Austin Police Chief Brian Manley will step down next month after more than 30 years with the department and nearly three as its highest-ranking member. His departure comes amid an ongoing national debate over policing and after mass protests against police violence and racial injustice in Austin last summer.
Manley acknowledged that his decision to retire was a difficult one during a press conference on Friday. "I have many different emotions running through me right now," he said. "I am at peace with my decision."
City Manager Spencer Cronk announced Manley's retirement in a memo to City Council earlier in the day. "I want to thank Chief Manley for his leadership and service to the City of Austin," Cronk wrote, adding that he will immediately begin a national search for—and concurrent community engagement process regarding—the city's next police chief.
Manley has faced sustained criticism from local elected officials, criminal justice reform advocates and residents after APD officers seriously injured protestors 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. "Anyone who steps into the role of police chief, you know there's going to be criticism," he explained.
But Manley also acknowledged that his department is at a crossroads and that its relationship with racial justice advocates is strained. "I know the policing profession is under scrutiny, under reimagining and redesign," he said, adding that he believes APD will emerge "a strong agency" under his successor.
Manley was appointed to police chief in 2018, after serving as interim chief for two years and leading the investigation of the Austin Serial Bombings. For his work, he was ranked 49th on Fortune's sixth annual World's Greatest Leaders list in 2019. An Austin native, he has spent his entire 30-year law enforcement career with APD.
Thirty years ago today my father pinned my badge for the first time and I began my career with APD. Hard to believe it has already been 3 decades! pic.twitter.com/VQqcthR0Zn
— Chief Brian Manley (@Chief_Manley) February 1, 2021
Manley is most proud of his work as a member of APD's child abuse unit and his efforts to improve officer health and wellness. "What we expose our men and women to, day in and day out, takes a toll," he said.
Local elected officials and advocates responded to the news, with some applauding Manley's leadership and others looking ahead to his replacement.
"As chief, Brian Manley championed efforts to expand community policing and confronted the public safety challenges of a growing city," Greater Austin Crime Commission President Corby Jastrow said in a statement.
Travis County GOP Chairperson Matt Mackowiak attributed Manley's decision to "the unconscionable war on Austin police conceived of" by local criminal justice reform advocates "and executed by" Austin Mayor Steve Adler and "comrade" Council Member Greg Casar in a tweet.
The unconscionable war on Austin police conceived of by Chris Harris and Chas Moore and executed by @MayorAdler and comrade @GregCasar has now cost Austin one of its finest police chiefs.
Wake up, Austin!https://t.co/YySoaM1ZwI
— Matt Mackowiak (@MattMackowiak) February 12, 2021
Casar also weighed in on Twitter, saying that he hopes the "future path of our police department" both protects public safety and civil rights "for all neighborhoods and for people of all backgrounds."
With today's news about the departure of Chief Manley, the community is now tasked with choosing the future path of our police department. Our goal must be protecting public safety *and* civil rights, for all neighborhoods and for people of all backgrounds. (1/2)
— Gregorio Casar (@GregCasar) February 12, 2021
This story has been updated to include the latest information on Manley's departure.
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A $500 million mixed-use development spanning 1,400 acres is coming to Southeast Austin, near Tesla’s headquarters at Giga Texas.
Plans for the development by Houston-based real estate firm Hines include 2,500 houses along with multi-family and townhomes, and commercial land. Hines is partnering with Trez Capital, Sumitomo Forestry and Texas-based Caravel Ventures.
The development, which is known as Mirador, will be located off the 130 Toll and Highway 71, which the developers say provides easy access to the Circuit of the Americas Formula 1 racetrack and other Austin attractions like restaurants, parks and live music venues.
Hines also boasts amenities like a 60-acre lake, over 600 acres of greenbelt, community parks, trails and a swimming pool.
“As Austin continues to grow into the tech epicenter of Texas, coupled with a supply-constrained market, the demand for new housing is at its highest,” Dustin Davidson, managing director at Hines, said. “Mirador will be critical in providing more options for Austin’s growing population and we are excited to work alongside our partners given they each provide a unique and valued perspective in single-family development.”
The local housing market has been hot in recent years, with home sales accelerating earlier in the pandemic. In July 2021, the Austin metro area hit its pricing peak at $478,000. As Austonia previously reported, the area has been expected to see the Tesla effect, with the new workforce driving up demand for housing and other services.
The single-family houses are expected to be developed over the course of six years, in phases. Construction on the homes is expected to start this year and home sales will begin in 2023.
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Editor's note: This story summarizes Sports Illustrated's story detailing Michael Center's involvement in the Varsity Blues college admissions scandal, based on interviews with SI's Jon Wertheim. Additionally, Austonia received comments from Michael Center, included in this story.
