Austin police chief to lead HPD; mayor appoints new fire chief and other key positions

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HOUSTON — In a sweeping announcement, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner named four new department directors and a reappointment Thursday. Pending City Council confirmation, Austin Police Department Chief Art Acevedo will assume the position of HPD police chief and El Paso’s Samuel Pena will take over the fire department.

“Acting Police Chief Martha Montalvo and Acting Fire Chief Rodney West have performed exemplary in dealing with some challenges and we are indebted to them for their service,” said Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner. “I had said all along that once we reached solution to our pension problems, I would move quickly to fill key positions. This is the team that will carry us into 2017 and beyond. We are going to build upon the successes of 2016 and be even more transformative, innovative and responsive.”

Martha Montalvo has acted as the city's interim police chief since February when Chief Charles McClelland announced his retirement after 39 years with the department. Montalvo is the first Latina and second woman to ever lead HPD.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler released a statement Thursday morning congratulating  Acevedo on his transfer to HPD. The first Hispanic to lead APD, Acevedo has lead the department since July 2007.

“Houston is getting a world-class police chief," Adler said. "Chief Acevedo has made our community safer and closer, and he is trusted and much loved by so many. Austin is losing a moral and joyous leader, and I'm losing a friend."

Acevedo has served as Austin’s police chief since 2007.  His 30 years of law enforcement experience began as a field patrol officer in East Los Angeles.  In Austin, he oversaw a department with more than 2,400 sworn officers and support personnel and a $370 million annual budget.  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.  His accomplishments include creating a special investigative unit to criminally investigate officer involved shootings and a new disciplinary matrix.  Acevedo holds a Bachelor of Science in Public Administration from the University of La Verne, is a graduate of the FBI’s National Executive Institute and speaks fluent Spanish.

Pena joined the El Paso Fire Department in 1995 and then rose through the ranks to the position of fire chief, which he has held since 2013.  He has previous experience as a fire fighter, paramedic, media spokesperson, advanced medical coordinator, Combined Search and Rescue Team member, Hazardous Materials & Special Rescue Task Force member and academy training chief. He has a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice and a Master’s Degree in Business Administration from the University of Texas at El Paso.  He is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force where he served for four years as an air control specialist. Like Acevedo, he is fluent in Spanish.

The mayor also announced that he has selected Judge Elaine Marshall to be the new presiding judge of Houston Municipal Courts, Tom McCasland as the permanent director of the Department of Housing and Community Development and the reappointment of Phyllis Frye to another term as a municipal court judge.

Judge Marshall was first appointed a municipal court judge in 1987. She assumed the position of associate presiding judge in 2014 and she is responsible for supervising more than 20 full time judges and court security officers. She presides over the City’s Teen Court and assisted with the launching of the court’s new computer system. Prior to joining city government, she served as an adjunct professor of law at Texas Southern University and as an assistant Harris County District Attorney. She graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology.

McCasland has been serving as interim director of the Houston Department of Housing and Community Development since July. He was previously employed as the chief executive officer for the Harris County Housing Authority and also has experience working as a contractor for the Bayou Greenways 2020 project and Vinson and Elkins LLP. His law degree is from Yale University, and he holds a Bachelor’s Degree from Hobe Sound Bible College and a Master’s Degree from Baylor University.

Frye, the first openly transgender judge appointed in Texas, has served on the municipal bench since 2010. She graduated from Texas A&M University with a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering and a Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering and later earned a Master of Business Administration and Juris Doctor Degree from the University of Houston. She was honorably discharged from the United States Army in 1972 and transitioned in 1976.

“Beyond being very capable, this group also reflects the diversity of this great city,” said Turner. “It is important that we have a leadership team at City Hall that is able to understand the different populations they serve.”

The mayor is expected to ask City Council to confirm his nominees on Nov. 30.