Council introduces resolution to take over from City Manager in deciding head of the police department.
Fullerton’s City Council will likely take over from City Manager Joe Felz in deciding the next police chief, thanks to a 4-1 vote Tuesday.
The vote was part of a special City Council meeting which included items about city pensions, city communications and the Slidebar 911 call.
“I think it’s important the Council step up and take charge,” said Council Member Doug Chaffee, who proposed this ordinance for a vote. “I’ve heard from some people if you have another incident like Kelly Thomas and you’re hiring and firing the chief, you’ll be blamed. Well, so you should be. You are the people in charge.”
Mayor Sharon Quirk-Silva cast the lone dissenting vote, arguing that a compromise between the Council and the City Manager should be worked out in selecting a new head of the police as having the Council making the decision alone may seem too political.
“Having five leaders that are going to be an oversight and we said that this wouldn’t be political, maybe they can earn a face with the Mayor,” she said. “Well, not everybody will have a chance to be a Mayor that serves here. That’s going to be a Council decision. We’re opening up a can of worms here.”
Since this is the first reading of an ordinance, it will have to go through another vote at the next City Council meeting in order to make it final.
Selecting the next police chief has been a contentious issue since the beating death of homeless man Kelly Thomas at the hands of Fullerton police in July, 2011.
Planning Commissioner Larry Bennett expressed his support of the status quo, arguing that the city manager would do a better job at selecting the next police chief.
“I think it’s ill-advised that the Council be put in the position of boss of the police chief, and let me remind you that politics works both ways,” he said.
He claimed that when Fullerton’s Council last had the power to choose the chief, a police chief that he declined to name would have files on council members to keep them in check.
“[That police chief] would say, ‘It would be very unfortunate if this bit of information were to go public,” Bennett added. “If you don’t like what the police chief is doing, you talk to [the City Manager].”
Resident Barry Levinson said that the Council should select the police chief, but also thinks that the chief should report to the city manager on a day-to-day basis.
Fullerton has been without a permanent police chief since 2011 when Mike Sellers took a leave of absence in the aftermath of the Kelly Thomas beating death. Captain Dan Hughes is the current acting chief.