The confirmation process for Baltimore police commissioner nominee Joel Fitzgerald officially began Thursday, as the City Council takes up his nomination at its final meeting of the year.
Unlike past nominees, Fitzgerald has chosen to stay in his current job as the chief of police in Fort Worth, Texas, saying he’ll begin working in Baltimore once he’s confirmed by a council vote.
On Thursday, The Baltimore Sun reported new details about how Fitzgerald emerged as Mayor Catherine Pugh’s choice. The mayor first met him in May and ultimately picked him from a list of candidates in October.
But Councilman Brandon Scott said the secrecy has harmed Fitzgerald’s candidacy. He said he was disappointed that he had to learn details about the process from The Sun’s report.
“If I go and take the best crab cake in the world — I give you a Koco’s crab cake — but I make you eat it off the bottom of one of the city’s trash cans, it doesn’t matter,” said Scott, who chairs the Public Safety Committee. “You can’t separate the person from the process.”
Even after Fitzgerald was named publicly, council members have called for more information about his background and any vetting the mayor’s team conducted. Four council members have said they won’t vote in favor of his nomination without seeing extensive information about how he was vetted.
One key document has been made public ahead of the council meeting. The city council president’s and the mayor’s offices released copies of Fitzgerald’s resume on Wednesday — a document he previously declined to make public.
The eight-page resume provides details of what he claims as accomplishments in three years as chief of police in Texas, including establishing the police department’s credibility in the community. Fitzgerald describes himself as “a proven public safety executive with multi-disciplinary skills” and a leader who is focused on “providing transparency to the public.”
After Pugh announced her choice Nov. 16, The Sun asked city officials for a copy of the document and was told it was a protected personnel record and Fitzgerald was declining to release it voluntarily.
City Solicitor Andre Davis said Thursday that the resume remained a personnel record.
Lester Davis, a spokesman for Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young, said the city solicitor authorized the council to release it, but he didn’t know on what grounds. Pugh also provided a copy to The Sun.
Pugh said last week that more information would be turned over to council members as part of the nomination. Lester Davis said Wednesday that the council had only received a nomination letter and the resume. It was not immediately clear if the mayor planned to provide more information.
This weekend, a delegation of City Council members and staff is scheduled to travel to Fort Worth with plans to interview community leaders about Fitzgerald’s tenure there.
In the new year, the council is planning two days of hearings on Fitzgerald; a final vote on his nomination won’t happen until at least mid-January.
A panel of police experts assembled by Pugh recommended New Orleans Police Superintendent Michael Harrison as the best choice as new commissioner. But Harrison hadn’t applied for the job and issued a statement this week saying he didn’t want it.
Scott said New Orleans’ similarities to Baltimore — its high crime rate and experience with a federal consent decree mandating police reforms — could have made Harrison a good choice, but he questioned how the panel ended up interviewing him.
“That’s a big question for me: Why would they interview someone that didn't apply for the job?” Scott said. “That’s shocking to me.”
Scott has been calling for an overhaul of the way the police department is overseen, proposing the creation of a board that would play a key role in selecting the department’s day-to-day leader.
“I don’t think that one person should be making the decision,” Scott said. “This whole thing, everyone’s so upset about the process, if you want to change the process you have to change the structure.”