City denies public records act request

Allegations of forgery, questionable qualifications and lack of transparency continue to plague the city of Susanville regarding the process the Susanville City Council used when it hired John King as its new chief of police.

Public record request denied

Jessica Ryan, the attorney for the city of Susanville, denied the newspaper’s request for a copy of Crime Report No. 17-0061 — a crime report filed by a Susanville police lieutenant regarding the hiring of the city’s new chief of police, a crime report that sources claim alleges the lieutenant’s signature was forged on a document used in hiring the city’s new police chief.

According to the newspaper’s interviews with multiple sources close to this story, the crime report filed by a SPD lieutenant contains two allegations — impersonating an officer and forgery.

Allegedly the lieutenant’s signature was photocopied onto a form he did not sign, leading him to file the complaint that has reportedly been sent to both the Lassen County Grand Jury and the California Department of Justice.

According to our sources, the lieutenant is on administrative leave. He did not respond to the newspaper’s request for comment.

Ryan cited California Government Code Section 6254(f) as the reason for her denial.

“Your public records request is denied pursuant to Government Code Section 6254(f) because the requested records are investigations conducted by a local police agency for law enforcement purposes and as such are exempt from disclosure under the Public Records Act,” Ryan wrote in a letter responding to the newspaper’s request.

“Once this exemption no longer applies, then the information you requested can be released pursuant to a public records request,” Ryan wrote.

The newspaper also reached out to Susanville police officers for comment, but they refused to discuss the matter because they said the department had issued a gag order banning them from talking about this issue with the newspaper.

“I can talk to you about anything else, but I can’t talk about this,” one officer said.

Grievance letter

The newspaper obtained a copy of a letter dated Jan. 19 from Jared Hancock, city administrator, responding to a formal grievance filed Dec. 22 by SPD Sgt. Michael Bollinger regarding the process the city followed in hiring King as the new chief.

The newspaper was unable to obtain a copy of Bollinger’s formal grievance filed with the city. He reportedly was one of two local candidates who possessed the minimum qualifications and applied for the police chief’s position.

Bollinger alleges he and others who met the minimum standards were not moved forward.

After praising Bollinger for his service with the city, Hancock wrote in the Jan. 19 letter, “Your grievance alleges that the ‘City of Susanville has moved forward in the hiring process with candidates who did not meet the “minimum qualifications” … “as set forth in the job announcement.”

According to Hancock’s letter, Bollinger’s grievance cited three concerns — that King does not possess and will not be able to obtain a POST (Police Officer’s Standards and Training) Management Certificate within one year of appointment, the minimum standard in the recruitment announcement; that the new chief should have seven years of extensive California law enforcement experience with a minimum of three years at the management or mid-management level and he does not; and that the new chief be experienced in maintaining municipal operating budgets and he is not.

“This letter will inform you that your grievance is denied,” Hancock wrote. “First, the grievance process outlined in the employee manual does not provide that an employee may grieve the general selection process for police chief as unjust or inequitable. Regardless of this fact, even assuming that the process outlined in the employee manual did provide for such a grievance, you have not provided any evidence or other information substantiating the allegations you have made. Moreover, even if there were evidence to establish your allegations, your grievance fails to recognize that the invitation for applications for the position of police chief for the city of Susanville explicitly provided that ‘any combination of experience and training that would provide the required knowledge and abilities will be considered.’”

Hancock wrote the city wanted to hire the best candidate possible, and alleged that Bollinger apparently was privy to information that had not been publicly released regarding the qualifications of potential candidates.

“If you have specific information or evidence that you believe would be pertinent to your grievance that you have not yet provided, please provide it by Jan. 25, 2017 and the city will revisit your grievance,” Hancock wrote.”

King reportedly was hired on Jan. 23.

Unanswered questions

“Like any of the public’s business, the hiring of a police chief should be completely transparent,” said Lassen County Times’ publisher Mike Taborski. “Here are a few of the questions this newspaper thinks the public deserves to have answered as soon as possible.

“Does King meet the minimum qualifications as outlined in the city’s recruitment materials, and how might the city’s decision to use other criteria affect others who did not apply because they thought they did not meet those minimum standards?

“Did the city violate state law and POST requirements when it hired King as police chief?

“When did the Susanville City Council vote to hire King and why wasn’t that action taken during an open, public session?

“Did the council take a vote to hire King in closed session, and if so, why wasn’t that action reported to the public as required by the Brown Act, California’s Open Meeting law?

“Is it even legal for the city to hire the police chief in a closed session?

“When was King sworn in? Why wasn’t that a public ceremony?

“Did the city rely on an allegedly forged document in King’s hiring process? If such a document was forged, who did it and why?

“We hope the city will put this issue to rest as quickly as possible. Taking ownership and answering these questions will help reinforce trust in handling the public’s business. We will continue to pursue the answers,” Taborski said.