[UPDATED: Police Chief Hiring Update] Costa Mesa Police Chief Resigns With a Letter, Calling City Council 'Incompetent' and the City's Fiscal Crisis a Lie

City CEO Tom Hatch
City CEO Tom Hatch
Chasen Marshall/OC Weekly

UPDATE, JUNE 22, 6:15 P.M.: While Costa Mesa residents praised former interim police chief Steve Staveley's decision to write a scathing and accusatory letter on his way to resignation at last night's city council meeting, City CEO Tom Hatch didn't make much mention of him. Hatch did assure the city council that the search for the next police chief is progressing as planned and that he would be sitting down with the remaining candidates in the coming days. He did not have a particular timetable for when an announcement would come.

UPDATE, JUNE 20, 10:30 P.M.: Hours after outgoing interim police chief Steve Staveley announced his resignation in a dramatic fashion (see the original post below), Costa Mesa issued its response. In the press release by Bill Lobdell, City CEO Tom Hatch said he was "shocked and saddened" by the "unprofessional" nature of Staveley's parting shots. Based on the "incautious and potentially libelous words," Hatch confronted each accusation individually in the press release (which appears in full after the jump).

Hatch indicated he had a sense that the divide between he and Staveley on the matter of 3.5 percent police-department budget cuts ran deep, and therefore had already been interviewing other candidates. The city has hired Dennis Kies, a former La Habra police chief with 35 years of experience.

Hatch was very clear in his indication that the fiscal crisis Staveley denied exists is very much a real issue. While Staveley didn't provide any fact or context to prove his assertion, Hatch countered with a few of the city's major talking points on the subject--points that still haven't convinced the majority of the parties who've been following along. Hatch also pointed out that "anyone who follows the news" should realize there are crises throughout the state. 

Hatch goes on to counter most of what Staveley presented, point by point. It appears we have a very public political spat on our hands. 

The following is the statement from the city in its entirety:

Costa Mesa CEO Tom Hatch 'shocked and saddened' by interim police chief's letter over proposed 3.5 percent budget cut, new interim chief hired

The following is a statement from Costa Mesa Chief Executive Officer Tom Hatch:

I am shocked and saddened by the unprofessional resignation letter sent today by interim Police Chief Steve Staveley to our police department.

I know that Mr. Staveley is angry at some of the changes being proposed for the police department, but this reckless parting shot does not help our organization or the community. Since his incautious and potentially libelous words have the capacity to do harm to our community, I've responded personally below to his allegations.

But first, I wanted to underscore that Costa Mesa will be fine--we are debating a 3.5 percent cut in our police-department budget. We will remain safe.

And knowing the differences that stood between Mr. Staveley and myself, I had been interviewing for a replacement interim police chief while the search concluded for a permanent police chief. Today, I hired Dennis Kies, former La Habra police chief, for the interim position. He has 35 years of law-enforcement experience and will provide a steady hand.

Within the next couple of weeks, I expect to hire a permanent police chief. The finalists for the position are all top members of the law-enforcement community and bring with them many innovative--and some old-fashioned--ideas for policing in the 21st century.

We will get through this challenging period, and with the help of our police chief and the fine men and women of our police department, we will continue to make Costa Mesa a safe city that scores high marks from residents, the business community and visitors.

As for the individual allegations:

Mr. Staveley's base contention is that the budget crisis in Costa Mesa doesn't exist. This just isn't true--and anyone who follows the news knows that cities across California, from San Diego to San Francisco and beyond, are struggling with how to bridge large budget gaps created by drops in revenue and steeply rising pension costs. Like Costa Mesa, many cities have had to propose cuts in public safety--and I'm sure many more municipalities will follow. The money just isn't there at this time.

Costa Mesa's financial numbers are simple and alarming. Our city has used more than $33 million of its reserves since 2008 and, within the next several years, faces the prospect of using 25 percent of its budget just to cover pension costs. In recent years, we've eliminated more than 140 positions and cut some of our services to the bone--and still have spent significantly more money than we've taken in.

Costa Mesa is in a financial crisis.

For the next fiscal year, we are asking the police department to cut just 3.5 percent from its budget. I've tried as much as possible to keep budget cuts away from public safety. We, along with a respected consultant, have developed a plan to maintain the same level of patrol hours while increasing the number of non-sworn personnel for support. In some areas, the level of service won't be the same for residents and the business community, but unfortunately, this is what we can afford. And I feel strongly that a 3.5 percent cut--about $1.35 million for the next fiscal year--in the police-department budget during these times is reasonable and our community will remain safe. I live here with my wife and daughters. I wouldn't do anything to jeopardize their safety.

Mr. Staveley is correct that I'm asking non-sworn personnel to work five days a week. For the city, it's more productive, for the most part, to have a five-day-a-week schedule for its employees--similar to the private sector. I don't think most people outside of government would have a problem with this. Many of our employees work five days a week now without complaint. I haven't asked sworn personnel to work five days a week.

