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Antioch City Council will not assume control over hiring, firing police chief

Antioch City Council will not assume control over hiring, firing police chief

A proposal that would give Antioch City Council the authority to hire, fire and supervise the police chief failed to advance this week after one council member revised her stance on the issue.

The council had approved a first reading on the structural changes on a 3-2 vote Aug. 22, with Councilmembers Lori Ogorchock and Mike Barbanica dissenting. But on its final reading Tuesday, Mayor Pro Tem Tamisha Torres-Walker, one of those who had originally proposed the idea, asked that the council add a condition that would end its authority after a year or as soon as a new permanent city manager was named.

The councilwoman said she had second thoughts knowing “absolute power corrupts absolutely” and pulled the item from the consent calendar.

“A lot of times when people who haven’t had power get a little, they misuse it – and that can happen in politics,” Torres-Walker said. “That can happen among the city council… And so I offered the compromise because most of us work full time. We also want to have a close eye and a transparent process for the hiring of a new chief. But I do not think that this policy should just be the order of the day. I do think we need to have a term to time this policy out.”

City councils are granted wide latitude in deciding how a city will be administered and operated and have the authority to hire and fire a police chief, according to City Attorney Thomas Lloyd Smith. Some, like the city of Fullerton, do just that, but in Antioch, the city manager currently has power over all departments – including the police chief.

The idea of the council taking an active role in hiring a chief was first discussed in 2021 when Thorpe and Torres-Walker, during a police oversight standing committee, asked staff to draft a police chief hiring process with community input and the council ratifying the contract.

But by 2022, the FBI and DA investigation of East Contra Costa County officers was underway and it was clear a permanent chief was needed quickly to replace Chief Tammany Brooks, who had left in late 2021. Steven Ford was hired within months but resigned only a year later.

The council later learned that it cannot not just hire or fire a chief, but would have to supervise that person as well if it wanted to change the process.

Torres-Walker credited former police officer and Councilman Ralph Hernandez for bringing to light police department mismanagement, ignoring complaints about abuse and coverups that made such a policy necessary. It should be noted that despite his complaints about some Antioch police and former chiefs, Hernandez said he did not support the proposal.

“It’s the idea that you can’t hold them accountable because they have an affinity to protect their own and put the community at risk,” Torres-Walker said. “The fact (is) that there’s been seven years of no (police) evaluations … and the fact that absent evaluations and quality training, a lot of them received promotions, large paychecks, and some of them got to leave with pensions and retirement.”

Though Torres-Walker said she supported the proposal as a way to hold the police chief accountable, she wanted the policy to have an ending date.

“I really want to move forward with this tonight but I wish that my colleagues on the council will accept the compromise,” she said.

Mayor Lamar Thorpe, though, said he would not change his position. Earlier, he had argued that previous councils, city managers and police chiefs had allowed a corrupt culture to flourish within the police department with no accountability. Dozens are now on  administrative leave as the FBI and District Attorney investigates.

“I am sticking to the original proposal,” he said. “My values say that having a policy that extends to the permanent city manager being hired, it’s not a policy because then there will never be oversight.

“The purpose of this was to move toward transparency and accountability. I can’t personally support your policy. Then it just won’t pass.”

Councilwoman Monica Wilson, however, said she supported a sunset date on the policy, but Torres-Walker’s move to bring back the amended proposal for a vote failed to get enough support. Council members Lori Ogorchock and Mike Barbanica and Mayor Thorpe were opposed.