Seaside’s interim police chief is latest to go as political infighting continues.
Thursday, January 7, 2010
The Seaside Police Chief’s badge has become a hot potato in recent months.
Only a few days after former Seaside Police Chief Steve Cercone officially relinquished his post, City Manager Ray Corpuz gave his temporary replacement, Interim Police Executive Officer Stephen Willis, his two-week’s notice, sources tell the Weekly. Interim Deputy Executive Officer Don MacQuarrie will also leave the department in mid-January.
Willis has been heading the SSPD since Aug. 11, the day after Cercone was placed on administrative leave. On Dec. 2, the Weekly revealed Cercone had received a letter from Corpuz, informing him his employment contract would not be renewed. Two weeks later, the city and the chief reached a settlement in which the city agrees to pay Cercone about two years’ salary – more than $287,000 after taxes – and Cercone agrees not to sue the city. His severance went into effect on New Year’s Day.
On Jan. 4, Corpuz told Willis his services would not be needed beyond mid-month, sources confirm. California Public Employees Retirement System regulations limit an interim chief’s term to 960 hours, or roughly six months full-time, unless the city applies for an emergency extension. That would have given Willis at least another six weeks on the job.
MacQuarrie says his last day will be Jan. 14, after which he looks forward to enjoying his retirement in Marin.
City officials never publicly explained the reasons for Cercone’s suspension – and, as part of the settlement, stated that Cercone did not commit any wrongdoing. But sources describe several factors involved in Cercone’s falling-out with Corpuz: a complaint of retaliation filed by on-leave Deputy Chief Louis Lumpkin, Cercone’s handling of stalking allegations against SSPD officer Barry Pasquarosa, and Cercone’s staunch opposition to Corpuz’s push to reduce and reorganize the police force.
A city-commissioned investigation of a subsequent complaint, filed by Cercone against Corpuz, found the chief’s charges of retaliation and obstruction of justice were unsubstantiated.
Willis and City Attorney Don Freeman declined to comment on changes in the interim position. City Manager Ray Corpuz, Mayor Ralph Rubio and other city officials did not return calls.
Cercone, who had applied to chief positions in other cities before being placed on leave, says he plans to continue in law enforcement. “I am considering both public and private employment, primarily in the state of California, and several people have contacted me,” he says.
He hopes Seaside gets a new chief soon, but questions the city’s ability to attract qualified candidates given the recent drama. “The next chief is going to have to deal with a lot of issues, both within the department and within the city government,” he says. “The future of Seaside is still very bright, as long as the police department has solid and adequate supervision and command.”
Sources speculate the city may hire retired SSPD chief Tony Sollecito, who preceded Cercone and was popular with the Police Officers Association, as interim while the city recruits for a permanent chief. Sollecito did not return calls.