The man they call “Officer” in Houston, they call “Councilman” out in Pasadena.
And what a story Officer/Councilman Jeff Wagner, an HPOU board member, has to tell about, well, his special “extra job.”
To begin with, the 32-year senior police officer – who joined the ranks at age 19 fresh out of Galena Park High School – was elected unopposed last spring and often takes HPD vacation days in order to attend Pasadena City Council meetings that are held in the morning.
And – you won’t believe this – the first major issue Councilman Wagner faced was weather or not to vote in significant raises for Pasadena police officers!
“We got ‘em all raises,” Wagner explained. “You make $58,000 your first year.” Then came a pause before he laughed and said, “I know. I know. It’s $53,000 in Houston.
“I’m very proud of that vote. I worked on the issue prior to my election. They listened to me on that one. They have a state pension that’s very sound. There’s no controversy over funding.”
Now, how did a veteran patrol officer who has spent every year since 1995 in the Robbery Division get bitten by the political bug?
It started with the deep devotion to serving the public. After graduating with from Galena Park in 1982 he was 18 and became the youngest reserve police officer in his hometown. A year later he joined HPD as a graduate of Cadet Class No. 113 in 1983, having been inspired by a solo motorcycle officer named Tommy Gage. “I wanted to be just like him,” Wagner said.
Now Gage serves as sheriff of Montgomery County.
Officer Wagner trained with the Park Place Rangers and spent time in Special Operations, the Jail, Central Patrol, South Central Patrol, Southeast Patrol and Clear Lake.
He’s an admitted “team player” who doesn’t like to toot his own horn. The record clearly shows that he has been known to distinguish himself for outstanding police work.
The year 1989 especially stands out.
That year the 100 Club of Greater Houston presented Wagner with Officer of the Year honors after the then Southeast Patrol officer came upon an automobile engulfed in flames. The driver was trapped inside. Wagner broke out the driver’s side window, untangled the driver from his seat and pulled him out as the flames kissed the Houston sky.
Right after Officer Wagner pulled the driver out, the car exploded.
That same year, the Houston Police Patrolmen’s Union (HPPU) named Wagner Patrol Officer of the Year for his actions in a different event. There was a man standing at the top of a four-story building threatening to jump to his death. Officer Wagner went up to the far reaches of an HFD ladder truck and talked the man down.
Upon reflection, Wagner now laughs and said, “Why I did that I’ll never know. I’m scared of heights.”
Yet when he came back down the ladder from that four-story height, the officer had the would-be suicide victim at his side.
He hails from a strong family, having been the son of a chemical plant valve repair technician who worked on the Houston Ship Channel and a stay-at-home mom. Galena Park. Wagner and wife Ginny have two daughters, Jillian, a Hempstead school teacher and Jessica, who with her husband, Blake Douglas, works in the oil business.
Jessica and Blake parent Jeff and Ginny’s first grandson, 20-month-old Branson.
“My wife has lived in Pasadena all her life,” Wagner explained. “I’ve lived her the last 19 years and have been involved in church and all kinds of activities throughout the community and I just wanted to serve the city.”
Just to name a few civic endeavors, Wagner was active in the Baywood Oaks Community Association, fundraising for the Pasadena Pet Adoption Center and the clean-up of Armand Bayou, just to name a few.
Pasadena has a warm place in its collective heart for HPD veterans. In fact, three retirees have succeed one another as chief of police of this great suburban city – Floyd Daigle, Tommy Shane and (current chief) Mike Thaler.
Last May, Wagner filed for the open City Council seat for District F and, as the old political saying goes, “failed to draw opposition” for a two-year term. Pasadena’s council has a mayor, two at-large members and six others who serve single-member districts.
As you would expect, not all the issues out there are easily resolved.
“Right now we’re discussing raising the water rates,” Councilman Wagner said. “I hate that but it’s needed. Councilman Cary Bass and myself are not for raising the rates for anybody 65 or over. The rates would be raised 8.2 percent. The discussions are still in progress.”
The councilman effectively juggles his Pasadena business schedule with his Houston Robbery officer’s duties.
“When I leave work here (1200 Travis), I always go to City Hall,” he explained. “I spend an hour or two answering emails and when citizens want to discuss problems, I go to their house and talk to them.
“It’s amazing that when I show up at people’s houses, they really believe that somebody from City Hall really cares about them.”
True, sometimes the issues are small ones – such as high grass, uneven sidewalks or a neighbor not taking care of his curb appeal – but Councilman Wagner stressed that “I don’t mind spending time with them taking care of their issues, large or small.”
Officer Wagner works the 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. shift and burns a vacation day on the first Tuesday of every month in order to attend the daytime meetings that necessitate the presence of Councilman Wagner. The other council meeting of the month is held at night, thus posing no work conflict.
Wagner has been a board member of the Houston Police Officers Union for six years. So, one might say, he’s used to politics and thorny issues.
Speaking of which, Pasadena Mayor Johnny Isbell will be “termed out” in May 2017.
One guess as to who many Pasadena civic leaders are mentioning as a possible successor.
Friends and political colleagues are urging Councilman Wagner to consider getting into the race and he’s in the process of “launching a committee to see if that’s feasible.”
The word is that Officer Wagner would retire from HPD in order to give 100 percent of his time to focus on the business of Pasadena as a full-time mayor.
It’s probably safe to say that the folks in Pasadena might call on the ranks of HPD to produce not only their police chiefs but also the mayor of their city.