The Austin Chronicle

Here’s How Art Acevedo’s Hiring and Ultimate Refusal Played Out

By Austin Sanders, March 8, 2024, 6:30am, Newsdesk

One of the concerns shared by community advocates and elected officials during the four-day period during which controversial former Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo almost became a high-level City Hall executive was the lack of transparency.

The public backlash to Interim City Manager Jesús Garza’s appointment of Acevedo was so intense, he had to backtrack days later and rescind the offer.

Text messages and emails obtained by the Chronicle through public information request shed new light on that process. Conversations between Garza, Acevedo, and Bruce Mills – interim assistant city manager over public safety – began as early as Jan. 5. Five days later, Acevedo texted Mills to say he just talked to “MKW,” likely a reference to Mayor Kirk Watson, who did not respond to our request for comment on this story.

Based on the records and a conversation with Mills, it appears that Robin Henderson, Austin’s interim police chief, was not consulted on Acevedo's appointment, even though he would replace Mills as her direct supervisor. Mills told the Chronicle he thought Henderson and Acevedo had a good relationship and that she would welcome the former chief’s support. (Acevedo declined to comment for this story and Henderson did not respond.)

Jan. 5

Art Acevedo and Interim Assistant City Manager Bruce Mills exchange a few texts around 9pm, following up on a meeting the two had with Garza. “Heart is happy at the prospect,” Acevedo wrote.

Jan. 7

Acevedo texts Mayor Kirk Watson at 8:20am after watching a KXAN segment featuring the mayor. “Congratulations on your first year,” the former chief wrote. Later that afternoon, Watson responds.

Jan. 9

Acevedo texts Watson again asking him about the job he already discussed with Mills and Garza. Watson doesn’t text back.

Jan. 10

Acevedo texts Mills at 7:36am to say he “just spoke to MKW.” Presumably, that’s Mayor Kirk Watson. Two hours later, Acevedo texts Mills his email address and says “this is about supporting her, her team, and her department be successful,” almost certainly a reference to Henderson.

Later in the day, Mills texts Acevedo, “rolling it out Tuesday.” According to Mills, this was in reference to the city’s initial plan to announce Acevedo’s hire on Jan. 16.

Jan. 11

Trouble begins brewing for Mills, Garza, and Acevedo. “Tony Plohetski just tried to call me,” Acevedo texts MIlls at 1:36pm, referring to the star Statesman reporter who would go on to break the appointment story.

The same day, Mills’ executive assistant, Elise Renshaw, emails Acevedo an offer letter for the City Hall job. Later that day, Renshaw texts Acevedo: “Counter signed and submitted to Human Resources. It’s a done deal.”

Jan. 12

Mills texts Acevdo at 7:43am: “Wake up and call me.” At 1:19pm, Acevedo sends links to two news stories published by a weekly newspaper in Aurora, Colo., praising his performance as chief of police in that city.

Acevedo emails Renshaw his signed offer letter at 1:35am. Council members would not learn of the controversial hire for another seven days.

Jan. 18

As preparation for publicly announcing Acevedo’s hire, top Garza aide Michele Gonzalez – who was hired to work on strategic communications at the city – sends out talking points to Acevedo.

The talking points reference the decade he spent as APD chief, staffing issues at the department, the hope that he can help get the Austin Police Association back to the negotiating table over a labor contract – and that he has “no intention, nor desire to return to the position of Police Chief.”

The email does not mention any of the many scandals during Acevedo’s time as Austin or Houston police chief, which would later fuel demands that Garza rescind the job offer.

Jan. 19

At 8:42am, outgoing APD Assistant Chief Scott Perry texts Acevedo to say he heard a rumor the former chief was set to take on a deputy city manager role at the city. “Bad rumor,” Acevedo tells Perry. (Garza was interviewing candidates for that job, but Acevedo was not a candidate. As of publication of this story, Garza is now holding off on making a hire for that position.)

An hour later, Acevedo notifies Mills of the exchange.

At 11:26am, Acevedo tells Mills he spoke on the phone with a Statesman City Hall reporter, Ella McCarthy.

At 1:31pm, an assistant to Garza emails a memo to the mayor and Council announcing the Acevedo hire. Five minutes later, the Statesman story breaking the news publishes.

Two and a half hours later, APD Interim Chief Robin Henderson sends out an all-staff email apologizing for not telling them about Acevedo’s return to the city. “I have to apologize for not being able to share this information with you directly before it was made public,” Henderson wrote. “I was in the process of briefing our Executive Team when the first story hit the news.”

At 4:31pm, Mills tells Acevedo he had a “great call with Margaret.” That’s former Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore, Mills told the Chronicle. Both he and Acevedo have had long friendships with Moore and they were planning to have dinner together.

Jan. 20

Now, several Council members and current Travis County D.A. José Garza have shared statements expressing their concerns over Acevedo’s appointment. Primarily, they point to his leadership failures around how APD responded to sexual assaults and the mismanagement of the department’s DNA lab.

Jan. 21

Sunday evening, Acevedo texts Mills to say he’s packing for his move back to Austin.

Jan. 22

The backlash to Acevedo’s appointment is now in full swing. Pressure from community advocates and elected officials for Garza to rescind the job offer are mounting.

Around 7am, Mills texts Acevedo, “Was there any request to City Hall or test kits, etc. denied” – a reference to the national scandal around untested rape kits that exploded as Acevedo departed APD to lead the Houston Police Department.

“Sally is running and was sued,” Acevedo responds, referencing Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez’s re-election campaign and her status as a named defendant in the initial complaint filed by survivors of sexual assault in their lawsuit against Travis County (Hernandez was later removed as a defendant).

“Ok,” Mills responds.

In the afternoon, five Council members meet with Garza to share their concerns over Acevedo’s hire. At that meeting, the CMs say they want to hold an executive session to discuss Garza’s decision.

In response to that request, Garza threatens to quit.

At 4:27pm, Mills tells Acevedo to call Garza. It’s the last text exchanged between the two men, per our public information request, which covered the period between Jan. 1 - 24.

Jan 23

Mills and other city officials are set to provide remarks at a previously scheduled, court-ordered public apology to survivors of sexual assault.

At 1:34pm, half an hour before the apology event, Acevedo emails a statement to Mills and Garza saying he will no longer take the City Hall job. A few minutes later, Acevedo posts the same message to social media.

Jan. 25

Council members, still concerned over Garza’s decision-making around the Acevedo appointment, continue to move toward holding an executive session to discuss it.

That evening, Garza mounts a pressure campaign to stop them. He is successful.

Editor's note Friday, March 8 2:30pm: A previous version of the story incorrectly stated that Travis County Sheriff was a named defendant in a lawsuit filed by sexual survivors; She was a named defendant in the first complaint filed by survivors, but later removed in an amended filing. The Chronicle regrets the error.

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