Lassen County and the city of Susanville enjoy a well-deserved history of being a hot bed of criticism for our local officials.
The newspaper received a statement from the Susanville Police Officers Association regarding concerns over the hiring of the city’s new police chief, John King, (published as a Where I Stand on page 6B of the Jan. 17 issue of the Lassen County Times). The local union alleged King did not meet the minimum qualifications as set forth in the city’s recruitment advertising, and its members questioned the lack of transparency in the hiring process followed by the city. According to the union’s statement, two local police officers filed grievances with the city over the matter.
The city responded the following week with a Where I Stand column of its own (published on page 6B of the Jan. 24 issue of the Lassen County Times.) While Jared Hancock, the city administrator who wrote the city’s response, was “confident” about the hiring process the city followed, he did not directly address the union’s concerns.
Since then, union officials have declined to respond to the newspaper’s calls regarding the resolution of their concerns. Of course, the newspaper is not privy to the Susanville City Council’s closed session deliberations, the background checks performed on potential employees or the results of grievances filed by local police officers.
The city had not completed its pre-employment screening process when the union submitted its Where I Stand, and Hancock responded to the newspaper’s questions that several of the allegations contained in the union’s Where I Stand were unfounded. He said the Susanville City Council made the decision to hire King during a closed session meeting. He said the council directed him to handle all the steps necessary — such as background and pre-employment checks — before offering King the job, and that the city’s municipal code authorized him to hire the new chief with the city council’s approval.
“The council is part of that decision, and has the final approval,” Hancock said, “but it’s actually the administrator who does all the administrative paperwork … We have employment rules for public employees that make it illegal for us to disclose information that they provide confidentially through an application process.”
Hancock also said no reportable action had been taken by the council until all these steps had been completed, and that’s why King’s hiring was not reported out of closed session at any Susanville City Council meeting. He said King, as a possible city employee, also has a right to privacy as the process moves forward.
“Normally those kinds of personnel decisions are handled in closed session,” Hancock said.
The city administrator also noted the council discussed the matter in agendized closed sessions, and even in one special, closed session meeting.
Still, there are some in the community who continue to complain loudly about the process followed by the city in hiring King as the chief of police. The city could make a transparent statement that answers the community’s concerns and put this behind us. We urge the Susanville City Council and its administrator to step forward, explain the process and put this matter behind us once and for all before it infects the public’s confidence in our police force.