Thursday, October 18, 2012
McKinney citizens protest city manager
Some in the packed City Hall brandished signs and "Say No to Jason Gray" stickers and pins.
MCKINNEY Citizens came out in droves Tuesday night to protest McKinney City Manager Jason Gray's recent removal of Doug Kowalski as police chief.
They held signs and wore stickers adorned with Gray's face marked out in red, remnants of the "McKinney Says No to Jason Gray" Facebook page started in response to his decision.
The rest of the City Council's agenda seemed irrelevant and awkwardly intertwined between citizens' and council members' comments on the situation.
"The credibility of this governing body is at stake, and you must exercise your ability to right the ship," said resident Jon Antonia. "Failing to do so will leave you with a huge credibility gap and a question of who is in charge. You must act and act now."
Most who spoke expressed their anger not so much with Gray's decision, but with his method and subsequent replacement, long-time co-worker and former Deputy City Manager Joe Williams. Following his decision October 5, Gray sent an email to the rest of the police department announcing the change via a YouTube video.
"I don't know what happened or what the reasoning was, the way in which this was handled was very wrong, and it has brought embarrassment to our community and our city," said Jolie Williams, a resident who told the council more than 200 people have joined the anti-Gray Facebook page. "This is nothing that we can stand for and tolerate ... so I highly encourage you to take into consideration what your constituents say."
Only a few others spoke, but City Hall was filled to capacity, with many standing along the back walls. Mayor Brian Loughmiller once had to ask for order in the chambers as onlookers applauded commenting residents.
Some, including Loughmiller, prefaced their opinions with praise for Kowalski, who served with the police department for 12 years during the city's vast and rapid growth.
Tracy Rath, chair of the McKinney Community Development Corporation board, questioned whether Gray has the city's best interests at heart, and why a national search for the most qualified candidate wasn't done for Williams' previous position and likely will not be conducted for his new position as chief.
Council members and Gray responded after the regular agenda. Other than Councilman Ray Ricchi, who reemphasized disagreement with Gray's handling expressed last week in a public statement, remaining council members adamantly defended Gray for his right to make personnel decisions and urged citizens to move on.
"In the last 18 months, our city manager's done an excellent job," Councilman Don Day said, referencing several major economic developments that were jumpstarted in that time. "Being a public official ... means that you're going to irritate somebody every time that you make a decision, and if we fire our city manager every time we disagree with him, we'll never get anything done."
Day and Council member Geralyn Kever dismissed the "cronyism" that some suspect surrounds the change, and urged residents to recognize Gray's accomplishments and hard work.
Ricchi's and Loughmiller's recent personal statements talk of their disagreement with Gray's decision, with Ricchi stating how Gray's reasons in closed session didn't warrant Kowalski's removal.
Gray and council members said they cannot disclose exact reasons because of confidentiality laws, but Gray said Tuesday night and explained in a statement released earlier in the day that there were communication issues between Kowalski and the city manager's office, and that there wasn't consistent discipline within the police department.
"It's inherently unfair to criticize the city manager when he's not allowed to defend himself," Kever told the crowd, in a sentiment echoed by Councilman David Brooks. "There's some takeaways, there's some lessons to be learned -- I personally have learned a few and I expect everyone around this table has, as well -- and I think it's time to tighten up our bootstraps and move on."
Following further council pleas for residents to look at the bigger picture and judge Gray on his entire time with the city, not just on one decision, the person in focus had the floor.
"I believe that part of the strength of a democracy is the freedom of its citizens to, frankly, criticize the decisions of its leaders," Gray said. "I will learn from the criticism to an extent, to the extent that it's productive. To the extent that it's personal, about me or any of the other staff members, frankly that's nothing for me to learn from. I am hopeful this community can learn from the non-productive nature of personal attacks."
Several police officers and firefighters were also in attendance. Some residents have vied not to give up their protest until Gray is fired -- one even suggested a removal similar to Kowalski's.
There seemed a semblance of common ground by meeting's end, but such a removal likely isn't imminent.
"I think everybody up here has said how they feel; we don't have to agree on every issue or how things transpire," Loughmiller said. "The reality is we have to move forward and we have to move forward in a positive way."
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