By the barest of margins, Brownwood voters decided Saturday that the city’s next police chief will be appointed rather than elected.
Voters approved Proposition 1 — to amend the city’s charter to abolish the position of elected police chief — by a count of 1,011 “yes” votes (51.61 percent) to 948 “no” votes (48.39 percent), according to information from the Brown County Election Administrator’s Office.
The measure voters approved specifies that Police Chief Virgil Cowin, who was first elected in 1996, will remain in office until his current term expires in May 2010. Cowin had said he favored an elected police chief.
Cowin, 71, said he plans to finish his term and will have 50 years in law enforcement when it is over.
Backers stressed that they were not targeting Cowin and did not want to interfere with his term — his fourth.
“Our voters have spoken. … The voters of Brownwood, Texas, have been so good to me and I would never criticize the voters,” Cowin said by phone from his home Saturday night.
“The voters have always been more than fair to me. When voters speak, I listen.”
Cowin said he was disappointed and surprised that voters approved Proposition 1, but said “that’s the voters’ right.”
Citizens for a Safer Brownwood, the group that asked Brownwood City Council members to place the measure on the ballot, had stressed several points including, it said, greater accountability with an appointed chief and the ability to attract a larger applicant pool.
“The word is ‘overjoyed,’” said Steven McCrane, the group’s chairman. “Yes, it was a slim majority, but a majority nonetheless. This was about our future.”
He said the proposition’s passage means “the department doesn’t have to endure the election process that tore that department up every four years.”
Opponents had raised several issues as well, including the folly of people giving up their right to vote and the danger of an appointed chief being controlled by a few council members.
The Brownwood Municipal Police Association had voted to endorse the citizens group’s proposal for an appointed chief, BMPA members including its president, Mitch Slaymaker, said.
“We’re just real glad the citizens listened to the collective voice of the officers that serve them,” Slaymaker, a patrol sergeant, said by phone Saturday night.
“We just believe this is going to help Brownwood as it propels forward. We knew it was going to be close. When you talk about a person’s right to vote, emotion is involved.”
Slaymaker said 91 percent of the department’s officers are in the BMPA and that 86 percent of the members had voted to endorse Proposition 1.
“Our number one priority has always been, and always will be, serving the citizens,” Slaymaker said, adding that the proposition was never about the current police administration.
“Relations within the department are going to be fine. It’s not going to affect how we operate or what we do every day.”
Brownwood resident Henry Upfold, who had spoken publicly in favor of an elected chief, said it’s a step backwards for the city and that supporters “have bought themselves a whole bunch of trouble.”
“I think they’re going to find out it’s not going to work like they think it is,” Upfold said. “After (Cowin) retires, the (new chief) is going to be a ‘yes’ man to the city council. If they don’t like what he’s doing, they will get rid of him, plain and simple,” Upfold said.
“I’m very disappointed. It’s going to go backwards because everyone from the city manager on up to the city council and mayor are going to have a say in what the police department does.”
Hardly, City Councilman Carl McMillan said. He said the only power the council has is “in session, with an agenda item, voting on the recommendation of the city manager.
“The council won’t interfere with any department head, including the police chief. I think (an appointed chief) is better. People on both sides of the issue had good issues and I respect those opinions.”
Brownwood is one of four Texas municipalities that have elected police chiefs, officials have said.