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In interview, former Pharr police Chief Andy Harvey tells his side of the story

In mid-September, when Pharr police Chief Andy Harvey abruptly resigned, the city released a curt statement.

“We thank Andy for his dedicated work to the City of Pharr during his two years as Chief, and we wish him the best in his future endeavors,” Mayor Ambrosio “Amos” Hernandez said in the statement, which didn’t explain why Harvey resigned.

Harvey had served as both police chief and city manager since April. In the span of just seven days, he resigned from both positions.

The Progress Times sat down with Harvey to discuss what happened — and why he quit.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: You worked for the Dallas Police Department for more than 20 years. Served as a police chief in two small towns in North Texas after that. How did you end up in Pharr?

A: Back in 2018, I believe, Pharr opened up a national search for their next chief of police. And, being from the Valley, that intrigued me.

So I submitted my name, my application and all that. And I was chosen as one of the finalists. So I came down to interview. And I was one of the last, final two on that list.

Several weeks passed before we found out who the chief was. They decided to go internally. And I was perfectly fine with that.

I understand timing is the biggest thing when it comes to these jobs. So I appreciated the opportunity, but I kept going.

Fast forward a couple of years, and I receive a phone call asking me if I would still be interested in this position. The timing was right, even for me, at that time. I thought about it, not very long, and I said: “Let’s go.”

And the thing about this opportunity was that I saw the department really needed some good leadership. They needed someone that could bring them together. They were in disarray and just needed someone to lead them.

I felt I could do that. And that drives me, so that helped make my decision pretty quick — to come down here to a place that I know that I could add value.

Q: So you’re here. You’re the police chief. The city is touting your accomplishments. Making a lot of changes at the police department.

And then, this April, less than two years after you became the police chief, the City Commission asks you: “Would you serve as city manager?”

Who offered you the job? And why did you accept that job?

A: The mayor called me and asked me if I would serve as the city manager. But also, at that time, to remain as chief of police as well.

There were some problems with the previous city manager and some changes needed to be done. And it was surrounding his behavior towards employees. His bullying.

(Deputy City Manager Edward M. Wylie, who served as city manager from 2019 to 2022, did not respond to a request for comment.)

I think people — employees, specifically — just had enough. And so a change had to be made, in their opinion.

They saw — I say ‘they’ as in the mayor and commission — what we were able to do at the police department with changing culture and adding value to the city.

And the mayor simply asked me if I would do the same for the city — internally, for the organization.

Again, that drives me because if I can add value, I want to do it. And, being that the mayor asked me, I was all-in.

Q: When you were the police chief, the deputy city manager, Ed Wylie, was your boss. After you became the city manager, he reported to you.

What was your relationship with Mr. Wylie like? And how did that change when you became the city manager?

A: It was kind of an odd relationship. But it’s not uncommon for a chief of police and a city manager to have an awkward relationship.

One thing that I’ve learned is that in most cities, the mayor and the police chief are the most visible. Sometimes that creates tension and that creates problems with the city manager.

So maybe that had something to do with it.

But our relationship was awkward in the sense that we didn’t have one. It was purely professional. And I’m fine with that.

I’m more laid back. I like to build relationships. I like to connect with people. But the previous city manager, that’s not his style. And that’s OK.

Q: In cities with a city manager form of government, the city commission is supposed to set policy and the city manager is supposed to handle the day-to-day operations. Did it work like that in Pharr?

A: So, it’s a strange dynamic here.

You’re absolutely right — it’s a city manager-commission type government.

But that’s not the way things are run here.

So, when I was asked to be city manager, I believed that I would be the city manager. And be able to make moves and decisions on behalf of the organization. Be able to provide accurate, factual information to the mayor and to the commission, in order for them to make better, informed decisions when it comes to policy and big-picture items.

Not having that complete authority really undermined my way of doing things. The way I lead. The way I see things.

It was pretty evident that was not going to be the case shortly after I became the city manager.

Q: You said that you didn’t have that authority. It didn’t work like you thought it would.

What was stopping you from doing that? Or why was your authority diluted?

A: Well, because everything is controlled by the elected officials.

I do believe that they overstep their authority. But I understand, because they’re invested in this community. I get that.

But when it comes down to being in the weeds and putting people in different places and setting salaries. Promotions and demotions and all that, I think that’s a bad thing for any organization.

And it undermines the authority of the city manager. So it makes it doubly hard to be an effective leader of an organization like that.

Q: What was your relationship like with the mayor?

A: I really felt, when he asked me to be the city manager, he genuinely wanted me to help change culture. That’s what I love to do.

And I’ll tell you, it takes a lot of time and effort. But it’s rewarding to me.

So when he asked me that, I was motivated to do that. And we started doing things to change the mindset of our senior leaders, especially.

I wanted them to feel empowered to resolve issues and make decisions at their level. Because what I found was that the power base was on top — like a pyramid.

I don’t think that’s the most effective and efficient way to run an organization. So I was intentional about giving them the power in order to lead their departments. And take ownership of that.

I really feel when we do that, the organization is stronger. But we were starting that process. And didn’t get to finish it because of what happened.

But I really felt that’s what the mayor wanted me to do.

Q: It seems like your relationship with Mr. Wylie really started breaking down just a few months after you became the city manager. Why did that happen?

A: Well, it goes back to the dynamics between the elected officials and senior leadership.

It’s hard to run an organization when you’re undermined, and it goes back to that.

I don’t blame the deputy city manager. I blame the system that we have. And not knowing that, that created, again, tension and frustration on my part. So that’s the main thing.

It’s not personal. I think it’s the system that’s in place. And, again, I think it causes a lot more problems when things are being decided by one or a few individuals outside of the organization.

