Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner has appointed four new city department directors, including a police and fire chief.
It took Turner almost a year, but he has finally filled the two top public safety positions for the city.
He tapped Art Acevedo as Houston’s new police chief. Acevedo had led the Austin Police Department since 2007. Turner called him a “cop’s cop.”
“He joined the department at a time when relations with minorities were strained due to questionable police shootings. He has been credited for a commitment to police legitimacy, accountability and community policing and engagement.”
Once he’s confirmed by the Houston City Council, Acevedo takes over for interim Chief Martha Montalvo, who Turner said did a great job during a difficult time for the police department for the last nine months.
Houston Police Officers Union President Ray Hunt said the union would have preferred the next chief to come from their own ranks.
But said he he supports Acevedo.
“I know that he’s going to have a tough road to get the embracing of the troops, but I believe with his energy and his attitude that he’ll be able to do it,” Hunt said.
For the city’s fire chief, the mayor appointed Samuel Peña, who has been a firefighter since 1995 and led the El Paso Fire Department for the past three-and-a-half years.
“He has previous experience as a firefighter, paramedic, media spokesperson, advanced medical coordinator, combined search and rescue team member, hazardous materials and special rescue task force member and the academy training chief,” Turner said.
Peña replaces Rodney West, who had been interim fire chief since October of last year.
Turner said he waited so long to fill these key public safety positions because he first wanted to reach a deal with the fire and police pension boards.
“There was some issues that we need to take care of that were very sensitive and I did not want to add to it, to the difficulty of resolving the pension issue,” he said.
The deal addresses the long underfunded city employee pensions. Last month, all three of the city’s pension boards agreed on a deal.
Marty Lancton, Houston’s firefighter association president, said union members wish Peña well, but urge him to challenge Houston City Hall.
“Job one for Chief Peña will be to better balance his obligations at City Hall against those he will have to the 4,000 firefighters who have earned his support,” Lancton said.
Houston City Council member Brenda Stardig, who chairs the city’s public safety committee, said she’s impressed with the new chiefs after asking them some hard questions.
“I felt the professionalism. I also understood the direction that they wanted to go and I look forward to the technology and professionalism that they’re going to bring forward in the leadership that they bring. The expertise is what I think I’m really looking at,” Stardig said.
Turner pointed out that both new chiefs are fluent in Spanish.
Turner also appointed a new presiding municipal court judge, Elaine Marshall, a permanent director for the housing department, Tom McCasland, and reappointed the first transgender municipal judge in Texas, Phyllis Frye.