Texas Two-Step

One foot out the door: Bill McManus has friends in high places
Raoul Benavides

Two weeks ago, when word went around that Minneapolis Police Chief Bill McManus was suddenly a finalist to be the new chief in San Antonio, it wasn't hard to read between the lines. The chief's future in Minneapolis had been in limbo owing to Mayor R.T. Rybak's steadfastly noncommittal stance on reappointing McManus to a second three-year term. The chief apparently got tired of waiting.

By many accounts, McManus was not in the applicant pool to succeed outgoing SA Chief Albert Ortiz when the December 31 deadline for applications passed. His name, in fact, did not come across San Antonio City Manager Sheryl Sculley's desk until early February. (In San Antonio, the city manager chooses a candidate for approval by the mayor and the City Council.) To some observers of nationwide police chief searches, this seemed a rather unusual turn of events.

"I don't know San Antonio's process," says MPD Lt. Medaria Arradondo, "but if you're not on the list originally, it's usually tough to get on."

It isn't entirely clear how McManus made the hookup. One story is that Sculley and McManus crossed paths at a police chief's convention in Florida earlier this year. Arradondo and other close observers inside and outside the MPD point to another possible connection that might have propelled McManus's résumé to the top of the heap--namely his relationship with two prominent Texas law enforcement veterans.

Late last year, McManus initiated a plan to move the MPD to a more solid "community policing" strategy--a philosophy that puts more cops on regular beats in select neighborhoods. In recent weeks, some members of the department have been asked to meet with colleagues of the consultant Robert Wasserman, a policing strategist who has worked with the U.S. State Department and the police forces of New York and Los Angeles. He has worked with William Bratton, the former NYPD commissioner and current LAPD chief whom McManus admires. Wasserman also did work in Dayton, Ohio, where McManus was chief before coming to Minneapolis.

More importantly, some point to two people Wasserman brought to Minneapolis with him: Lee Brown and Betsy Watson. Brown is a storied figure in Texas law enforcement, having served as police chief in Houston from 1982 to 1990, and then as mayor of that city from 1998 until 2003. Watson succeeded Brown as chief in Houston for two years, then served as chief in Austin until 1997. (Brown was also the police commissioner of New York City from 1990-'92.)

At least one person sees a connection between the consultants and the job in San Antonio. "This looks like a well-designed plan for McManus to enhance his résumé and get these folks to talk him up in San Antonio," says Ron Edwards, a member of the Police Community Relations Council and a longtime McManus supporter. "This thing was laid out with respect to him leaving town."

Says one MPD cop who asked not to be identified, "Certainly his roots and ties to these people had something to do with [his being added to the finalists list]."

Roger Flores, a City Council member in San Antonio, says he doesn't know how McManus's name made it to the list of eight finalists, but he doesn't rule out some lobbying. "Nothing is out of the realm of possibility. Opinions get asked of people who might have ties to this place," Flores says, noting that McManus appears to be the favored candidate. "[City manager] Sculley may not have liked the applicant pool. Someone could put in a word for a potential candidate."

Last week Rybak reacted to the San Antonio news by publicly pleading with City Council members to rush McManus's reconfirmation by the end of March, an about-face from just weeks earlier. McManus, notably, did not use the occasion to say he'd stay in Minneapolis. His name remains on the short list in San Antonio.

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