Interim City Manager Appoints Police Oversight Director Without National Search

Garza forgoes community feedback

photo by John Anderson

Interim City Manager Jesús Garza has made yet another change to city government that could have implications beyond the temporary nature of his employment.

Garza made the decision this week to promote Interim Director of the Office of Police Oversight Gail McCant to permanent director of the office, a city spokesperson confirmed to the Chronicle. Garza’s decision will completely forgo the opportunity for a national search to find suitable candidates for the job – something that the city told us it was planning when former OPO director Farah Muscadin stepped down nearly one year ago. That commitment was made under former City Manager Spencer Cronk, but in a May memo Garza himself reiterated that the city would conduct a “thorough national search” before filling the role permanently.

In a statement, a city spokesperson explained Garza’s apparent change of tune. The May memo included “standard language regarding a possible national search to fill the role,” rather than a commitment to actually conduct that search. In the three months since McCant has been on the job, the spokesperson continued, Garza has had “ample opportunity to assess her ability to serve as director.”

The spokesperson went on to defend the unexpected appointment by pointing out that it’s not the first time Garza has made permanent hires without conducting any kind of community outreach. “It is certainly not an unusual situation whereby the [Interim CIty Manager] has been able to assess leadership abilities and name those serving in an interim capacity to a permanent position,” the spokesperson said. “This has been done for various positions, including the Chief Information Officer, Director of Austin Resource Recovery, three General Managers at Austin Energy, etc.”

McCant took over OPO as Interim Director in June, following the departure of two other interim directors – Deven Desai, who previously served as the city’s Labor Relations Officer, and Sylvia Hardman – both of whom struggled to match the fierce advocacy and determined leadership Muscadin brought to the role. McCant was hired away from Travis County; before that, she worked as Administrator of the City of Austin’s Office of Civil Rights. Notably, McCant is not a licensed attorney, unlike Desai, Hardman, and Muscadin.

McCant will assume permanent leadership of OPO at a turbulent time for the office. Just last week, City Council passed a resolution directing Garza to take specific actions aimed at implementing the Austin Police Oversight Act – something that the city has failed to do in the five months since voters overwhelmingly approved a new ordinance that could allow Austin to implement one of the strongest systems of civilian police oversight in the nation.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated since original publication to include a statement from a city spokesperson.

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