Joel Fitzgerald, the candidate selected as the next Baltimore police commissioner, needs to win a majority of 15 votes on the City Council to secure the job, but after a round of meetings with council members in late November, his confirmation is facing some initial opposition.
What’s next for Fitzgerald?
Fitzgerald said he plans to continue in his job as chief of the Fort Worth Police Department in Texas until he’s confirmed by the Baltimore City Council. But he’s expected to spend time in Baltimore getting to know the city and its residents.
Mayor Catherine Pugh started the nomination process Dec. 6, when she formally submitted his name to the council. Under the city charter, that gives the council until Jan. 28 to hold a final vote, although one could come sooner, at the council’s Jan. 14 meeting.
If the council doesn’t vote, Fitzgerald’s nomination would automatically be approved.
A delegation of senior council members traveled to Fort Worth on Dec. 9 to learn more about Fitzgerald’s work. In early January, the council’s executive appointments committee will hold two days of hearings on the nomination.
The five-member committee will issue a recommendation on the nomination — either favorable or unfavorable. An unfavorable report wouldn’t doom Fitzgerald, but would likely be a significant obstacle for him to overcome.
The council confirmed the past three nominated commissioners with overwhelming support.
Where do council members stand on the nomination?
Council President Bernard C. Jack Young led the council’s delegation to Fort Worth. He issued a statement following 20 hours of meetings over three days, saying he would have no comment until a formal report describing the trip is released.
Young had been involved in reviewing the resumes of candidates for the police commissioner job before Pugh made her final choice, and Fitzgerald topped his list.
Brandon Scott, chairman of the council’s public safety committee, said he will vote against Fitzgerald unless he’s given the opportunity to see the results of a contractor’s background investigation of the nominee.
“Without a doubt, we should be able to see that information before making a decision,” he said.
Scott was also a member of the delegation that traveled to Texas. He said the trip was worthwhile, but the information gathered during the meetings was only one of the things he would be considering.
“For me, the process has just begun,” Scott said in a statement after the trip.
Ryan Dorsey, vice chairman of the public safety committee, is also demanding to see the background report and said he has sent other conditions for considering the nomination in writing to Pugh’s team.
“Under no circumstances will I vote in favor of any candidate for this position without the mayor’s complete background report and file being provided to me,” Dorsey said.
Dorsey described his initial meeting with Fitzgerald as casual.
“The first impression was not positive,” he said, but he declined to comment further.
Zeke Cohen, a member of the executive appointments committee, announced that he wouldn’t be able to support Fitzgerald without seeing the results of the mayor’s vetting.
Cohen said he asked Fitzgerald personally to release the information but was rebuffed and told to file a Freedom of Information request.
Issac “Yitzy” Schleifer, a member of the executive appointments committee, also pushed for access to the complete background file. He said he would vote “no” unless he can see “everything that they saw.”
“We're supposed to be a partner in this, so it’s my understanding and expectation that we're going to be receiving all information they received,” Schleifer said.
Mary Pat Clarke, a member of the executive appointments committee, called Fitzgerald a “fine contender.”
Clarke said she wanted to talk to her colleagues who have concerns about background materials being withheld.
“If there’s information that they want, and that’s an issue with them, I’ll certainly want to see that information myself,” she said.
Clarke said Fitzgerald told her he hoped to receive strong support from the council. At a news conference Nov. 26, he noted that he had been unanimously confirmed in the three other cities where he has served as chief.
“It matters to him that he would be approved, but also that he would be approved not reluctantly,” Clarke said.
Bill Henry said he had a wide-ranging conversation with Fitzgerald, but planned to set the question of the nomination aside for a week or two and won’t make a final decision on how to vote until after the committee hearings.
Henry said he expected the council would ultimately receive the background information it needs and said he doubted the mayor would nominate someone with a skeleton in his closet.
“I am confident that the background information will be very much like the foreground information,” he said. “The guy is smart, the guy is accomplished.”
Ed Reisinger said he wanted the regular council process with committee hearings to play out and would not withhold his vote over questions about access to Fitzgerald’s background investigation.
“What’s missing here with some of my colleagues here is that the City Council is an institution and there's a process,” Reisinger said.
Reisinger said he hadn’t made up his mind, but was impressed by his conversation with Fitzgerald.
“He wants to come Baltimore and he strongly believes that he can turn it around,” he said.
Shannon Sneed said Nov. 29 that Fitzgerald seemed like “a very nice guy,” but she needed more information and time to consider her decision.
“It’s such, to me, a big position that needs to be filled, and we can't throw anybody in there,” she said.
Sneed said Nov. 26 that she trusted that the mayor’s vetting of him was thorough.
John Bullock said he got a positive first impression of Fitzgerald after meeting him, but wanted to gather more information.
“It was a good conversation,” Bullock said.
Robert Stokes, the chairman of the executive appointments committee, said he was waiting to see what information the mayor turns over as part of Fitzgerald’s formal nomination.
“I haven’t asked for anything,” he said. “I want to see it first. Then, I'll see if I want some additional information.”
Stokes said that in their initial conversation in late November, Fitzgerald demonstrated a good understanding of the consent decree and talked about the importance of giving officers support to do their jobs.
“I didn’t get no bad vibes from him,” Stokes said.
Eric Costello said he was keeping an open mind about Fitzgerald and described an initial meeting with him as a good discussion. Costello said he would be considering the report from the Fort Worth trip, the January hearings in Baltimore and the views of his constituents when deciding which way to vote.
Kristerfer Burnett, a member of the executive appointments committee, declined to comment on Fitzgerald.
Council members Sharon Middleton and Leon Pinkett did not return messages seeking comment on Fitzgerald.