Austin interim city manager appoints head of police oversight without promised national search
Austin has named interim Director Gail McCant to run the Office of Police Oversight — one of the highest profile offices in the city. And it has done so without public notice.
Created in 2018, the office oversees police policy, conduct and discipline. Essentially, the department is tasked with holding police accountable. Farah Muscadin, who started in 2018, ran the department until last September when she stepped down.
Then City Manager Spencer Cronk promised the city would begin a national search for a new director. When Jesús Garza was appointed interim city manager after Cronk was fired, he promised the same.
“[We] will be conducting a thorough national search,” he wrote in a memo to the mayor and council members in May.
But that did not happen.
On Friday, Garza sent an internal memo naming McCant to the position permanently. She became interim director in June. The appointment was made without public engagement and without notifying employees in the oversight office.
Yasmeen Hassan, a city spokesperson, told KUT that while a national search was promised, it is “not an unusual situation whereby the interim city manager has been able to assess leadership abilities and name those serving in an interim capacity to a permanent position.”
Chris Harris, policy director with the Austin Justice Coalition, said the move was an "affront" to the community and what it was promised — a national search to find the best person possible for the job.
"It's yet another long-term decision made by an interim city manager not in the best interest of people of color in this community," he said. "And we're frankly sick of it and sick of him.”
In a written statement, city officials said: “Gail McCant was named Interim Director in June and has given the interim city manager ample opportunity to assess her ability to serve as director. … This has been done for various positions, including the Chief Information Officer, Director of Austin Resource Recovery, three General Managers at Austin Energy, etc.”
McCant was not available for comment on Friday.
Council Member Mackenzie Kelly told KUT that City Council members got a memo about the appointment Friday.
“I was not aware Spencer [Cronk] had promised a national search but clearly we have a new city manager and he is appointed to make personnel decisions,” Kelly said. “If Jesús thinks she is a good person for that role then I defer to Jesús and his decision.”
Kelly added McCant "has been nothing but a joy to work with.”
McCant has "over 25 years of experience enforcing civil rights, human rights and employee rights work," according to city documents. She previously served as administrator of the City of Austin’s Office of Civil Rights, formerly the Equal Employment and Fair Housing Office.