POMONA — Police Chief Donald J. Burnett, whose job would be eliminated if the city decides to contract with the county for police services, resigned Tuesday to take a job as chief of police in San Bernardino.
Burnett, 48, who has been embroiled in several controversies during his five years as chief, said his opposition to a city study to determine if money can be saved by contracting police services to the county Sheriff's Department had nothing to do with his decision to resign. Contracting with the county would eliminate the position of police chief, according to county officials.
"All things considered, San Bernardino looked like an excellent move for me," Burnett said. "But I am still convinced the citizens of Pomona will not allow contracting for police services to occur. I'm not leaving because I feel the hot breath of Sheriff Block." Sherman Block is the Los Angeles County sheriff.
On March 3, Burnett will assume his duties in San Bernardino, a better professional opportunity, he said, because he will supervise more officers and be paid a slightly higher salary than in Pomona. He is now paid $65,436 a year to run a department of 223, compared to his future salary of $68,376 to run San Bernardino's 336-member department.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday February 23, 1986 Home Edition San Gabriel Valley Part 9 Page 2 Column 1 Zones Desk 1 inches; 18 words Type of Material: Correction
In Thursday's San Gabriel Valley section, San Bernardino Mayor Evlyn Wilcox was incorrectly identified as mayor of Pomona.
Although other city officials speculated that Burnett resigned because of the contracting proposal and because of frustration with the Police Department's limited resources, the chief said that even without the department's recent troubles he probably would have made the same decision.
"Any police chief would say the same: If I had more resources I could do more for the community," Burnett said.
"You have to look at the opportunities as they come. San Bernardino happened to open up at this time."
Councilman Jay Gaulding, however, said personal conversations he has had with Burnett in recent months have revealed the chief's frustration with a six-month delay in management salary increases and the department's inability to eliminate prostitution, drugs and violent crime because of limited funds.
Burnett was also bothered by the council's decision to study the possibility of turning to the county for police, fire and library services in order to head off an expected $1.3-million budget shortfall, Gaulding said. Pomona officials have said they are not sure when the study will be completed.
"I knew this Sheriff's Department thing was just kind of a slap in the face," Gaulding said, adding that the resignation "came as no surprise to me."
Mayor 'Can't Blame Him'
But Mayor G. Stanton Selby said he was surprised when he learned of Burnett's decision last weekend.
"I hate to make a change in a position as important as that," Selby said. "But when a man is out to improve himself and can improve himself, I can't blame him."
An interim police chief from within the department will be selected by City Administrator Ora Lampman, council members said, until candidates to fill the post permanently can be interviewed.
Councilwoman Donna Smith said the city should postpone filling the position until the council decides whether to adopt the contracting proposal.
"I don't think we need to go out and recruit another chief right now," Smith said. She also said council members should "have some say" in deciding on an interim chief, although according to the City Charter making that appointment is the job of the city administrator.
Many Sought Post
Burnett, who came to Pomona in 1981 after serving as a police captain in Garden Grove, will replace San Bernardino interim chief Paul Bonanno, a captain in the department who had also applied for the job as permanent chief. Former Police Chief Ben Gonzales retired on Dec. 30.
Among the 49 other applicants were Rialto Police Chief Ray Farmer and San Bernardino County Undersheriff Richard Williams. But Richard Bennecke, administrative assistant to Pomona Mayor Evelyn Wilcox, said Burnett's extensive experience, including 20 years in Garden Grove, as well as the fact that he possesses a master's degree in public administration, weighed heavily in the mayor's decision to appoint him. The appointment was confirmed by a unanimous vote of the San Bernardino City Council on Monday.
Burnett has weathered a number of controversies since he became chief. Among the most divisive was a harsh exchange between Burnett and then-Councilman Clay Bryant over allegations of police brutality in 1984.
Bryant, who was arrested by Pomona police on suspicion of drunk driving in April, 1984, said the department was harassing him for bringing the allegations to light. (He was arrested before making the allegations.) No charge was filed in the driving case.
Bryant charged that Pomona officers often targeted minorities for undeserved beatings, and his statements launched investigations by the FBI and the U. S. Commission on Civil Rights. The FBI has refused to make the results of its investigation public, and the civil rights commission said a 4.3% federal funding cutback has prevented its investigation from being completed.