COMMENTARY by BRAD ROLLINS
After joining the department in 1992, Stapp worked his way up the ranks in roles ranging from night patrol supervisor to detective to head of a multi-agency narcotics task force. In 2008, he was promoted to commander and assigned to lead the 17-member Criminal Investigations division; since 2010, Stapp has supervised 85 officers and four non-commissioned employees as the assistant chief for police operations.
Under state law governing civil service employment, police and fire chiefs are “appointed by the municipality’s chief executive and confirmed by the municipality’s governing body.” Lawyers have long wrangled over the significance of a city council’s role in naming public safety department heads. For starters, it’s not clear if a council’s rejection of a manager’s appointment is even binding. The Texas Local Government Code itself is no help because it does not include a definition of “confirm.”
In San Marcos, the confirmation vote would seem to carry even less weight than it might in other municipalities. The city charter explicitly prohibits council members from “instruct[ing] or request[ing] the city manager or any of the city manager’s subordinates to appoint to or remove from office or employment any person” except the four employees who answer directly to the council: the city manager, city attorney, city clerk and municipal judge.
In last November’s municipal elections, voters approved a city charter amendment that seeks to further curb the council’s influence in personnel issues.
Previous amendments to the charter empowered the city council “to remove any city official appointed or approved by the city council.” Since the police and fire chief are confirmed by the council, the provision seemed to give previous councils some sort of legal basis for firing police and fire chiefs. Prior to the last election, the city council, with a simple majority, could ostensibly remove anyone they had previously been asked to confirm. Under the newly amended charter, the council of course can still remove its four direct appointees and residents it names to boards and commissions. But it cannot remove employees hired by the city manager even if the manager seeks the council’s approval for new hires or reassignments.
Council members are sporadically asked to approve key City Hall personnel for reasons that are not clear. Last year, the council affirmed former finance director Steve Parker’s promotion to assistant city manager, for example, and tonight they will vote on whether to approve a new assistant city attorney, Jacqueline Cullom, a former special counsel to the Hays County Commissioners Court. There is no apparent rhyme or reason to when council members are consulted about vacancies they have no apparent authority to fill or un-fill.
As far as the new police chief goes, all of this is just academic; there’s little doubt how the voting will go.
Stapp is highly regarded by a majority of city council members and his confirmation — probably by a unanimous vote — is all but certain. Tonight’s vote amounts to a formality — and a chance for the mayor to have his picture taken with a well-respected law enforcement officer in a photo opp that will be dripping with something resembling irony.
In case you missed the June 25 announcement, here is the full text of the statement issued by city spokesperson Melissa Millecam:
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Chase Stapp, San Marcos Assistant Police Chief and a 25 year law enforcement veteran, has been appointed as Chief of Police to succeed retiring Chief Howard Williams, City Manager Jared Miller announced Wednesday.
The City Council will consider confirmation of the appointment at its July 1 meeting. Chief Williams will retire August 1.
“Chief Stapp possesses a wealth of experience, leadership skills, and a deep knowledge and connection with the San Marcos community,” Miller said. “He has worked in every division from patrol officer to narcotics investigations and has proven himself to be an effective leader in the department, our City organization and our community.”
A San Marcos native, Stapp has 25 years of progressive law enforcement experience after starting as an emergency communications operator with Hays County Sheriff’s office. He joined SMPD in 1992 and rose through the ranks as a police officer, corporal, sergeant, commander to assistant chief.
“I am honored and humbled by support I have received from the men and women of the San Marcos Police Department and the community,” Chief Stapp said. “I look forward to leading this department to new levels of success in partnership with them. I am fortunate to be able to take the helm of a department which can build on the strong foundation laid by Chief Williams and the dedicated employees of the San Marcos Police Department.”
Chief Stapp has worked in every division of the department, serving as a patrol officer, detective, narcotics investigator, night patrol supervisor, training officer, and criminal investigations. As a police sergeant, he supervised a multi-jurisdictional narcotics task force from 2000 to 2008.
Stapp was promoted to Police Commander in 2008, and led the 17-member Criminal Investigations Division (CID), managing the criminal cases and the department’s evidence and property divisions.
He was appointed Assistant Chief in December 2010, heading up Police Operations where he has supervised 85 officers and four civilians and managed a $9.2 million budget covering four divisions, including CID, day and night patrol shifts, and the narcotics task force.
He is a 1988 graduate of San Marcos High School, a magna cum laude graduate of Texas State University in 1999, and will complete the Certified Public Manager Program at Texas State in December 2014.
Stapp serves as co-chair of the “Achieving Community Together” (ACT) Committee, a collaboration between the City of San Marcos and Texas State University to address “town-gown” issues. ACT has won state, national and international awards for its innovations.
He is a member of the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE) Training Advisory Board for the Texas School Safety Center at Texas State and served on the City and Police Association Meet and Confer Committee in 2011. He is a member and chair of the board of directors for the First Christian Church of San Marcos.
Stapp holds a Master Peace Officer Certificate and is a Licensed Firearms Instructor and Licensed Instructor.
He is a member of the International Association of Police Chiefs, Texas Police Association, International City Management Association, Texas Police Chiefs Association, American Society of Law Enforcement Trainers, International Association of Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors and the Texas Narcotics Association.
He won the SMPD Police Commendation Medal in 2000 and the Distinguished Service Award in 2008 and 2009.
“I am very thankful for the confidence that City Manager Jared Miller and the San Marcos City Council have shown in me with this appointment,” Stapp said. “I look forward to working with them and the citizens of this city I have called home for my entire life as we look for ways to make San Marcos an even better place to live and work.”
Chief Stapp’s father, the late Ed Stapp, served SMPD for a decade in the 1970s and later retired as a captain from the Texas Department of Public Safety.
His wife Teri is a second grade teacher at Hays CISD. Their sons, Cole and Kyle are San Marcos natives, graduates of San Marcos High School, and are students at Texas State University.