City council wants Sterling to leave

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City council wants Sterling to leave By Jasmine Marshall — Staff Writer 5/19/03 The Santa Maria City Council sent John Sterling a clear message Friday — they want him to leave city employment. But the embattled police chief said he will not give up his job until he has had due process in the form of an appeal hearing. Since Sterling was suspended with pay on May 1, the city has been rocked by controversy and rumors. Sterling said he is facing termination — an assertion the city said it cannot confirm unless he signs a waiver of his privacy rights. Yet a press release sent out Friday — and comments made by council members — point towards a desire to end Sterling’s association with the city. “The City Council has authorized the subcommittee to inform Mr. Sterling that, as a required part of the settlement, the council, by unanimous vote, does not wish to continue Mr. Sterling’s employment with the city of Santa Maria,” reads the statement, with the names of Mayor Larry Lavagnino, City Councilman Leo Trujillo and City Attorney Art Montandon beneath it. The statement came in response to a comment Sterling made in an article published by the Santa Maria Sun on May 16. In the article, Sterling states, “If we have these conflicts for whatever reason, and the City Council wants me to leave, fine.” The article also quoted Sterling as saying “if there’s a desire on the part of the City Council for (me) to no longer be the Police Chief, (I ) will.” Lavagnino characterized the decision to issue the statement as an attempt to clarify the council’s position about statements Sterling had made. Councilman Bob Orach said he supported the move because “it does not serve the community to pursue this against all reason.” He added that he considers Sterling a friend, but “life has to go on at some point.” Sterling reacted to the statements with surprise, and expressed frustration that the council made the statement without meeting with him or his legal council first. “The process has been short-circuited terribly,” Sterling said. “I still have due process rights, and I have yet to be afforded them.” Montandon and Sterling differ in their accounts of attempts to set up meetings between the council and the chief’s legal representatives. The city attorney said Friday he has tried to set up meetings with Sterling’s legal representatives repeatedly, but to no avail. “The only way we have been able to meet is through the press,” Montandon said, noting the earliest Sterling’s attorneys said they could meet would be Wednesday, following the next City Council meeting. For his part, Sterling said he and his attorneys have repeatedly tried to set up meetings with the council and Montandon, some of which were canceled by the city. “My attorney was in contact with Mr. Montandon as late as Thursday, and we have a meeting set up for May 21 with Mr. Montandon,” Sterling said. Asked whose idea it was to look into Sterling’s published comments and respond, Montandon said he “could not remember who brought it up first.” “We discussed it together,” he added. “We had not even read the article until today (Friday).” Sterling said he believes both the council and the weekly newspaper took his comments out of context. “I was speaking in the larger context of things — I was acknowledging the authority which the council has, but I was in no way giving up my lawful rights.” Sterling also indicated he will no longer comment on the situation directly to the press; they must now get statements from his attorney. Meanwhile, the Santa Maria Police Officer Association continue to support Sterling, and has taken out an advertisement in Monday’s Santa Maria Times calling for residents to attend Tuesday’s council meeting. “Support Our Chief…Your Police Department,” the ad reads, and urges the public to “Let your voice be heard at the next City Council meeting.” Sources indicate they expect another large turnout at the hearing. Staff writer Jasmine Marshall can be reached by e-mail at :nav Source:

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