Mckinney Courier-gazette > News
City manager backs police chief decision, will 'assess' need for search
McKinney City Manager Jason Gray stands by his recent decision to reassign former Police Chief Doug Kowalski and appoint former Deputy City Manager Joe Williams in his place, but says he will assess the need for a formal search.
Gray released a statement Tuesday disclosing his desire to first give Williams "a full opportunity to make necessary changes in the (McKinney Police Department)."
"The decision to replace a long-serving and well-respected chief of police is not something that I take lightly," Gray stated. "It was not due to a specific incident but rather to my evaluation, over a one-and-a-half-year period, of how the department was operating and how those operations could be improved for the benefit of our citizens."
Gray said his concerns centered on several important issues including communications difficulties between the MPD and the city manager's office on important issues, lack of consistency and accountability in disciplinary procedures, and serious issues with supervision. In regard to more specific reasons, he said in an interview Tuesday that he "doesn't intend to release details about personnel decisions" because it's "not really productive for anyone involved."
"My decision to ask Joe Williams to step into the role of chief is based on the need to begin immediately working directly with leadership of the department to implement changes necessary to avoid problems in the future and allow the department to better serve our community," he stated. "I believe these issues are serious enough that it would be wrong to leave the department without a chief during the period it would take to conduct a thorough national search."
Gray added that he knows Williams "will use his approximately 20 years of law enforcement experience to continue to serve this community with the utmost of integrity and to the benefit of our citizens."
Gray's response comes several days after some McKinney City Council members voiced their displeasure with Gray's method of action in the recent change - making it without prior notification - and after Mayor Brian Loughmiller and Councilman Travis Ussery requested a nationwide search be conducted for a new police chief.
Gray and the McKinney Police Association (MPA), whose members were also unaware of the change until after it happened, this week said a search is not necessary and could even be detrimental right now.
"Generally speaking, a search is a good idea, but that's not always the case," Gray said in Tuesday's interview. "Why go through the cost and expense and time involved if you're certain you've got the best person for the job?"
MPA President Tom Macri, who last week said members were "shocked and saddened" by the reassignment, released a statement Monday backing Williams as Kowalski's replacement.
"In regards to Mr. Gray's decision to place Joe Williams in the position of Chief of Police, we believe in giving Chief Williams a chance to be our leader," Macri stated. "Since his placement to chief, he has met with almost everyone in the department and explained his direction for moving forward. Some of us have worked with Chief Williams during the meet and confer process and those interactions lead us to believe he is a man of his word. We don't currently agree with starting a new process for selecting a new chief which would throw the membership into needless chaos."
In the interview, Gray added that the city did conduct a search for McKinney Fire Chief Danny Kistner, who was hired last year, and new McKinney Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) President Jim Wehmeier (effective Nov. 1), as well as other leadership positions. But, he said, there was no search conducted for "a variety of different positions" with the city.
Though citizens have questioned Williams' qualifications to act as chief, their biggest concerns seem to be rooted in rumblings of "cronyism" because of Williams' connection to Gray. The two worked together for several years in Frisco, where Williams served with the Frisco Police Department while Gray was assistant city manager, then again in Celina from 2007 to 2011, when Gray was city manager and Williams was police chief.
Such rumblings have also stemmed from salary differences that sources believe hinge on Gray's and Williams' ongoing work relationship - an assumption that Gray dismissed Tuesday.
Cesare Venegoni, who began working with the Celina Police Department in 1995, was appointed Celina police chief in August 2006. Venegoni said that he had served as acting chief for about five years prior, and that the Celina City Council appointed him as chief without an application process.
Gray came to Celina in March 2007, and in May, the city shifted to a city manager/council form of government, which gives the city manager authority over personnel decisions. Venegoni said that he was making $65,000 a year at the time, and that he offered away a 3 percent raise to get his police officers a 5 percent raise.
According to Venegoni, in August 2007, he was asked to meet with Gray on a Friday morning, in similar fashion as Kowalski's recent meeting with Gray. Venegoni said he was told his contract would not be renewed, thus he resigned and was paid six months in severance.
"It was pretty disappointing because I had just moved there and was told I didn't have anything to worry about," Venegoni said of the weeks leading up to his dismissal. "I told (Gray) I didn't need to be chief; I just stepped up and did what needed to be done."
Gray declined at the time to say why Venegoni resigned, saying such information was between employer and employee. He said a search for a new chief was under way and was one of his top priorities.
"It could take anywhere from four to eight weeks for a candidate to be found to replace Venegoni," Gray said in September 2007. "It will all depend upon the candidates that apply."
Gray hired Williams as Celina police chief two months later, and both remained in their respective positions until 2011. Williams was making $134,000 a year by the end of his tenure in Celina, as reported in the Celina Record.
Gray, who left Celina to become McKinney city manager in March 2011, said that Williams' salary was not that high when he started in Celina, and that salary adjustments were a part of the process Gray has gone through in each city he's managed.
"The goal has always been to make sure we're paying folks a salary consistent with cities we're competing with," Gray said, referring to a market-based compensation system. "That's what was done in Celina and what's been done (in McKinney)."
On May 9, 2011, the Celina City Council told Williams he must take about a $34,000 pay cut because of budget restraints, and the following day, Williams resigned. Shortly after, Gray named Williams as deputy city manager in McKinney to replace Jim Parrish, who had reportedly resigned without reason.
As for Williams' recent appointment as McKinney police chief, Gray said "interim" status was left out because he wants people to understand that Williams "has the full authority and will have the time in office to lead the changes necessary in the department" and that "an interim title makes that more difficult."
"There are fundamental changes that require a different management and policing philosophy than the one I have been observing," Gray stated. "I am responsible to provide the best results and the most effective public safety possible for this community, and I believe that these changes continually move us in that direction."
When asked why he would not confirm whether a search would indeed take place, Gray said he did not want to undermine Williams' authority.
"I am taking this one step at a time and do not want to pre-judge what the situation will be after the changes are made," he said.