Confined to his couch, former Longhorns tennis coach Michael Center praised his players via FaceTime after the program he built produced the Longhorns’ first national championship in 2019—a bittersweet moment as Center faced federal charges as part of the Varsity Blues college admissions scandal.
His name dragged through the mud, Center was fired, arrested by the FBI and sentenced to six months in a Central Texas federal prison after pleading guilty to two charges related to mail fraud. And over a year after his release, Center told Sports Illustrated he doubts he was the only one in burnt orange involved.
When the Varsity Blues scandal broke out to the public in 2019, the investigation was a perfect storm for nationwide attention: Hollywood glamour, blue blood conspiracy and faith in the tried-and-true American education system came to a head as 33 movie stars and other elites were found guilty of paying more than $25 million to pave their children’s way into eight colleges, including the University of Texas.
UT was one of eight schools caught in the college admissions scandal. (Laura Figi/Austonia)
The figure behind Varsity Blues, “college consultant” Rick Singer, would plead guilty to four felony counts for faking SAT scores and bribing coaches at prominent universities for his elite clients—but not before throwing Center under the bus.
Singer's client, private equity executive Chris Schaepe, was looking for a way to bend UT's tight admissions policies for his son, who was seeking a position oddly as a manager on UT’s basketball team. Through a middleman, Singer contacted Center, who eventually agreed.
Schaepe's son hadn't played tennis since his freshman year of high school. It was a detail that Center says passed through plenty of hands before he was admitted, including "academic support staff, the compliance office, the sports supervisor and, ultimately, the athletic director," SI's Jon Wertheim writes.
No one in the entire athletic department, including seven "risk management and compliant services department" employees, was named, implicated or punished. After an internal investigation, Center was the only one named in the Varsity Blues "subterfuge" in a September 2019 UT news release signed by the university president.
He told Austonia he was never contacted by the university during the investigation, and when the NCAA interviewed him for its investigation, he says it cleared him of any violations.
“I almost fell out of my chair,” Center said. “I literally couldn’t breathe. There’s no college coach in America—much less at a state school, much less a coach of a nonrevenue sport—who can admit an athlete without consulting other people in the athletic department. What they were asking people to believe, it’s just impossible.” SI said Center's assertion was backed by multiple UT coaches and administrators at other schools.But why would the Forty Acres be complicit?
Center said UT’s then newly named athletic director Steve Patterson made clear that Center suddenly was responsible for more than building a successful tennis program. He was to be a "fundraiser first and coach second" and he would need to find donors to fund a new tennis facility. Patterson admitted to SI that he wanted his coaches to find donors and said the department was "$15 million in the red" when he started in 2013, though he denies any knowledge of the false tennis recruitment.
Center said he knew he would be "considered a team player" if he let in the son of a Silicon Valley magnate. And sure enough, Schaepe immediately began pulling out his wallet, donating $100,000 to UT tennis and a six-figure check to the school's communication program.
"I never entered this as a way to profit. This was a fundraising mission where I made a terrible mistake at the end,"
Months after Schaepe's son was admitted, Center agreed to meet Singer at the Austin airport and found himself accepting a backpack filled with $60,000 in cash meant for him, personally. He said he immediately knew he had made a mistake. He told SI “I put the money in my basement and gave most of it away.”
“Why did I do it?” Center told Sports Illustrated. "I go to bed and wake up each day asking myself the same question. I had to convince myself that I somehow deserved the money."
Once in court, Center showed texts with UT's compliance official and mentioned Chris Plonsky, a department executive involved in "overseeing men’s tennis, compliance, academic support (which generates letters of intent) and the Longhorn Foundation," according to SI.
“I knew I had to answer for my guilt,” Center said. “But I was like, 'Man, schools are going to get hammered.'"'
INMATE 77806-112 but out on Sunday: Actor Felicity Huffman in prison uniform outside low-security Federal Correctional Institution in Dublin to visit actor husband William H. Macy & their daughter. Huffman admitted to paying $15K to have fixer boost daughter’s SAT score. 📸: @TMZ pic.twitter.com/9jALmqnA0U
— Henry K. Lee (@henrykleeKTVU) October 21, 2019
But Center was the only Longhorn to go down for the crimes. “I was no rogue actor,” Center said. “And this wasn’t my word against their word. There were signatures that went along with it. That’s the system... There wasn’t one point in the process where I thought people wanted to learn the whole truth.”
Back at home in Austin, Center watched as actress Felicity Huffman served just eleven days for her part in the scandal. Some served up to five months; others simply paid a fine, and others, like Singer, await sentencing.
And because the prosecution chose to blame individual coaches, framing schools as victims in the case, universities like UT have received less than a slap on the wrist for their possible involvement.
“I was always taught that actions have consequences,” Center said. “What I’ve come to realize is that, yes, for some people actions absolutely do have consequences. Serious, heavy ones. For others, actions can have no consequences at all.”
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