At the South Pasadena CIty Council candidates forum on October 3, 2013, the candidates were asked whether the nonrenewal of former Police Chief Dan Watson’s contract was handled properly. (I did not ask the question and was surprised it was asked.) Philip Putnam responded that the nonrenewal of Watson’s contract was entirely the work of former City Manager John Davidson and went on to state that Davidson was “disengaged” because he was having “personal issues,” which Putnam then described. Putnam’s statement revealing personal matters about Davidson was insensitive and seems unethical. In addition it is incorrect and reveals a willingness to blame others to avoid personal responsibility.
From the beginning, Putnam has been the Council’s biggest defender in the Watson matter. Early on, he lectured the City Council audience about how the hiring and firing of a police chief is entirely up to the City Manager. He wrote a long letter to the Review saying the saying the same thing. Unfortunately, Putnam was describing how city government is supposed to work. He was not describing how it was actually working, and he’s smart enough to know it.
Watson’s departure was not the work of Davidson. The day after Putnam and Cacciotti were reelected in November 2009, the Council met in closed session. At the meeting, Mayor Sifuentes presented a list of complaints against Watson and suggested that his contract not be renewed. The only councilmember who openly opposed what Sifuentes wanted to do was Dr. Schneider. The day after the meeting, Davidson met with Watson. He told Watson that the Council wanted to make a change, that they had someone else in mind, and wanted to do a “soft recruitment,” (which means to simply hire someone without an open interview process.) Watson quickly realized that the replacement the Council had in mind was Joe Payne. Shortly before all this occurred, Davidson had praised Watson for being his best department head. It was clear to Watson that Davidson did not want him to leave, but during the ensuing weeks Davidson could not find three members of the Council willing to prevent what Sifuentes wanted to do. Davidson had to do what Sifuentes, supported by at least three and probably four councilmembers, wanted him to do or he would have been fired. Like a good soldier, Davidson, who had only been with the city for six months, did the Council’s bidding by not offering Watson an acceptable contract and by eventually hiring Joe Payne, whose questionable qualifications were born out by his short-lived term as Chief. None of this is what Davidson wanted.