Police chief entitled to hearing with outside employment officer

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Police chief entitled to hearing with outside employment officer By Jasmine Marshall — Staff Writer 5/6/03 Santa Maria Police Chief John Sterling is entitled to a hearing with an outside employment officer if the city decides to dismiss him, the city’s attorney confirmed Monday. Sterling was placed on paid administrative leave late Thursday evening and was told to clean out his desk at the Santa Maria Police Department. City officials have refused to comment about Sterling’s suspension, but three sources close to the chief say the suspension letter he was given says “pending termination…” City Attorney Art Montandon said he could not comment on specifics of Sterling’s suspension, citing the need to protect his privacy rights as a city employee. Sterling is an “at-will” employee who can be fired at any time by the city manager, according to his employment contract with the city. The agreement indicates he may be placed on leave “at any time without cause.” As police chief, Sterling would have the right to an appeal hearing if he were to be terminated, Montandon said. The police chief is the only city department head with the right to such an appeal process, due to the “California Police Officer’s Bill of Rights.” California Government Code Section 3304 states: “No chief of police may be removed by a public agency, or appointing authority, without providing the chief of police with written notice and the reason or reasons therefore and an opportunity for administrative appeal.” Montandon said in a “hypothetical situation” where Santa Maria’s police chief was removed and an appeal was requested, the city would try to find an employment hearing officer “not connected to the city” to hear the case. Sterling could not be reached for comment on whether he planned to appeal if he is terminated. Although Montandon and City Manager Tim Ness have declined comment about the reasons for Sterling’s suspension, sources within the city say they believe conflicts with Ness are a major factor. Government Code Section 3304 also deals with reasons for dismissal of a police chief, “including but not limited to incompatibility of management styles…” Sources close to the chief also have said they believe his brief run for 33rd Assembly District in February this year may have escalated problems between Ness and Sterling. Sterling dropped out of the race just weeks after announcing his intentions to run for the seat now occupied by Abel Maldonado R-Santa Maria, who must leave office in 2004 due to term limits. Although the city is not providing reasons for Sterling’s absence, residents are demanding answers. Many are expected to pack City Hall tonight, asking why a popular police chief may be on his way out. The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. in City Council chambers, 110 E. Cook Street in Santa Maria. Staff writer Jasmine Marshall can be reached by e-mail at jmarshall@pulitzer.net :nav Source: http://www.lompocrecord.com/articles/2003/05/06/news/export9769.txt

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