The Austin Chronicle

Naked City

Two Bad Apples

By Jordan Smith, November 16, 2001, News

Police accountability activists are crying foul over the two candidates for the city's brand- new police monitor position, announced Nov. 1 by City Manager Jesus Garza. The police monitor will be charged with coordinating and overseeing the city's new citizen review board. But according to ACLU attorney Ann Del Llano, who helped design the new oversight system as a member of the Police Oversight Focus Group, the choice of finalists is a "slap in the face" to the entire process. "We've got to scrap these two ridiculous jokes put before the public and start again," Del Llano said.

At issue is the background of finalists Iris J. Jones and Chris G. Wittmayer. Both are currently city attorneys who have spent nearly their entire careers as lawyers for government entities. Jones, currently city attorney of Prairie View, was Austin's lead city attorney from 1990-1992. Wittmayer, who spent a majority of his career as a lawyer for the Army, has been an assistant city attorney in Dallas since 1992. Del Llano doesn't believe that either candidate will be able to apply an objective hand to police abuse cases when both have spent their careers litigating on behalf of city interests, including city police departments.

Casting a shadow on Wittmayer, Del Llano said the police oversight group in Dallas has recommended to city officials that their group be disbanded because city government has failed to support their mission. "There was a problem that the city, including the city's legal [department] would not support them," she said. And Jones, Del Llano said, barely qualifies for the job under the city's own minimum standards and requirements. The police monitor cannot have provided legal representation for the APD within the past five years. Jones was city attorney -- which defends APD in litigation -- as recently as nine years ago.

Further, Del Llano charges that as of Oct. 15, Jones hadn't even applied for the job. Yet two weeks later Garza identified her as a finalist. Through an open records request, Del Llano reports, she got copies of 86 résumés the city had received for the job by the time the first round of interviews was being conducted in mid-October. Jones' was not among them.

Garza couldn't be reached for comment. Nor could Deputy City Manager Toby Futrell or Vanessa Downey-Little, head of the city's human resources department. Still, Del Llano insists neither candidate is right for the job. "The point is, the city doesn't really want [the citizen review board] to uncover any scandals that would make the police department look bad," Del Llano said. "And it is insulting to the entire city who wanted a real [police oversight] system."

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