In the swirl of protests over police brutality in Austin in the last two weeks, the lightning rod in the growing demand for change is Police Chief Brian Manley.
Will he stay? Or will he go?
While the question is easily posed in those black-and-white terms, the answer—which can be influenced by the Austin City Council but only wrought by City Manager Spencer Cronk—is more nuanced.
It is also complicated by the fact that Manley, if he goes, will need to be replaced at some point either from within the embattled department, or from an outside search that could take months.
On Thursday, the City Council is expected to approve items that, among other things, direct Cronk to submit a rewrite of the department's budget, limit or ban the use of force by Austin police, and state "no confidence" in the leadership.
The answer to what lies ahead for Manley will likely come in the soon-to-immediate future, if the strong opinions of the council—which has signaled unanimous support for sweeping change, including a no-confidence vote in "current Austin Police Department leadership"—is any indicator.
"He [Cronk] has a range of options," said City Council Member Ann Kitchen. "I'm not going to speculate. That's his [Cronk's] job, and I'm going to hold him responsible for it. And I expect that to be done shortly."
There are several things on the table for Manley's future, according to the Texas Local Government Code and city officials.
- He could be demoted to chief of staff, his former position before he became chief in 2018. Cronk alone has the authority to remove him from office, but without official accusation of a violation, Manley has the right to reclaim his old job or one of similar rank and keep his current seniority.
- He could be reassigned to another position similar in rank to his previous position.
- Cronk, who told the Austin American-Statesman last week that he still has confidence in "Manley's commitment to the community," could put Manly on probation and lay out a set of goals to achieve to keep his job.
- Manley could resign or choose to retire, allowing him to collect retirement benefits earned over three decades working for Austin police.
- Manley could be accused of an official violation of policy and fired, after which he could use the appeals process to try and win back his job. Neither the Office of Police Oversight nor Cronk's office has announced any investigations into the type of misconduct that could lead to the outright firing of the chief, a city spokesman said.
- Or nothing could change.
Cronk, who spent Wednesday in City Council meetings over the $10 billion Project Connect vote, told Austonia through a spokesman that he is listening closely to the council and the community and wants to address their desire for "the kinds of changes that these times demand."
"He does very much want to acknowledge that he's listening, he's aware of the conversations in the community, and he's fully committed to do what is necessary," said David Green, media relations manager for the City of Austin. "He's weighing all of this very heavily and being deliberative about it."
Austin police union President Ken Casaday said he would like to see a delay in Thursday's votes. Before the protests, his group gave Manley a list of proposed changes "in the way the department is run" that they believe will address concerns.
"We think Chief Manley deserves time to respond to our requests due to the events that have happened over the last couple of weeks," he said, declining to specify the proposals. "We're trying to give him the respect he's due for serving the community for 30 years."
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