Settlement reached, Sterling’s tenure as cheif ends

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Settlement reached, Sterling’s tenure as chief ends By Jasmine Marshall — Staff Writer 5/21/03 Santa Maria City officials, clearly anxious to put their battle with John Sterling behind them, announced Tuesday night that they had reached a settlement that will end his tenure as police chief. But an overflow crowd at the City Council meeting appeared unswayed, and several vowed to begin a recall campaign of council members. Hundreds turned out the meeting, many wearing T-shirts reading “We Support Chief Sterling” and some even held bumper stickers proclaiming “Sterling for Governor.” Many members of the Santa Maria Police Officers Association were also present. But before the public could speak, City Attorney Art Montandon announced the city had agreed to a settlement with Sterling and his attorney earlier in the day. Sterling was placed on paid leave on May 1. Throughout the following 20 days, the city was rife with rumors about why the action had taken — with some pointing toward personality conflicts with City Manager Tim Ness or Sterling’s conduct during his brief, aborted run for a state assembly seat earlier this year. “We will be working diligently over the next 24 hours to finalize the details of the settlement,” Montandon said. Assistant City Manager Rick Haydon stressed that the agreement is verbal; the city and Sterling must both still sign documents finalizing the agreement. The announcement came just four days after the City Council released a statement saying it no longer wished Sterling remain em played by the city. Sterling had vowed to appeal any move to dismiss him. Sterling’s attorney, Robert Aaronson, addressed the public and read a statement from his client. “It is with real sadness that I leave the service of the great citizens of the city of Santa Maria,” Sterling said in the statement. He also praised his entire department, and thanked the community for opportunities to work with them in numerous capacities. “One of my favorite memories is of reading to the kids in school,” Sterling’s statement noted. But Sterling went on to state he felt it was necessary to accept the will of the City Council, out of concern for the “productivity of the city and the dedicated men and women of the police department.” Some in the public reacted by bursting into tears, while others sat in stunned silence. After a brief break, Mayor Larry Lavagnino asked Deputy City Clerk Pat Perez to read three letters of public communication. The first two were in support of the council and the idea of reaching a settlement with Sterling. The third, signed by a Jean Claire Childers of Santa Maria, alleged she had heard that members of the Santa Maria Police Department “may be requesting anyone, anywhere to find any negative information about (Ness or Montandon).” Childers could not be reached for comment on the letter or its allegations. In response to the letter, Santa Maria POA President Gregg Carroll said he “has not made any threats to anyone.” He added that he was not seeking out information about Ness or Montandon, either. Other members of the POA reacted strongly when the letter was read. When Lavagnino began public comment, admonishing those present he would not tolerate statements that were slanderous, some in the crowd yelled “we just had one!” Robert M. Wexler, an attorney representing the Santa Maria POA, later addressed the council, and said the organization would go forward with its campaign to amend the city charter and make the position of chief of police accountable only to the council — not the City Manager. Wexler said after the meeting that members of the POA have expressed concern about fallout from Chief Sterling’s termination, and that members have experienced conflicts with Ness in the past. Several members of the public, including longtime Santa Maria resident Mary Jacka, said they are going to begin a campaign to recall the City Council. “Remember that you were elected to serve the people of Santa Maria, your constituents. Many of us have not felt served well by the actions you have taken so far in this crisis,” Jacka said. “I call on my fellow residents to begin a recall campaign.” Jacka’s comments were met with loud applause. In one of the evening’s most dramatic moments, a man named Roger Sanchez came forward with what he claimed was evidence that Ness had misused city funds related to the All-America City Committee. He attempted to play a tape as evidence for the council, but Lavagnino refused to have the tape played, and asked Acting Police Chief Dan Macagni to escort Rodgers out of the room. “If you have evidence, I urge you to give it to the Police Department,” Lavagnino said. Ness no made to response Sanchez’s statement. Staff writer Jasmine Marshall can be reached at 739-2219, or by e-mail at :nav Source:

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