Police Chief Nomination Process Not Following Past Practice, Former County Officials Say
Elrich’s choice became public before council got official notice
Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich’s police chief nomination differs from top appointments under previous administrations, in that the name of his choice became public before he told the County Council himself.
The protocol in 2004, when J. Thomas Manger was nominated as Montgomery County’s police chief, was that the executive branch told the council informally first. The goal was to ensure there was enough support on the council to confirm an appointment before making a formal announcement, county officials from that era said.
In the case of Tonya Chapman, Elrich’s nominee for police chief, word of her nomination was leaked to the media before council members were notified. Council members are now attempting to vet Chapman despite not getting Elrich’s official word that she is his nominee.
Elrich, a former council member, has yet to formally send Chapman’s name to the County Council as his nominee for police chief through a packet of information and process known as “transmittal.” But the county executive has publicly acknowledged that Chapman is his choice.
Additionally, Chapman was at the council office building on July 30 to meet informally with members one on one, just prior to the council’s August recess.
Chapman’s name was first reported by The Washington Post on July 11, when she was one of two finalists for the position.
Manger retired as chief in April after 15 years in the position. Manger was replaced first by Acting Police Chief Russ Hamill, then Marcus Jones, after Hamill became the police chief in Laurel earlier this summer.
On July 17, Chapman became the lone candidate when Takoma Park Police Chief Antonio DeVaul withdrew his name. Following DeVaul’s withdrawal, Elrich confirmed to multiple media outlets that Chapman was his nominee and that she would be meeting with council members.
Council President Nancy Navarro said in an interview last week that the council intends to schedule an interview with Chapman in September in open session, but must receive the transmittal first. A transmittal typically includes a job candidate’s name, previous work experience and a note from the executive branch that staff members have done a background check.
Elrich, in an interview earlier this week, said he didn’t think it was significant that he hadn’t sent Chapman’s name to the council.
“It’s a formality. Like I said before, I wanted people to meet her without a transmittal staring at them. That was the practice, and has been the practice for years with candidates who get vetted before they’re formally sent over. So, I wanted to afford her a period of time to deal with that,” he said.
Elrich acknowledged that the finalists for the chief position had “leaked out” to the public, but he hopes to give her a chance to meet the council members privately before her public interview before the council.
Former County Executive Doug Duncan, who nominated Manger, said he didn’t remember the specific process of the last police chief nomination, but it was common for council members to meet nominees for important positions before a formal public hearing.
“You want them [council members] to have some sort of comfort level. You don’t want them to meet the person at a public hearing,” he said.
Duncan said that typically he would hold a press conference to formally announce the selection of a major nominee, then the person’s name would promptly be submitted to the council for a hearing and a confirmation.
“When we selected someone, we knew they were the right quality,” he said.
Duncan said that one time in 1994, after he first was elected county executive, a member of his transition team leaked to the media that he planned to replace then-police chief Clarence Edwards. He said the leak was a rare but “unfortunate” occurrence.
Steve Silverman, a council member from 1998 to 2006, said he remembers Manger’s nomination as a “no brainer” because Manger previously ran Fairfax County, Va.’s police department — comparable in size to Montgomery’s.
Silverman said he didn’t remember anything more specific about that nomination, but the council would always “vet” a nominee before it went to a public hearing.
“That’s the way it was under Duncan. That’s the way it was under Ike [Leggett]. It isn’t just gonna be, ‘We’re sending a name over,’” he said.
Silverman said he doesn’t think a county executive would send a nomination to the council without knowing there are enough votes for confirmation.
“It would be customary to vet a potential nominee with council members before the name was public,” he said. “The last thing council members want is to be forced to vote for a nominee because the name has been out there in the public and the county executive says you have to vote for my nominee.”
Silverman added that the police chief search has drawn a “heightened level of interest” due to numerous controversies associated with the department during the last year.
Former council member Mike Knapp, who served from 2002 to 2010, agreed that it is unusual for a nominee’s name to become public before it has officially been sent to the council for confirmation. He said Chapman has been placed in a difficult spot because she is meeting with council members without a clear sense of how her confirmation will go.
“It’s a very awkward situation to put the nominee in. It creates a very difficult situation for her and for the department. At some point, he [Elrich] has to make the decision as to whether that’s his nominee,” he said.
Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.email@example.com