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Petition Seeks Chief Removal
0513 Save Cops
A truck carrying a huge sign urging citizens to speak out against the current budgetary proposals aimed at cutting police officers could be seen cruising the streets in recent days. - photo by Photo Submitted
More than 1,100 citizens of Oakdale — and counting — have signed a petition calling for the replacement of Police Chief Marty West as the threat of losing cops becomes more real and discontent continues to fester among the ranks of the police department, according to Joseph Parreira, Oakdale Police Officer Association President.
Parreira presented the petition to members of the Oakdale City Council on Monday, May 4 as part of a growing campaign to have West removed from his position, which was preceded by the OPOA’s issuance of a “No Confidence” proclamation against West in March.
The OPOA maintained that the proclamation was the culmination of two years worth of communication breakdowns and displeasure with the leadership style that started within three months of the chief’s tenure with the Oakdale Police Department.
But City Council as well as the City Manager, Steve Hallam, seemed disinclined to give the proclamation weight, prompting a grassroots movement spearheaded by concerned citizens to take matters into their own hands.
Petitions to remove the chief started appearing in various places throughout the city and a truck pulling a giant sign begun cruising up and down the streets, drawing attention to the issue at hand.
The number of signatures have continued to grow as more people have decided to champion this cause, adding their names to the number of people dissatisfied with the current regime and uncomfortable with the idea of losing police officers in spite of the budget crisis.
“There are a multitude of reasons for this. It’s not just financial,” Doug Gorman, Operating Engineers Local No. 3 representative, said. “He doesn’t have the ability to lead. He has no compassion for his employees. This guy doesn’t even know what’s going on. You don’t want a guy like that in charge.”
West offered a statement in response to the petition, saying, “I am aware of the petition but that is not going to sway me from doing my very best for the citizens of Oakdale. Our country is suffering from an unprecedented economic downturn and it is having a significant impact on local government in this region. It is certainly taking its toll on the City of Oakdale…”
Gorman criticized West’s plan for the 15 percent reduction demanded by the council, saying West refused to look at options other than restructuring the department, which would necessitate the laying off of personnel, including police officers. One such officer, Andy Stever, was looking at a pink slip earlier in the year but the OPOA managed to keep the young officer employed for a few more months.
“The officers gave up their uniform allowance to keep him until June 30. That shows you the kind of people who are working here,” Gorman said.
The answer, said Parreira and echoed by Gorman, is to lose the chief position — representing an approximate savings of $220,000 — upgrade a lieutenant to an acting chief and save two and a half officers from losing their jobs.
Gorman admitted he knows why the council seems frosty to the idea of ousting West, saying, “They don’t want to be told how to run the city and that’s not what we’re trying to do but West doesn’t want to work with us. He just wants to go off half-cocked and that’s not good. People started to get concerned when that situation happened with Mike Eggener.”
West said, “Several months ago, I was directed to present a budget to the City Council that called for a 15 percent reduction within the Police Department. Such a reduction amounts to nearly $700,000. Nearly 90 percent of my budget is in personnel costs and a reduction of this magnitude will result in personnel layoffs. Given this situation, I presented a plan to reorganize the Department hoping to have the least impact on direct law enforcement services to the citizens of Oakdale. The proposed personnel reductions are in support staff and clerical positions. The Police Department would continue to staff the same number of officers on (the) streets.”
According to Gorman, many of the negative responses to West have come from the Neighborhood Watch contingent — ironically, since this is an area where West has been openly supportive — but the voices are getting louder.
Debra Oliveira, a former Neighborhood Watch member of the West J and South Lee group said, “He told us crime would have to go up for Oakdale to hire more police officers and basically he told us it was our choice to live in Oakdale and if we didn’t like it we could move. Any problems we’ve come to him with, he has said we just have to deal with it. The police department has lost confidence in Marty West, and so have we.”
Oliveira said she was positive that Oakdale would be better off without West at the helm of the police department. “I’m 100 percent positive. The neighbors aren’t happy with him at all.”
Parreira agreed, saying, “The response we’re getting is in full support of what we’re saying. More people are signing the petition than people who voted for the city council members. The fact is, things haven’t improved since the No Confidence vote. We’re spending all this money for nothing. The chief’s position is the only position that would not be affected by the trickle down effect. In a budgetary sense, if you look at it, you could save that money by the position being vacated for the time being.”
West, openly concerned by this turn of events, said, “I know that my employees are frustrated and upset over the city’s budget crisis. There is nothing worse than not knowing if you will have a job and the ability to support yourself and your family. It is very upsetting for me too because I hired many of the employees who will be affected. Bottom line, I remain committed to doing the very best that I can for Oakdale given available funding and resources.”
But the bottom line for those who put their names to the petition and for those who are chafing under West’s leadership is this: the sun has set on West’s welcome in Oakdale.
“We tried to do this privately,” Parreira said. “But there was no action so the community got involved. We’re trying as hard as we can to resolve issues…but sometimes we’ve just got our hands tied.”