The dust is settling in the aftermath of the shock that hit McKinney like a tidal wave following the Oct. 5 reassignment of McKinney’s former Chief of Police, Doug Kowalski. Life goes on in the city and it’s back to business as usual.
But is it? After reading the comments of citizens who posted on the TownSquareBuzz.com news site, or on the TSB Facebook page, I wonder. Is this the city that I’ve grown to love? Is this the city that I thought cared about tradition, treating people with respect and dignity? I’m not sure anymore.
Just in case you’ve been in another world, or too busy to notice, the illustrious Kowalski was reassigned for 30 days, after which 12 years in McKinney will be finished. The action was taken by City Manager Jason Gray on Friday morning, while the mayor and members of council were completely unaware. Gray then immediately appointed Joe Williams, who, prior to Friday, worked for the city manager’s office. Gray sent out a statement to members of the police force and city staff through a YouTube channel, which was open to all of the public to see.
The city sent this written statement to TSB on Friday.
"Doug Kowalski is no longer the Chief of the McKinney Police Department. He has been reassigned effective today. Joe Williams, who has been Deputy City Manager with the City of McKinney since May 2011, is the McKinney Chief of Police. This change is effective today in order to maintain continuity of command for the Police Department."
Councilman Ray Ricchi (Dist. 4) told me that he was completely shocked by Gray’s dismissal of Kowalski and confirmed that members of council were not informed of Gray’s intentions.
Under The City of McKinney’s charter, the city council is responsible for leadership of the city, setting the visions and goals that are then implemented by city manager. All department heads and city employees report to the city manager and that manager has the power to hire and fire. The City Charter also says, “A director for each of the above departments shall be appointed by the City Manager and shall serve until removed by the City Manager, or until his successor is appointed and has qualified, unless otherwise ordered by the City Council.” Chapter IV, Sec. 34
Tom Mackri, president of the McKinney Police Association, said, “ The members (of the Police Association) were totally shocked and saddened by the way the events unfolded on Friday. We were shocked that the Chief was reassigned.”
It is not for us to know, nor should we be informed about the intimate details surrounding Kowalski’s job performance. We cannot and should not be privy to personnel issues – those issues are between an employer and the employee. I read comments like “Kowalski is a good man” and “Kowalski was a great Chief." Officer Mackri told me that the police force were totally in support of Kowalski. Whether or not we agree that Mr. Kowalski should have been terminated doesn’t appear to be the main issue in most people’s minds. The more contentious part of this turn of events is the way the city manager handled Kowalski’s reassignment.
In Corporate America, it isn’t uncommon for new leadership to bring in employees that he or she has worked with previously. If a company hires a new V.P. of Sales, you can expect heads to roll and new faces to appear in the office, usually after a period of assessment. That, I gather, is the norm in our marketplace culture. Since Gray appointed Joe Williams to take the helm as Chief of Police, I hear the word cronyism repeatedly. Gray brought Williams with him from Celina, where he served as Chief of Police, appointed him Deputy City Manager and has now placed him in the role of Chief here in McKinney.
The major difference between Corporate America and city government is that city jobs are funded by taxpayer’s dollars, so I would think the prudent process would be to appoint Williams as interim and open the job to applicants from across the country as well as from within. I have to ask, is Williams the best candidate for the job? I can’t speak to that, however, my guess is that the way this transpired leaves some doubt with the public and Williams will have to add that as another hurdle to get over, under, around and through. No offense, Mr. Williams, but I hope the transition from protecting and serving a city of approximately 7,000 to a city of nearly 140,000 will be an easy one.
While I don’t believe this to be part some nefarious scheme Gray has implemented to gradually rid our city of all its current leadership (the fire chief, assistant fire chief, now the police chief). I do question the city manager’s ability to, ahem, manage. As a citizen, I question the city manager’s decision to terminate such a high profile position in the manner that it was handled.
As Officer Mackri told me, it would have been easier if Mr. Kowalski had been treated with more respect and dignity. It would be been better easier to swallow if Kowalski had been allowed a transition period of 30 to 60 days, alluding to the fact that change is difficult. But Mackri also said, “As professionals, we will continue to go out and serve (the community).”
Even if our city charter gives Gray the right to hire and fire without council’s approval, choosing not to inform the mayor and council is not the way to conduct business. Even in the corporate world, a CEO would inform the Board if such a high profile change were to be implemented. Discussion should ensue with regard to the best way to handle the situation. For example, should the employee be allowed to save face and resign or “retire?" Plans for managing the media would be plotted out – messaging would be consistent and leadership would be prepared so that they would not be blindsided by press and employees (and citizens in this case). Leadership would call together employees and share the information about the changes in person. Remaining staff and employees would be allowed an opportunity to ask questions and have the chance to feel more secure about their own jobs. Well thought out press releases, which were prepared in advance, would be sent to media. To my knowledge, none of this took place. (I’m still waiting for a formal press release, or a press conference, from the city.)
People do the things they do because they don’t know how, don’t understand, or they decide to “do it their way” without regard to protocol. Gray is either ignorant to the proper ways of doing business or he simply refused to be a team player and chose to do things his way. We don't know, however, because attempts by TSB to reach Gray this week have been unsuccessful. Gray, who had previously agreed to speak Oct. 25 at a TSB-sponsored Town Hall event, did send an email to TSB on Monday withdrawing from that commitment.
