[This editorial appeared on September 16, 2010, in the Pasadena Star News and related San Gabriel Valley News papers. It's nice to know that someone with a voice has some sense.]
We've reported since late last year on the odd way popular former South Pasadena police Chief Dan Watson was removed from his job - or, as the city would have it, did not have his contract renewed. He was recently hired as police chief by the town of Mammoth Lakes.
In theory, the appointed city manager, rather than the elected City Council, appoints chiefs of police. But we've also reported on the strong public perception in South Pasadena that the Watson resignation and the looming - and now, as of Wednesday night, actual - appointment of a retired former South Pasadena sergeant, Joe Payne, was engineered by council members, many of whom have known Payne for decades, not by relatively new City Manager John Davidson.
Because personnel issues are discussed in closed sessions, it will remain hard to prove much about whether a putsch was engineered in South Pasadena. But we certainly know that the council abused California's open-meeting laws when it met with Payne and another chief candidate using the ruse of an executive session labeled "performance evaluation of the city manager." A leading open-government expert said that fudging of the facts violates California's Brown Act.
Joe Payne is well-known and well-liked in South Pasadena, his hometown even after he left the force. If his appointment sticks, he may well be an excellent chief - we hope so. But community concerns about the whole process deserve to be addressed by City Hall.
Citizens know that, whether or not Payne will really be a pushover for the salary demands of the union he belonged to for decades, he was recently glowingly profiled in a city employees' union newsletter as a "stalwart" and a "workhorse." They know that four of five council members - the principled exception being Richard Schneider - were behind the move to dump Watson by "inviting him to reapply for his job," a dishonor he declined. They know that, though Payne indeed served the department for a long time, it's highly unusual for a policeman who's never been in senior management ranks to take over a department, even in a small town. South Pas has 25,000 residents, for instance; Sierra Madre about 11,000. Yet when the latter hired Marilyn Diaz as chief, she came as a commander from the Pasadena Police Department.
Come clean, South Pasadena. Confession is good for the soul.