Pharr police chief candidates down to four

The city of Pharr announced Wednesday it has narrowed down the search for its next police chief to four candidates.

Among the four candidates are interim Pharr Police Chief Jose Luengo, Kingsville Police Department Bureau Commander Julian Cavazos, Palestine Police Chief Andy Harvey and Mike Holguin, a criminal justice instructor with the Arlington Independent School District.

Holguin was not one of the eight finalists recommended by the search firm the city hired to conduct the search, according to Springsted Waters’ Sept. 11 seminal final report, which The Monitor obtained through an open records request. He also was not one of the eight finalists Springsted Waters recommended in its initial April 26 seminal final report, which it revised after the city commission asked the firm to extend its search period for another 30 days after it wanted a larger pool from which to select.

The firm ultimately received 39 applications for those seeking to fill the spot left by longtime chief Ruben Villescas’ Oct. 2, 2017, retirement.

City Manager Juan Guerra was tasked with selecting the four candidates, and he said he made the selection based on all of the applicants’ references and job history. He was assisted by Deputy City Manager Ed Wylie and Human Resources Director Anali Alanis.

“Ultimately, as the city manager it’s my role to hire staff, which includes the police chief, based on the job application and the job history of the candidates that were presented to me that I think are the best fit for the city of Pharr,” Guerra said.

“All (the search firm) is doing is providing recommendations,” he said. “Ultimately it’s my best judgment on what will best for the city of Pharr.”

Per the city’s desired qualifications, according to Springsted Waters’ search materials, “police management experience in a border environment is preferred,” and candidates “must be able to speak Spanish at least at the conversational level,” among possessing knowledge of police department operations and management.

Luengo joined the Pharr Police Department in 2007 as a public service officer and within eight years was promoted to administrative/patrol lieutenant, according to his resume. The department’s six lieutenants serve under the assistant police chief.

Cavazos has been with the Kingsville Police Department since 1986 and as bureau commander is second in command of the department, of which he served as interim police chief in 2003, according to his resume.

While Harvey has “never worked in proximity to an international border,” according to his application materials, he is a Rio Grande Valley native and was employed by the Dallas Police Department from 1996 to 2017, rising to the rank of lieutenant prior to being named chief of the Palestine Police Department in August 2017.

Holguin worked for the Dallas and Arlington Police Departments, according to his LinkedIn profile, and served as acting chief of police at the University of Texas at Brownsville from June 2014 to February 2015, until he took a position as assistant chief of police for The University of Texas at Arlington Police Department. He held that role until June 2016, according to his profile.

Guerra said the city may begin interviewing the four candidates as early as next week. The candidates will go before a panel, including Guerra, Wylie, Alanis and a couple of city department directors. If possible, Guerra said he would like to get a police chief from one of the communities in the area to assist with the interviews.

The four candidates will be narrowed down to two finalists who will have a second interview before Guerra and his team makes a hiring decision. Wylie previously told The Monitor he expects such a hiring offer to be made before the end of the year.