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Assistant chief chosen as interim Austin police chief, national search for Manley's successor now under way
Assistant Police Chief Joe Chacon will serve as interim police chief of the Austin Police Department following the retirement of Brian Manley on March 28. City Manager Spencer Cronk is conducting a national search for Manley's permanent successor and plans to make an appointment by August. "We need to have a chief in short order," he said during a press conference on Monday.
Chacon is a 22-year veteran of the department, having started as a patrol officer in 1998. He moved through the ranks and was named assistant chief in 2016. He is third in command behind Chief of Staff Troy Gay, who some expected to be named interim chief. (When former chief Art Acevedo left for Houston in 2016, then-Chief of Staff Manley was named interim chief and later promoted after the Austin bombings in 2018.)
Both men have been finalists for other police chief positions across Texas and the U.S. Chacon was named one of four finalists for the top job in Waco earlier this year and one of two finalists for the chief position in Boise, Idaho, last year, according to local reports. Gay was one of five finalists considered to lead the Nashville Police Department in 2020.
City Council will decide whether to confirm Chacon as Manley's interim successor at its meeting on Thursday.
The search process
The national search for Manley's successor began Monday, Cronk announced in a memo to council outlining the process. He has hired Ralph Andersen & Associates, a California-based executive search firm that has assisted 35 other cities in their police chief searches and the city of Austin in a number of executive searches.
"I hope through this process that we collectively find the ideal candidate—one who collaborates with our community, instills trust in the workforce, works to achieve results from established Council policy, creates a culture of improvement and accountability, and is willing and able to lead the department in ways that lead to equitable public safety outcomes for all," he said in a statement.
The search process will take place in three phases, according to the memo. The first phase will entail creating a candidate profile with input from the community as well as city leadership and APD employees. The second phase will consist of outreach and recruiting. And the final phase will involve interviewing the top candidates and selecting the city's next chief. "The search will be transparent and inclusive, with engagement at every level," he said.
The community engagement component of this search will be different from that of the 2018 search process, when Manley, then-interim chief, was named lone finalist for the permanent role following his handling of the Austin bombings. "The difference between what we saw in 2018 and now is that we are starting with an open, national and dare I say international search," Cronk said.
Joya Hayes, director of human resources for the city of Austin, added that this time around community engagement will be considered from the start, including in the formation of a candidate profile, rather than only after a finalist has been chosen.
A rare opportunity
Manley announced his retirement last month amid an ongoing national debate over policing and after mass protests against police violence and racial injustice in Austin last summer. He has faced sustained criticism from local elected officials, criminal justice reform advocates and residents after APD officers seriously injured protesters over the summer. Four council members asked him to resign, Cronk faced pressure to demote him and the council voted unanimously to cut the police department's budget. Last August, the Austin Justice Coalition debuted a jingle, "No Confidence in You," as part of its campaign to get Manley to resign.
The department has also come under fire in recent years for multiple officer-involved shootings, allegations of racism among its top ranks and reports of hazing at its training academy.
Manley said this criticism did not contribute to his decision to retire, but it will certainly color the search for his replacement. Acevedo, who previously led APD and recently announced he will lead the Miami Police Department, said the city's police reform efforts are deterring candidates from applying to chief positions. "People are hesitant to apply for cities with misguided, reacting city councils," he told Austonia earlier this month. "It's having an effect."
But city leaders, including District 4 Council Member Greg Casar and Cronk, say Manley's retirement presents a rare opportunity. "The Reimaging Public Safety process, budget decoupling and department restructuring, and, most recently, the announcement of Chief Brian Manley's retirement provides a unique opportunity to work with our community to bring new leadership that aligns with our values and our commitment to equity and community engagement," Cronk said in a statement.
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The city of Austin released a shortlist of seven candidates for the police chief position left vacant when Brian Manley retired in March.
City Manager Spencer Cronk hopes to announce an appointment by the end of August, which will require City Council approval.