If Gray's handling of the Kowalski firing was indeed due to ignorance of the proper ways of doing business, city leaders, please make certain that Gray gains the experience to be more effective in a city of our size. Please use this as a teaching moment and enlighten him on the ways to conduct business. Making these kinds of decisions are never easy, but there are ways to make them a bit more palatable to both the employee and to our community. If it’s a case of the later, is this the way we want to do business in our city?
Rumblings following an executive session held by city council on Monday night show that council support for the city manager is mixed as evidenced by a statement released by Councilman Ray Ricchi this morning. Ricchi said, “The City Council was presented on October 8th with the City Manager’s reasons for the action he alone took on October 5th with Chief of Police Kowalski. This was the first time any of this information was ever communicated to me in any way. After careful consideration, it is my opinion the information presented would not warrant the reassignment of Chief Kowalski." (See the entire statement below)
In another statement released by Mayor Brian Loughmiller this morning, Loughmiller said, “While I did not agree with the decision made on October 5, 2012, I understand the Mayor and Council’s limitations of authority and the City Manager’s role of authority as expressed in the City Charter as it relates to personnel decisions of City Staff including Department heads." (Read full statement below.)
Trust has been undermined. I would certainly think that council would have difficulty trusting Gray’s decision-making ability. Trust of city employees and morale in general is at stake. Gray’s actions, particularly if Kowalksi was never given any notification that he needed to make some changes in his job performance, may make it difficult for staff to feel confident in their positions.
Public trust may have been compromised as well. If Gray shows poor judgement in these matters, can we trust him to make good decisions with regard to allocating our tax dollars? Can we trust his plans and guidance for the Gateway project, which should come before council at the next regular meeting, Oct. 16?
Some city managers are still accountable to their city council. One of our neighbor cities to our west decided they had had enough and fired their city manager. So, I have to ask, really council, is this the best we can do for our city or is it time to cut bait and run?
Statement from Mayor Brian Loughmiller, Oct. 9, 2012
Over the next several days Council members will have the opportunity to give their views individually regarding the recent events of Friday October 5, 2012 with the reassignment of Chief Doug Kowalski. This message is not intended to express the views of the Council as a whole rather it is intended to provide the public my statement regarding the events and where I believe we are at this point.
As I stated on Friday, October 5, 2012, the City Council was informed that the City Manager had reassigned the police chief pursuant to his authority under the city charter as city manager. The City Council was first made aware of this decision after Chief Kowalski was informed of the reassignment by the City Manager. Upon learning of the decision, I requested the City Manager call a special council meeting to discuss this decision as well as the decisions relative to transition of the police department that were announced by the City Manager. This meeting was convened with the City Manager the evening of October 8.
While I did not agree with the decision made on October 5, 2012, I understand the Mayor and Council’s limitations of authority and the City Manager’s role of authority as expressed in the City Charter as it relates to personnel decisions of City Staff including Department heads.
Addressing the issue of transition and moving forward as a community given the current status of the position, I have requested that the City Manager conduct a search for a new police chief open to all qualified applicants.
With regard to key positions in the City under our Charter, the Charter authorizes the City Council to evaluate the City Manager, the City Attorney, and the Municipal Judge. While the City Council does not have authority related to personnel decisions over other positions, I believe that in order for us to be effective and operate in the best interests of our community, the City Council at a minimum should be given the opportunity to state opinions concerning key leadership positions on city staff that impact our community.
I am currently evaluating charter language in the City Manager/City Council form of government that may address this issue for consideration by the City Council and City of McKinney in the future.
Concerning Chief Kowalski, I appreciate his service and leadership to the City of McKinney. Our city has received recognition for being a safe city and a family oriented community. I thank Chief Kowalski for being instrumental in creating a safe environment despite unprecedented growth in our community over past twelve years.
Mayor Brian Loughmiller
Statement from Councilman Ray Ricchi: Oct. 9
I would like to address recent events at McKinney City Hall on October 5th 2012. The purpose of this message is to provide the citizens with my views as an individual City Council member; I am not speaking for the City Council. I am fully aware of the City of McKinney’s charter language giving the City Manager sole authority on personnel matters and personnel decisions and this message is intended to be consistent with the City of McKinney Charter.
The City Council was presented on October 8th with the City Manager’s reasons for the action he alone took on October 5th with Chief of Police Kowalski. This was the first time any of this information was ever communicated to me in any way. After careful consideration, it is my opinion the information presented would not warrant the reassignment of Chief Kowalski.
I understand the City Manager’s role is to evaluate employees, and while I respect that role, our job as Council Members is to evaluate the City Manager’s performance, including his exercise of judgment in the performance of his duties.
I intend to completely evaluate the City Manager’s job performance and will do so with an open mind. I do not believe the information presented to me justifies the actions taken by City Manager Gray. Additionally, I feel that the manner in which Mr. Gray executed his decision was extremely disrespectful, unprofessional, and inconsistent with that which our citizen’s demand and city personnel deserve.