MacKinnon: City Attorney schedules statement on embattled Police Chief

June 06, 2012
Santa Paula City Council

Supporters of embattled Police Chief Steve MacKinnon continued to confront members of the City Council during public comment at a special meeting held Friday afternoon.

Seven area residents attended the hastily called June 1 session at City Hall, closed Friday except for the meeting held in the cramped council conference room.

Following the comment, the council met behind closed doors for about an hour, but took no reportable action on a settlement with MacKinnon, who was placed on paid administrative leave April 17. A few minutes after the sound of a speakerphone disconnecting was heard from the conference room Assistant City Attorney John Cotti emerged to tell reporters a statement would be forthcoming at Monday's regularly scheduled council meeting.

Citing confidentiality issues, City Manager Jaime Fontes and the council have not publicly addressed why MacKinnon, chief since 2005, was placed on leave. In late April the city released a spreadsheet showing MacKinnon had charged $2,814 on a city gasoline credit card over a 20-month period related to 23 trips to his Arizona home. The data sheet also referred to apparent timesheet discrepancies recorded over the same period.

MacKinnon's supporters have been vocal in their defense of the chief, credited with righting a floundering department and recognized for his activities on the part of the SPPD and community organizations. Supporters in the past also noted MacKinnon was not accorded the $350 a month car allowance given to other department heads, sum that would have totaled $7,000 for the time period targeted; he did have personal use of an aging Crown Victoria per his employment agreement with the city.

"I'm just here to support the chief," said Pam Strautman while supporters waited in the administrative offices lobby.

Judy Klement said the actions taken against MacKinnon are "fiendish... this could have been solved without a costly investigation," conducted by a Century City law firm that so far has cost more than $15,500, "that has been totally disrespectful to our chief and the citizens."

Connie Tushla wondered why council chambers were not utilized for the session, and noted calling the meeting for 4 p.m. on a Friday with 24 hours notice "certainly doesn't give people a chance to attend... and they would."

In spite of having four speaker cards - Tushla later also spoke - Mayor Bob Gonzales again set public comment at 3 minutes.

"Other than your cheering section of four, few people believe that City Manager Fontes acted arbitrarily on the matter before you," said Latino Town Hall Co-Founder Bob Borrego. "You know there are some strong voices and some sharpened pencils waiting the outcome of Chief MacKinnon's administrative leave," and Borrego said he hoped the council would "resolve the issue in a amicable manner."

Marsha Rae said many in the community are "more than disheartened and dismayed by the very shabby treatment accorded our chief of police," the "most highly-educated, highly-qualified and well-regarded person to ever hold this position in our community." Rae noted, "I am appalled that, in an era of fiscal struggle, the city would waste such a significant amount" of investigation related costs "on such an egregiously specious affair."

She questioned cost, "not only in terms of dollars wasted, but also in the currency of civic esteem." Rae, who was given another minute to finish her remarks, also cited the "humiliation" the chief was subjected to and questioned, "Is there yet an unseen, unspoken issue worth the political risk undertaken by the city council and the city manager?"

"We love this town," said Klement, and "were thrilled with the job the chief was doing... people are very upset at what has happened. It's insane, what necessitated this action?"

Klement added, "We had a strong police force," and a look at MacKinnon's accomplishments shows "we need his strong leadership in this town. People are flabbergasted" at the treatment accorded the chief.

Larry Cossid told the council he has worked with MacKinnon in the past and he found him "extremely" good in what he does on behalf of the community. Cossid questioned whether or not the council or members of same are as unaware of the situation as they publicly stated, and he urged that MacKinnon be reinstated "so our public safety" as well as SPPD morale will return to former levels.

MacKinnon's absence, said Tushla, has created "an empty hole" that has depressed and disheartened the community. "I honestly think people will not forget" MacKinnon's treatment at the hands of the city, and Tushla urged, "Bring him back."

In a previous interview MacKinnon said he was told of the investigation in January, but was barred from discussing the issues. He has retained local attorney Ron Bamieh to represent him in his negotiations with the city.

Cotti is expected to make his statement regarding the issue at the June 4 meeting.

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