If Mr. Staveley has any evidence that anyone on the council is corrupt, he should have come forward with any evidence immediately. If he doesn't have any evidence, his allegations are simply libelous and, I assume, intended to inflame the police department and the community. I've never seen any council member do anything that was corrupt or against the law. If I did, I would report that council member to the authorities immediately.

Mr. Staveley says Costa Mesa is heading toward being the next Bell. In fact, we are the anti-Bell. In my nearly four months as CEO, I can say that I've seen no city  that has worked harder and made tougher budget decisions to make sure its finances got back on track. And in the process, we've done it with a transparency that's been second-to-none. 

 
Chief Steve Staveley, the author of the letter.
Chief Steve Staveley, the author of the letter.
costamesapd.org

ORIGINAL POST, JUNE 20, 3:35 P.M.: ​Interim Police Chief Steve Staveley held nothing back in a letter announcing his resignation on Monday afternoon. He bid farewell to his fellow members of the Costa Mesa Police Department--and then he shared some scathing words about the Costa Mesa City Council. He criticized the council's proposal to lay off police officers, called the council "incompetent, unskilled and unethical" and said, "It's very clear to me that there is no fiscal crisis in the city of Costa Mesa." 

The Weekly can't do justice to what Staveley, a longtime veteran of the police force, so eloquently put in his memo. His resignation will be effective at noon on Monday. You can read the memo in its entirety (it's long!) after the jump.

Messages to the city's communications director, Bill Lobdell, have not yet been returned. Calls to the city council are going directly to voice mail.

The memo from Staveley, as first reported by the Bubbling Cauldron blog:


COSTA MESA POLICE PERSONNEL

FROM STEVE STAVELEY, INTERIM CHIEF OF POLICE

DATE: 6/20/11

SUBJECT: I am resigning as of 1200 today and wish to say goodbye

This path has been clear for me for some time now, and now that it is coming to fruition, I wanted to take this moment of your time to say goodbye. I also wanted to express to you how much I have appreciated your openness, honesty and your welcoming of me in my return to Costa Mesa. While it has been a brief stay, I have felt very much at home and have enjoyed my time greatly. I think it's a great community, and my affection for the department and its people is boundless. I will miss you and the community.

There are basically two reasons that I leave right now. The first is the 5/8 the council wishes to impose and the second is the layoffs of officers. Just before leaving on a very short trip to the river on the 16th of June, I was informed that all professional employees would be moving to 5/8s. When I first got to Costa Mesa this time and met with two council persons, they told me they wanted everyone on 5/8s (cops, too, by the way). I told them it was not their responsibility, rather that scheduling should match customer need (a scientific method of deployment) and not serve some off-the-wall bias they had. More important, scheduling is the responsibility of the department head, not the council. For council persons to demand such changes is meddling. Later, our CM told me that he was ordered to put everyone in the professional ranks (non-sworn) on 5/8s. I told him I would not support that, and, for me, it was a line in the sand. We had a rather heated discussion on the subject, and frankly, I was not very polite, which I do regret. If you let council people meddle in such small matters, is it long before they tell us who we can cite, or arrest, or require us to release or whose burg gets investigated? I think not. It is simply a step to corruption, and I won't play in that arena. Never mind the lack of following the MOU or meeting and conferring on any such changes.

Here is the second reason, and I wanted to be sure that you understood why I am resigning now right when I could well be of most value to you and the community. Here is why. It's very clear to me that there is no fiscal crisis in the city of Costa Mesa. The majority of the council has created budget gaps in order to affect or create the appearance of a fiscal crisis. They have pushed finance and the budget process around to get the kind of numbers that benefit their position. They have, in essence, lied as they create the appearance of crisis in order to appear as the white knight to a narrow band of political followers. They have done this, I believe, because they have a political need to lay off police officers. This is completely unethical and immoral behavior, and I will have no part in it. If I stay and refuse to sign layoff and demotion notices (which I am fully prepared to do), then Tom Hatch will suffer yet more and be forced to fire me. If I resign prior, at least I save him some pain, and he is a good guy and not deserving of this situation. In fact, I think in the right circumstance (and this is not), he has the potential to be a great CM. In any case I will not help the council majority hurt you, undermine this department and halt the improvement of this community. I simply cannot do that; it would be wrong and, frankly, hurt my reputation as a professional. I do not expect at my age to have another chief's job, but I do expect to continue to teach, mentor and be of value, and so my reputation is important to me. Even more important, I expect of myself to do the right thing -- and this is the right thing and very painful for me personally. I wish I could stay and try to help you, but I cannot -- so I bid you farewell.

