Monitoring the Monitors

Monday's public hearings with the two finalists for the new city police monitor job didn't exactly pack the convention center, yet City Manager Jesus Garza said, "I was very pleased." Former Austin City Attorney Iris J. Jones and current Dallas assistant city attorney Chris G. Wittmayer are vying for the spot, created this spring when a civilian oversight panel was incorporated into the new Austin police contract.

Garza said he believes one of the two finalists will be appointed, but emphasized that no final decision has yet been reached. Before arranging parleys with Deputy City Manager Toby Futrell and the heads of the city's human resources department, he must finish up discussing the matter with the City Council. He hopes to name the new monitor within the next two weeks. Austin Police Association President Mike Sheffield, who was on the Police Oversight Focus Group (which spent nearly a year discussing adoption of an oversight panel), also said he was pleased with Monday's hearings. "Both candidates demonstrated that they understand what the job is there for and what the job requires," he said. "And I don't think either of them wants to politicize the job."

But ACLU attorney Ann del Llano, who was also a member of the POFG, expresses reservations about both finalists -- particularly Jones. Although the former city attorney "seems nice and professional," del Llano wrote in an e-mail, she is "severely biased" in favor of the APD. When questioned about how she had improved Austin's police services as city attorney, for instance, Jones admitted that while she had had most of the authorities that would be granted to the new police monitor, she "could point to nothing" (as del Llano put it). Further, del Llano notes, in 1991 Jones told the Austin American-Statesman that she didn't believe that racial profiling was an issue in Austin, a notion that del Llano vociferously rebuts. "It's just sad that, apparently, the eagerness to have a minority fill that job is clouding some people's judgement," del Llano said. "[Jones] is the only one who has already pledged her allegiance to the APD. They've picked the single most biased candidate." Garza said he understands del Llano's concerns, but defends Jones and Wittmayer, formerly an attorney for the Army. "I do not share the same level of concern," he said. "I understand her concerns, but I am not sure I share all of them."

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