The finalists, chosen from a field of 46 applicants, include:
- APD Interim Chief Joseph Chacon, who previously served as an assistant chief in the department for almost five years
- Anne Kirkpatrick, former police chief in Oakland, California, who was fired last year after a federal monitor criticized her handling of a fatal 2018 police shooting of a homeless man
- Dallas Police Department Assistant Chief Avery L. Moore, who is a 30-year veteran of the department
- Atlanta Police Department Deputy Chief Celeste Murphy, who manages the department's community services division
- Dekalb County Police Chief Mirtha V. Ramos, who previously served as division chief in the Miami-Dade Police Department
- Wichita Police Department Chief Gordon Ramsay, who is a former president of the Minnesota Police Chief's Association as well as one of the first police chiefs of a major U.S. City to call George Floyd's death a murder, as reported by the Wichita Eagle
- Los Angeles Police Department Deputy Chief Emada E. Tingirides, who is also commanding officer of the department's newly formed Community Safety Partnership Bureau, which serves L.A.'s underserved communities
City staff will interview the finalists in the coming weeks, with several community input opportunities to come, according to a Monday press release.
The city conducted a public survey in March and hosted community input meetings in April to learn more about what residents are looking for in their next police chief, which helped shape the selection criteria for the position.
"They want to see the Chief be reform-minded and transparent and have a track record of fostering community involvement and accountability," Cronk said in the release. "The candidates selected show these characteristics in various ways."
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Days after Austin began once again recommending masks in public spaces, Austin ISD announced Monday that kindergarten through sixth-grade classes will have virtual options this fall.
The district will discuss the move in a special board meeting Monday evening starting at 5 p.m., while full details will be released Friday.
Teachers will not have to fret about the new option—no educators will have to juggle both virtual and in-person learning. Instead, certain teachers will specialize in virtual education, according to a press release.
The news comes after a recent spike in COVID cases in Travis County and across the nation. Children typically suffer fewer symptoms of COVID when contracted, but they are now catching the virus more often than their older counterparts without a vaccine available to them and as the more contagious Delta variant is quickly being spread.
While local health officials are recommending everyone wear masks, public school districts are unable to mandate masks due to an executive order issued by Gov. Greg Abbott in May.
Parents have expressed concern about classrooms with masks unenforceable and children under the age of 12 ineligible for a vaccine. Some have even said they would look for alternative schooling if AISD did not offer a virtual option for students.
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Austin FC officially tanked to the bottom of the MLS Western Conference after a lackluster performance against No. 1 Seattle Sounder's bench players last week, disappointing even the most hardcore fans who have been looking for another breakthrough for weeks.
But there could be light at the end of the tunnel.
Just as the club received scrutiny for their loss against the youngest MLS lineup ever and lack of scoring options, South American transfer expert Cesar Luis Merlo reported that Argentine Sebastian Driussi would be transferring to the club. The announcement comes after rumors of interest in Driussi, who plays in the Russian Premier League, swirled for weeks.
🚨🚨Sebastián Driussi jugará en el Austin FC 🇺🇲.
*️⃣El club de la MLS pagó la cláusula acordada para su salida y los abogados ya trabajan en la confección de su contrato.
*️⃣Su oficialización es cuestión de ⏳. #trarohecho pic.twitter.com/95qS6KJ1UH
— César Luis Merlo (@CLMerlo) July 26, 2021
Merlo, who broke the news on Twitter on Monday, last reported the signing of Austin FC's Tomas Pochettino from Argentina.
While Austin FC hasn't confirmed the move, Driussi's former club FC Zenit reported on the transfer on Monday afternoon.
We can confirm that Sebastian Driussi has now left the club.
Everyone at Zenit wishes him all the best for the future.
📰 https://t.co/DcbiIMnF4V pic.twitter.com/rJts0sqSST
— FC Zenit in English✨ (@fczenit_en) July 26, 2021
Driussi joins new signee Moussa Djitte, another forward and true striker from Grenoble, as new intriguing answers to Austin's cry for help.
