Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh is postponing community meetings with her nominee for police commissioner, Joel Fitzgerald, citing a medical issue in his family.
The mayor’s office issued a statement Thursday afternoon that described the matter as an “unexpected medical emergency having to do with his son which requires immediate surgery.”
Pugh said she would reschedule the meetings with Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald, the police chief in Fort Worth, Texas, was expected to meet with community members in Baltimore this weekend, starting Friday. He also was to answer questions Monday from the City Council.
The mayor said Fitzgerald, a married father of three, was walking with his 13-year-old son when the teen collapsed.
“They rushed him to a children’s hospital,” Pugh told WBAL-TV during a neighborhood crime walk Thursday afternoon. “The operation has to take place on Friday or Saturday. It’s emergency surgery.”
She declined to discuss the nature of his condition, saying she wasn’t sure Fitzgerald would want it to be publicly known.
One meeting about Fitzgerald is not postponed, however. The City Council will hear testimony Saturday from the public about his nomination in the council chambers from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., as scheduled.
Councilman Brandon Scott, chairman of the public safety committee, said he sympathized with Fitzgerald’s situation.
“Children are parents’ most precious value,” Scott said. “I certainly understand that Dr. Fitzgerald wants to be with his son.”
Lester Davis, a spokesman for Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young, said Young’s “heart sank” when he heard the news.
“He’s praying for the Fitzgerald family,” Davis said.
Fitzgerald did not respond to requests Thursday afternoon for comment. A spokeswoman for Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price said she was unaware of the surgery and referred additional questions to Fitzgerald.
Some Baltimore community leaders said they are disappointed they won’t meet Fitzgerald this weekend and emphasized that citizens need a say in the confirmation process.
“The process cannot go forward unless there is public input,” said Ashiah Parker, interim director of the West Baltimore No Boundaries Coalition.
Parker said she had hoped to hear from Fitzgerald about his plans for community engagement, safety and structuring his administration.
“There are a lot of question marks. I’m looking at his resume and I don’t think he’s worked in a department comparable to Baltimore,” she said, adding that Baltimore has its unique challenges.
Eric Stephenson, head of the Sandtown South Neighborhood Alliance, said he has questioned the “inclusivity” of the commissioner search. He praised the City Council for its “thorough” vetting of Fitzgerald, and said he had planned to go to the meet-and-greet events with the nominee. Stephenson said properly vetting Fitzgerald is essential.
“I think it’s absolutely the most important thing that the right choice is made here,” he said. “It’s concerning that the department seems under a holding pattern, but I think it’s much more important that we get this right.”
If appointed, Fitzgerald would be the fourth police commissioner during Pugh’s first two years in office. Pugh fired former Commissioner Kevin Davis last January and installed Darryl De Sousa, a veteran officer, as his replacement. But in May, De Sousa was charged with failing to file federal tax returns and resigned.
Since then, the agency has been led by Gary Tuggle, a former U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration veteran, who decided not to seek the job permanently.