Rybak will extend McManus’s contract

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In a unprecedented move designed to keep Police Chief William McManus in town, Mayor R.T. Rybak Tuesday announced he would re-nominate the chief for a new three-year contract and push the council to confirm him by the end of March.

“I want to send a very strong signal to the hundreds of police officers on the force,” Rybak said.

McManus’s contract was set to expire at the end of the year, and last Wednesday Rybak notified him that he would be re-nominating him for the position. That’s when McManus told the mayor he was interviewing for the police chief job in San Antonio. According to one City Hall insider, the news of the interview “came out of the blue” and prompted Rybak to push for the early confirmation vote.

The chief said he was “gratified” by the show of support from Rybak and several council members who attended the press conference, but added that he would remain one of eight candidates for the San Antonio post. “I want to let the process play out and see what develops,” he said.

In explaining why he chose to interview for the San Antonio job, McManus said, “The opportunity presented itself at a time when I felt somewhat insecure in my tenure there.”

Asked what made him feel so insecure, the chief pointed to a stipulation in the city charter that prevents any re-nomination process from beginning until six months before his contract expires. “That’s not a comfortable window for me to look for a job,” he said.

Was he aware of that situation when he accepted the job two years ago?

“No, I wasn’t,” he said.

McManus denied that he was using the San Antonio interview as leverage to force an early confirmation vote, and Rybak rejected any notion that the city could be confronted with a bidding war should McManus be offered the San Antonio post. “We’re not going to get into a bidding war,” Rybak said. “I don’t think the chief wants that.”

The mayor’s push for an early confirmation, however, is likely to raise some eyebrows on the council. Ways and Means Committee chair Paul Ostrow, a McManus supporter, said he’s concerned about creating a precedent that could conceivably affect future contract dealings with other city department heads. “I support the chief, but I’m worried about the process,” he said.

Rybak acknowledged that there are plenty of opportunities for other department heads to attempt to use a job interview elsewhere to gain leverage in their own contract negotiations. “I can’t even count the number of opportunities there are,” he said. But he downplayed any concerns about the precedent-setting nature of the deal.

The City Council’s Public Safety and Regulatory Services Committee will hold a public hearing on the McManus re-appointment on March 22, according to a schedule released by the mayor’s office. The full council will vote on the matter on March 31.

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