It only took three months for City of Oakdale officials to go against the grain of its then recently passed sales tax measure designed to maintain public safety staffing levels.
Prior to November 2011, Measure O, the city’s half-cent sales tax increase was being sold on the premise to “…ensure that Oakdale has the funds to maintain the level of service that we all expect in our community.”
City officials, needing revenue for the general fund, campaigned to pass Measure O and make public safety a priority, vigorously crusading on the idea that existing staffing levels would not be cut – at least for the next three years.
Oakdale residents who had seen their police department cut down to 22 officers from 29 as well as the loss of many civilian support staff and their firefighting crew down to 15 from 19 said “enough” and chose with 55.3 percent of the vote to tax themselves on a deal that was forecast to bring in over $1.2 million to ensure their safety and prevent future layoffs for a three-year period.
Since its passage however, city leaders seemed to have chosen to neglect their promises of operating at funded levels while still going about collecting the sales tax assessments.
In March 2012, Police Chief Marty West retired, starting a five-month chain of internal promotions that saw Lt. Lester Jenkins moved to chief in July, Sgt. Keri Redd to lieutenant and commencing in December with Officer Brian Shimmel elevated to sergeant, all the time without filling the physical position opened by West’s departure.
In November 2012 the department suffered the tragic loss of Officer Paul Katuszonek, who lost his life in an off-duty crash. His patrol slot still remains unfilled.
Earlier this year, Detective Max Messina gave up his seniority from seven years at Oakdale to start over with the City of Livermore.
The 15-man fire department received its first hit over a year ago after a series of promotions that saw Kevin Wise leave Oakdale for Stanislaus Consolidated. The department still has not backfilled that vacancy.
Despite openings, the city has not hired any new public safety personnel since the passage of Measure O. In fact, this March, City Manager Bryan Whitemyer directed the police department to freeze their open positions.
Going against the wishes and expectations of the voters, Whitemyer is now proposing laying off two active duty firefighters while freezing one vacant firefighter slot in addition to keeping open the police officer positions.
“If we know the outcome by following through with Measure O and that outcome (bankruptcy) is not good, do we continue on the course?” asked Whitemyer.
It gets worse for the local gendarmes; the police department is facing another vacancy with the anticipated retirement of veteran police sergeant Darren Semore on June 14.
“I think we’re meeting the same levels,” said Mayor Pat Paul in a phone call after residents spoke out at the June 3 Oakdale City Council meeting. “Crime hasn’t gone up and fire trucks are still rolling. Response times are still the same.”
City officials, despite the fact that three police personnel who were on the payroll during the passage of Measure O are no longer there, state they are only down two positions. Somehow, another position was cut bringing the now authorized strength – when and if positions are actually filled – to 21.
“At the time we had an officer (Sergeant Joe Carrillo) in the drug task force working out-of-town,” explained Lt. Redd.
Whitemyer explained that Carrillo was considered “off the books” while assigned and returned from the task force when West left the department.
That logic hasn’t gone over well with many in the city, who see that vacancy as a sworn officer that existed within the department and the person could be pulled for overtime and special events.
“Absolutely, that position should be included,” said Oakdale resident J.R. McCarty. “That was an officer that was on the department and provided support to the city at the time of Measure O. That individual could be used for gang sweeps, traffic enforcement and all-around public safety.”
With some of the council voicing their objections to the cuts to public safety proposed by Whitemyer, it’s back to the drawing board for the first-year city manager.
“If our goal is to fix the finances, I then feel I had a solid recommendation,” said Whitemyer. “I will honor the council and community on what they want to do.”
Whitemyer added that due to Semore’s retirement, a new officer will start this week and be sworn in at the June 17 city council meeting.