Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Dr. Straub Likely Not Going Anywhere

Public Safety Director
Frank Straub
As many predicted, Frank Straub is not going anywhere for the foreseeable future as Public Safety Director.

Dr. Straub, who has been eerily quiet since his resignation announcement in April, was supposed to be cleaning out his office tomorrow and heading for another locality.  According to the Indianapolis Star, Straub is going to likely be here until a successor is found--whenever that is.

It doesn't sound like there's any sense of urgency to find his replacement.  Straub is, according to the Seattle Times, a finalist for the Spokane, Washington police chief job.  The Times reports that Straub was in town on July 25 for an interview.

If he doesn't get that job, the Ballard Administration could continue to drag its feet on replacing Dr. Straub.  I would have to say that if I was someone who thought I was getting another position, I wouldn't commit to stay on here.  The Star article is ambiguous as to whether or not Straub agreed to stay on, but the city is apparently trying to keep him.

I guess we will see what happens from here.


Paul K. Ogden said...

Some legal background. The statute says the Public Safety Director serves at the pleasure of the Mayor, but it also says he must be reappointed by the Mayor and confirmed by the Council every year. The only logical way to read those two provisions is that Straub serves at the pleasure of the Mayor during his one year term, i.e. that he can be removed by the Mayor before the end of the one year. (To read it otherwise is to render meaningless the appointment and confirmation process.)

That "at the pleasure" appointment is in contrast to many mayoral appointments to boards and commissions where appointees serve fixed terms and can't be removed before the end of the term. That is done to isolate those individuals from influence by the Mayor, something you wouldn't want with the Public Safety Director.

I think that's what doomed Mr. Straub. It wasn't a legally sound position that he could stay on without the council's approval.
But there is a loophole in the law. Straub can resign and the Mayor can appoint an "acting" director until he gets a new director. There is nothing in the law that says the Mayor can't appoint Straub as the "acting " director. At some point you could litigate whether he truly is acting....arguing that there is no actual attempt to fill the position and the "acting" designation is merely a ruse to try to get around the law. But a court is unlikely to want to get involved in such management issues.

Jon Easter said...

I honestly think this is Mayor Ballard's Administration thumbing its nose at the public again.

You may remember, Straub was under severe scrutiny before he resigned. When he resigned, the City-County Council scrutiny went away.

Since Straub serves "at the pleasure" of the executive, he could serve forever as the acting director.

The way I see it: he's not going anywhere but Spokane.

Paul K. Ogden said...

Jon, I've made this point, before, but will do so again. Statutes are not to be interpreted in such a way to render parts of the statute meaningless.

The relevant statute provides:

1) The Mayor appoints the Public Safety Director for a one year term with that appointment being confirmed by the Council.
2) The Public Safety Director serves at the pleasure of the Mayor.

A basic rule of statutory intepretation is you don't interpret #2 in such a way as to render #1 meaningless. The obvious intent is that the Director serves at the pleasure of the Mayor during his one year term. That that is exactly what the legislature intended is evidenced by the fact that many mayoral appointees (such as those to certain boards and commissions) do not serve at the pleasure of the Mayor. Once they are appointed, the Mayor can't removee them until the end of their terms, thus giving them some independence. You wouldn't want that with a Director position...you would want the Mayor to have the authority to remove that person.

It's not the "at the pleasure" of the Mayor language that lets Straub stay, but the other part of the statute that allows the Mayor to appoint an acting Director until a new Director can be found. I know the Mayor's office was claiming the "at the pleasure" language gave them the authority to let Straub stay over the wishes of the council, but I think they knew that interpretaton was as phony as a $3 bill which is why they decided to not take on the Council.