It's no secret that Austin isn't putting the ball in the back of the net: the club has been shut out for eight of its last ten matches, just two of which have taken place within its stadium walls. Head Coach Josh Wolff has endured the brunt of explaining the team's scorelessness, admitting the team's lack of scoring every week with a slightly deeper frown etched on his face.
"From a goal-scoring standpoint... it's been lackluster and poor," Wolff said after the 1-0 Seattle loss. "The reality is that we haven't scored goals... you've got to score goals to win games."
While some criticism toward Wolff's strategy, a lack of urgency and poor decision-making on the pitch are warranted—and have been freely expressed by frustrated fans and haters—the team has been even worse off due to its constant slew of injuries.
The team has been without a solid striker at least since frontman Danny Hoesen was declared out for the season due to a hip injury. Even before his injury, Hoesen had failed to solidify himself as the team's offensive leader, while teammate Jon Gallagher showed spurts of greatness but couldn't find consistency.
Gallagher himself scored the first Q2 Stadium goal with an injured foot and was out for a few weeks, as have been Captain Alex Ring, midfielder Tomas Pochettino and center back Matt Besler. Starters including midfielder Daniel Pereira, left back Ben Sweat, right back Nick Lima are among the six still stuck on the bench.
With injuries and a learning curve to boot, Austin has scored just 10 goals this season—tied for the least in the conference. While Dominguez and surprise star Diego Fagundez have scored three goals apiece, the out-of-position players haven't been able to heal the holes in the lineup and beat veteran MLS opponents.
Even after a breakout 4-1 over Portland that injected new energy into the team, Austin has been subject to critics who fairly wonder when the club will right its sinking ship.
First summer signing: Moussa Djitte
DONDE ESTÁ DJITTE?!?!?— WeAreAustinTV (@WeAreAustinTV) July 23, 2021
HAVE YOU SEEN DJITTE?!?! pic.twitter.com/ssMfTdby1v
Wolff and Sporting Director Claudio Reyna have long had plans to get a boost in the summer transfer window, and the need for scoring help became increasingly evident as the season progressed.
Djitte, a 21-year-old striker in the French Ligue 2, was announced as a U-22 signee with an undisclosed transfer salary on June 30.
Djitte comes from Grenoble in the French league, where he scored eight goals in 35 appearances last season. The striker also spent time with FC Sion in the Swiss Super League but is originally from Senegal, where he played for ASC Niarri Tally in Dakar. He also represented Senegal internationally, making his debut for the Senegal U-20 team and scoring the only goal in his first match with the U23 team in 2018.
Wolff and crew hoped for Djitte's arrival by the July 22 match, but to no avail. As the club once again failed to put points on the board, fans continue to impatiently await his arrival as Djitte's paperwork is sorted out.
The pressure's on for Djitte, who some have called the club's only hope. But that burden is put twofold on Driussi, who holds more experience and acclaim than his new younger teammate.
Second signing: Sebastian Driussi
Sebastian Driussi: "Thank you from me and from my family. St. Petersburg is an amazing city and Zenit is a fantastic club. Maybe one day we will meet again!"@SebadriussiOk has a farewell message to the club and the fans— FC Zenit in English✨ (@fczenit_en) July 26, 2021
📧 https://t.co/urgPQxvcVr pic.twitter.com/Yr1AbBsQvj
Driussi has an even more decorated history under his belt. An Argentina native, the forward spent five seasons with Primera Division member River Plate, scoring 17 goals in his final season with the club before transferring to the Russian Premier League. While with FC Zenit, Driussi helped the club to the Russian Cup Championship in 2019 and scored 21 goals in four seasons with the team.
Driussi has already been lauded as a saving grace for Austin's stagnant offense, but it will be a minute before he steps onto the pitch in Verde. Djitte is expected to fly to Austin this week, but both players will need to quarantine before they can suit up onto the Q2 Stadium turf.
Time will tell whether or not the two turn the tables for Austin before it's too late, but the new faces are sure to bring back excitement as Austin reaches the halfway point of its first-ever season.
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