May 6th,  San Angelo voters will be asked to vote on a City Charter amendment governing the position of our elected Chief of Police.  There is no compelling reason for this change and I encourage my fellow San Angeloans to vote NO.

Fundamentally, this proposal is an encroachment.  There is no urgent need for this change. It broadens too many definitions and restricts the voters future choices.  If passed, this effort tees up another effort down the road to move towards an appointed system.  For many, that’s the ultimate objective.  Meanwhile, this proposal mostly limits our future options.

Personally, I’ve come to appreciate our unique way of governing ourselves on this issue.  I can foresee a day when San Angelo will be better positioned to handle the challenges ahead because of our special status as the only city in Texas that elects its police chief.

This method of selection came about in the 1950’s after a respected police chief was fired by the city council under questionable circumstances. Consequently, he led a city charter change and was elected back to his position, thereby creating the political capital to do his job and serve our community.

Last year, former San Angelo Police Chief Tim Vasquez was found guilty in a Federal Court for illegal activities during his time in office. He is serving a 15.5 year sentence.  This disgrace has sparked some soul searching in San Angelo about the city charter provisions that govern how the city operates our police department.  City council appointed a commission and their recommendations are now up for a vote.  Could this be a knee-jerk reaction with unintended consequences?

I have wrestled with this issue for the past 20 years. It is very personal to me. In one form or another, over 10 referendum votes have been proposed on this topic.  Each effort has failed, resoundingly.  Early on, I drank the Kool-Aide and lent my support towards an appointed police chief referendum. In retrospect, it should have been a recall effort.

At this time, I firmly believe San Angeloans should keep what we have, as is.  It is clear this effort ooches us towards yet another future effort to ultimately achieve what here to date has been rejected many times, an appointed police chief.

Having said that, I encourage everyone to visit the City of San Angelo website for some additional analysis of the issue and form their own opinion.  Also, I urge my fellow San Angeloans to read Joe Hyde’s opinion piece on this topic.  He makes some very good points.

Some people point out that the minimum requirements to run for police chief are too basic.  This same argument could be made for all elected offices throughout the land.  Voters are not stupid.  Campaigns are our way of vetting people.  At some point we may need an out-of-the-box candidate such as an administrator or someone with a different kind of public safety background who is disqualified by virtue of this proposed ordinance. Experience has shown me to beware of the tyranny of efforts to define who can and cannot run for office.  It is best to respect the intelligence and instincts of voters.

Others claim an elected police chief isn’t adequately held accountable on a day to day basis and we need the city manager and city council to better monitor and control our police department.

The San Angelo Police Department doesn’t operate in a bubble. There already exists a high degree of accountability and oversight from the city manager and city council in the form of soft power.  This is primarily through the budget process but also through regular city council updates as well as day to day operational interaction with various city officials and department heads.

Inside the SAPD, there is a robust Civil Service System that provides strict protections and merit based opportunities for the rank and file officers.  During my time as mayor, this structure was threatened because Chief Vazquez sought special state legislation as a workaround to our Civil Service Code.

Rank and file officers, through their well-connected union CLEAT, asked me to intervene at the highest levels to kill this special legislation.  I did, thus preserving a healthy degree of checks and balances within the SAPD.

No police chief, appointed or elected, qualified or “unqualified” can act unfettered within the department. The Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TECOLE),  Civil Service law, various state and federal laws, as well as Meet and Confer (a Texas variation on collective bargaining) already establish strict guardrails.

Yes, past police chiefs have been known to abuse their power in order to create leverage over city officials.  Classic examples of this included knowledge of extramarital affairs and other indiscretions such as excessive alcohol or drug use.  In a small town, there are no secrets.  Anyone can weaponize such information whether elected or unelected.

Even though a former police chief had it out for me, I found protection in the local FBI and Sheriff’s Office.  My point is, there are very healthy checks and balances within city hall, within the Civil Service structure, and with upright law enforcement agencies if we ever have another corrupt or malicious police chief regardless of whether they be elected or appointed.

  Most importantly, the voters of San Angelo have already established and currently retain the ultimate level of accountability for our elected police chief.  We are not facing an urgent need to change anything at this time.  Don’t diminish our choices.

Joseph W Lown

Former Mayor of San Angelo, Texas


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Why in the HELL do y’all insist on printing anything from this No nothing nitwit????! 
Absolutely useless!

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