When the majority of this council were busy playing in sand boxes in their mommies' back yards, I was a policeman. I have been a policeman since 1967. I got my first police chief's job in 1987 and have had six other chief's jobs since then, as well as one CEO position in a private-sector enterprise. I spent 14 years as an elected school board member, served on the Anaheim Parks and Recreation Commission and the Community Services Commission in the same city. I have been president of the Orange County Chiefs of Police and Sheriffs Association, as well as the chair of the Communications Committee and, in that role, led the development of the largest multi-owner, multi-user, trunked 800 Mhz radio system ever built in the world -- the system right here in Orange County. I have led organizations with one paid employee and lots of volunteers, and I have been the CEO of an organization with 1,600 highly skilled and trained professionals.

It is safe to say that the council majority does not know more about the subject of leadership, or leading police departments or serving as an elected than do I -- and yet they do not listen; they do not understand and continue to blunder along in complete ignorance and incompetence.

Over the years, I have had city councils I thought were smart and thoughtful and ones who were less skilled. In every case, I know they were trying to do the right thing. I did not always agree, but clearly, they were trying hard to improve the communities we all served. I have never, however, seen a council such as this one. They lack skill, training, education, knowledge; they fail to study (or at least learn). The majority either lies or are so lacking in the necessary skills that they actually believe the junk they say. They act as if they are owners of the business that is the municipal government of the city of Costa Mesa, but they are not; they are merely trustees of these public assets both human and physical, and they fail in that role completely. They are, in my opinion, incompetent, unskilled and unethical. One of the interesting elements of this whole thing is I happen to agree that we need a two-tier retirement system. Two-tier because the courts will never allow the current system to be taken from current vested employees. I must have said before some 1,500 to 2,000 police officers in the past 10 years -- all of them leaders and managers -- that 3 percent at 50 was a great boon to me personally, but the worst thing we have done to policing. Why? Because it drives people out of service before their replacements are ready. It causes the same mistakes to be made, organizational generation after organizational generation. Now it also happens that it is too expensive. The legislators and council persons who approved of those changes in retirement were wrong, it turns out. The worst recession in the modern age has demonstrated that the 3 percent at 50 did cost more money, but only after more than 10 years of no increased costs. Retirement systems are an investment in the human infrastructure that makes a city a great place to live or not -- nothing more, nothing less. If the investment needs to be changed, the decision makers should have the courage to change it and not continue to play some political game. Of course, that would require they sit down with the employee associations, and they seem to not want to do that. Another shortcoming or lack of understanding of the systems they are working within.

On that exact point (sitting down with the associations), I have been in "combat" with union leaders off and on for years; we just have different functions in our society and organization. But I never bash the folks representing the interests in the pay and benefits of our employees -- and before they were association members, they were our employees. Unions exist for a reason -- because management abused the worker in the early 1900s and will again in many organizations without a defense system, the unions. But here is the point: Anyone in a leadership role who bashes unions/associations and can't find a way to do what they need to do and get the support of the folks you work with is either a weak leader or lacks courage and a willingness to engage and defend their decisions. Either case, such persons should not be in a leadership position. Don't blame a bird because it chirps and flies, and don't blame a union because it represents the needs of the employees. If you give those unions more authority over management rights and let them engage in anything beyond pay and benefits, then that is the hallmark of leadership failure. If your arguments are so weak that you cannot achieve success in that engagement, then the shame is yours, not the unions'. That is the case here in Costa Mesa, in my view, and the council is covering itself with lots of shame.

I say that they (council majority) are destroying this police department with their incompetence, and that means only one thing. The community-building efforts that this department has invested in for many years will stop, and the community will begin to deteriorate. No community can stand still, and no community can grow and build itself without suitable police services. The cause of justice cannot flourish without those same services, and this council has and continues to undermine this agency's ability to do its job -- for political and, in some cases, personal reasons, biases, and even personal and individual animosity. As I have noted above, they attempt to meddle in routine department affairs for personal benefit, and frankly, several of them are rude and ill-mannered and frequently boorish.

So I leave you, and I hope you understand. If you need me, you know how I can be reached. I will think good thoughts for you all and willingly serve as reference should you individually find the need for such. I would be pleased if I could be of assistance as a mentor, should you desire the same.

I will say that in the end, this period of turmoil will subside and be replaced with opportunity. If there is not too much damage, the department and community can -- with time, effort and energy -- survive and grow its services again. I caution that each of you should keep your eyes open. The council majority plays fast and lose with the law and ethics, and I am certain, as individuals, they will step over the line, and it won't be long before the DA or, more likely, the AG's office comes knocking on the door. When that happens, I know for a fact that you will handle yourselves professionally, as you always do. While such circumstances will be hard to take, there is a positive side it -- it will prevent Costa Mesa from following straight to Bell, which is exactly where it is currently headed.

I have left Capt. Gogerty in charge of the department; he and Commander Ford are working well together, and it should be seamless until the new chief comes on board.

Steve Staveley


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