Q: When you say those “few individuals” outside of the organization, who are you talking about?

A: The elected officials.

And I want to make sure that I respect them as elected officials. I just feel like we had different opinions on my role and their role, ultimately, which led to what happened.

Q: On Aug. 2, you apparently lost your temper with Mr. Wylie. What happened?

A: We talk about the “incident,” but there were things that led up to that. What I discovered that day was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

We were deep in budget discussions preparing for the next fiscal year. And what we discovered was that our current budget was in the red by millions of dollars.

The main reason being that EMS was not working as planned. And it was failing.

Every day we would meet about how we improve EMS. So I started sounding the alarm. But I felt like no one was listening to me.

We were already talking about the possibility of laying off people. And that frustrated me and it concerned me deeply. No one wants to tell anybody to go home because there’s not enough to keep them employed.

So I started sounding the alarms. In my opinion, those alarms should have been sounded six months ago. In order to pivot. Make a move. Make sure that we’re still conducting business in a manner that makes sense and is profitable.

But it wasn’t. And my job was to, I felt, make sure that the mayor and commission had the facts in order to make a better-informed decision.

I understand now that was a political football. And I’m not sure they appreciated me being so brutal with the facts. But I felt that was my job.

And, by the way, Ed was in those meetings as well. He’s the one who orchestrated most of this EMS venture. And helped put us in a position where we were really hurting.

So that day I discovered a purchase was made for cookies in the amount of over $5,700 to help a struggling business owner — and without telling me. Circumventing the purchasing policy.

That was enough for me.

I felt not only was it unnecessary but also unethical to use taxpayer funds in that manner.

I am also a taxpayer of Pharr. I live in Pharr. I bought a house in Pharr. And that was deeply concerning to me.

I understand helping people. We just can’t help people with city money.

So that, to be quite honest, pissed me off.

When I went to go ask Ed about it, he had a very uncaring, nonchalant attitude about it like: “What’s the big deal?”

And I asked him how much the check was that he requested to be issued. He told me that he did not even know the amount.

Now, he’s the one who made the order, so I find it interesting that he would tell me didn’t know what the amount was.

So that really took me another notch of frustration. It took me to a point where I had enough.

Now, given his bully-ish behavior — And it’s well known. It’s not my opinion. Ask anybody in the organization — I felt he could handle a fierce conversation.

(Wylie filed a complaint, which accused Harvey of screaming, swearing and knocking over a chair.

“I fear for my safety, physical well-being and mental stability. Apart from being the City Manager Harvey also serves as the police chief, I’m afraid he will get pd to follow me and try to pin something one (sic) me,” Wylie wrote. “This is by no means normal behavior for a co-worker, much less a city manager. I understand sometimes we get into disagreements, but it should never come to physical altercations, threats or violence.”

An internal investigation conducted by City Attorney Patricia Rigney and Human Resources Director Veronica Ramirez concluded that Harvey had violated city policy.

They recommended termination. Harvey resigned on Sept. 12.)

So I did go at him pretty hard. Not understanding why in the hell he would think that this is OK. Especially given what we had learned.

So he barked back. I barked louder. So it led to, obviously, the heated argument, I should say — where others heard it.

And that’s the part that I deeply, deeply regret.

I’d changed the culture up there where employees could relax and breathe. But that, obviously, threw them for a loop and I hated that.

Now, I apologized to each one of them after that. I told them that would never happen again. They seemed to understand it and accepted my apology. And we moved on.

Q: On Sept. 6, you met with the City Commission to discuss what had happened between you and Mr. Wylie.

How did that conversation go? And why did you decide to step down as city manager after that?

A: You know, I could only tell from my perspective.

There’s things that we can’t discuss because, obviously, it’s privileged. But I can tell you the sentiment was not on my side. I felt like I had a few commissioners that were understanding.

But at the end of the day, this wasn’t about the incident with the deputy city manager. I felt there were other reasons. But they were going to use this in order to — I say “they,” but I’m not sure it’s “they.” It might be one person — make sure I was not close to City Hall anymore.

Q: Which person are you talking about?

A: That would be the mayor.

(Mayor Ambrosio “Amos” Hernandez didn’t respond to a request for comment.)

You know, the mayor has sole authority — for some reason, the commission gave him sole authority to hire and fire the city manager.

So I find it odd that when it came to me, he was able to hire me with his sole decision, but when it came to this, he consulted with the commission to get their vote on it.

Whatever the case, I felt like it was me against all of them plus their outside counsel.

But I was open. I was honest about why I did it. They asked me questions about different things.

Q: Less than a week after you decided to step down as city manager, you also resigned as police chief. Why did you resign as the police chief?

A: So let me go back to that session.

An agreement was made. Because I was doing both. And, to be fair, they had a good point. I knew this too.

I couldn’t do both, sustain it for a long time. I had to give one up.

Well, given what had just recently happened, it was evident that me being city manager in this organization was not going to be the best fit. And so going back to police chief is what we decided on.

As far as we were concerned, this incident was behind us. We move forward.

What changed is that I felt they didn’t keep their part of the agreement. And I knew this was not going to be a relationship that could go back to what it was, unfortunately.

As a leader I know when it’s time to go. And I’ve learned that if you’re holding up the organization or if you’re becoming a distraction it’s time to go.

And it was evident that was not going to be healed. So it was time to go.

But I don’t leave angry. I am hurt by some of the things I discussed with you.

But I wish the city well. And that’s sincere sentiment because I love the people that I worked with. We had great people there. And the hardest thing is leaving them. Because I think we both hated to see each other go.

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