Amid mayor's secrecy, Baltimore City Council president helped screen applications for police commissioner

Even as members of the Baltimore City Council complained about a lack of transparency as the mayor searched for a police commissioner, the body's president was being kept up to date and even played a role in screening candidates.

Mayor Catherine Pugh said she shared resumes for the 50 or so candidates that applied and asked Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young to rank the applicants. A spokesman for Young confirmed that he received the material and agreed to keep it confidential out of respect for the mayor’s role in the process.

Pugh said that her top choice — Fort Worth Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald — also won out in Young’s ranking.

“His top pick was the same as my top pick,” Pugh said.

Lester Davis, a spokesman for Young, confirmed that Fitzgerald topped the council president’s list based on the limited information made available to him.

Pugh and Davis said Young’s previously unreported role is a reflection of the pair’s close working relationship.

“I consider Jack to be a partner,” Pugh said. “I don’t keep much from Jack at all.”

Davis said the council president’s having had a role before Fitzgerald’s name was made public does not mean he’s drawn a final conclusion about the nominee. Young and a delegation of council leaders are planning to travel to Fort Worth next month and the council will hold hearings on Fitzgerald in January.

“He didn’t see a full background investigation with records,” Davis said. “We’re talking about names on a piece of paper and resumes.”

Council members reached Tuesday said they had not been aware that Young had been involved in the selection process.

Brandon Scott, the chairman of the Public Safety Committee, had criticized the mayor’s handling of the process and said his requests for more information had been rebuffed.

Read more: New Baltimore police commissioner Joel Fitzgerald says he's coming to help heal the city »

“I’m glad that someone else was able to see stuff,” he said. “But it does bother me that I know myself and other colleagues were asked and we weren’t offered the same opportunity.”

Scott, who is among the council members traveling to Fort Worth, said he’s not concerned that the council president’s opportunity to review the resumes means his mind is made up.

“He’s still going to need to see people and talk to people,” Scott said.

Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke said she had no problem with the mayor’s including the council president in the process but said she hoped Young would speak out if he has issues with Fitzgerald.

“If he has concerns about the candidate that’s been nominated, I hope he tells the world,” she said.

Pugh also shared some more details of the way Fitzgerald, 47, emerged as her pick. She said a panel of three high-ranking police officials from other cities interviewed candidates with the aid of two members of her staff. The officials forwarded three names to the mayor — a process Pugh said is similar to the one used for other top-level hires she has made.

The mayor disputed an account by WMAR-TV that cited an unnamed source who said Fitzgerald was not the panel’s top recommendation; Pugh said the panel’s choices weren’t ranked.

One of the final three candidates did not have experience as a chief, a qualification important to the mayor, and the other had not submitted an application, so she was unwilling to consider the person. The significance of the candidate’s not applying or how the person became a candidate was not clear.

Pugh said that City Solicitor Andre Davis also reviewed resumes, in addition to Young and her.

Pugh named Fitzgerald as her choice Friday and on Monday the City Council set out a two-month timeline for reviewing him. Davis, Young’s spokesman, said that extended timeline was the result of a request Young made to give the council plenty of time to do its work.

“He has greenlit a process that is incredibly inclusive,” Davis said.

Pugh began searching for a new police commissioner in May, after her previous choice, Darryl De Sousa, resigned after being charged with failing to file federal tax returns. He had only been in office a few months. If Fitzgerald starts as acting commissioner before Jan. 1, he would become the police department’s fourth leader this year.

While the public will now have a chance to weigh Fitzgerald, who previously served as chief in Missouri City, Texas, and Allentown, Pa., activists continue to say there should have been move public involvement in the process of choosing him.

Ray Kelly, the chief executive of the No Boundaries Coalition, said Young’s role didn’t make up for the lack of transparency.

“The people that are going to be served by this commissioner need to be in the know or we'll keep having these situations, debacles and everything,” he said.

As for Fitzgerald, Kelly said, “I’m still in my own personal vetting process.”

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