Harlingen public safety director controversy ends with position abolished

Harlingen City Commission

After a 3-2 vote Wednesday, the Harlingen City Commission decided not to move forward with hiring a public safety director.

The top prospect out of the five candidates that applied, according to city officials, was former Harlingen Police Chief Tom Whitten - who left the department in December due to personal reasons.

Both City Manager Carlos Yerena and Mayor Chris Boswell told Action 4 News previously, that he is the most qualified person for the post.

On Wednesday, Commissioner Danny Castillo, also a former Harlingen police chief, changed his mind about the job.

"I don TMt think we have to get a police professional to oversee a fire department," Castillo said.

Castillo and Commissioners Mike Mezmar and Chino Sanchez had the majority rule over Commissioners Victor Leal and Tudor Uhlhorn to abolish the post.

Mayor Boswell says he favored the position since Whitten was the ideal candidate for it - and there was possibly misunderstanding as to the role of the public safety director.

"He would've returned and resumed the duties as chief of police, but he would've also been the first person that the fire chief reported to, instead of having the fire chief report to the city manager."

Harlingen Fire Fighter TMs Association President Joey Ruedas said the commission, ultimately made the right decision. He adds that overseeing two civil service departments, would've been too much for Whitten.

"Even as great as a police chief that he may have been, he wouldn't have had the knowledge or the experience to be able to manage or supervise a fire department - It's two different cultures," Ruedas said.