Palos Verdes Estates Police Chief Monte Newman, who has spent his 26-year police career in the city--the last two as chief--has announced his retirement, saying he is "not overjoyed" at the way city police officers are treated.
Newman, who said he will leave his $53,800-a-year post Sept. 1, said pay and benefits for police in the city are "among the lowest, or are the lowest, in Los Angeles County" and that City Council members don't like to pay wages comparable to those of surrounding communities.
Newman, 55, declined to comment on reports that his decision to retire stems directly from a conflict with City Manager Gordon Siebert. But the head of the Palos Verdes Police Assn., Sgt. Art Clabby, said it is the crux of the problem.
"Basically, we have a communications problem with the city manager," he said. "It has been a problem for over a year. Police officers basically don't have confidence in Mr. Siebert, nor do they trust him."
Some city officials say the dissatisfaction voiced by police is linked to pay negotiations that have been under way since January between city management and the police association.
Councilwoman Barbara Culver said there has been "some disagreement" between Newman and Siebert--who became city manager about the time Newman became police chief. But she said, "It is my understanding they have been making progress. I am surprised and disappointed this has developed."
Clabby said Newman has been feeling "increasing pressure and problems" because as a city department head, he has to support decisions that he believes are unfair to his 23 sworn officers and 11 civilian employees.
"He is a policeman's chief," Clabby said. "As the chief administrator of the Police Department, he is responsible for the total operation, but he never forgets the fact that he was once a policeman himself and he treats his men accordingly."
Siebert said he has "a good line of communication" with Newman.
"I consider him (Newman) a fully participative member of the management team," he said. "I have an open door and he knows he can come up any time and talk to me. I frequently go down and talk to him."
Siebert said Newman talked to him about retirement. "He indicated his wife had retired and he was interested in being able to travel in his motor home," Siebert said.
Clabby said the average pay of Palos Verdes Estates officers is $2,272 a month, compared to $2,816 in Torrance, Redondo Beach, Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach and Hawthorne, the South Bay cities that were included in a pay survey conducted by Palos Verdes Estates.
Siebert said the pay information is accurate but, citing the negotiations that are under way, declined to say whether he believes Palos Verdes Estates police are underpaid.
Two years ago, the department went to a 36-hour work week, which Newman said "helped things" for awhile. He added, however, that subsequent pay increases in other cities eroded this gain.
Problem Lies in Pay
Newman said Palos Verdes Estates is on a par with other South Bay beach cities in recruiting and retaining police officers, but added, "It is an ongoing problem to compete in today's market for the same caliber of personnel when we have to pay them less."
Clabby, however, conceded that although there were serious turnover problems a few years ago, the department has stabilized and the average officer has been there for more than five years.
"We realize we cannot be brought in one year up to the average of the South Bay cities, but we want to see some determination on the part of the city to bring us close to those cities," Clabby said.
Culver said that in lieu of pay increases two years ago, the department received the California Highway Patrol retirement plan, which allows an officer to retire at half pay at age 50 after 25 years of service.
Clabby said officers are prepared to accept the city's latest wage offer. However, another, unspecified item in the negotiation package is blocking agreement.
Aside from wage issues, Clabby said police officers do not trust Siebert to present their requests accurately to the council. "We do not know what happens to things we submit to the city manager," he said. "All we know is that when we get things back, they've got to be changed--negotiation items, requests for seminars and schools, things that officers put in for."
Requests Almost Automatic
He said that under previous city managers, requests for items such as training school, if approved by the chief, "virtually went through."
For his part, Siebert said, "The job of a manager is to ask, 'Why?' when it is appropriate." He said he "counts very heavily" on Newman's recommendations in evaluating police officer requests.
Siebert said the city plans to recruit both inside and outside the city for a new chief and has set a $50,000 starting salary.
Clabby said the officers' choice would be Capt. Mike Tracy, a 19-year member of the department who is deputy chief.
"I hope he applies," Siebert said.
Newman, who lives in San Pedro, said he and his wife, Joan, will move to a new home they bought in Carlsbad and "will do some traveling" in a new motor home.
He said the nicest thing about working in Palos Verdes Estates has been his association with other officers and people in the city. "There are a lot of nice people in town," he said.
In his letter of resignation, Newman said the department "has become almost like a second family."