Veteran police Capt. Mike Tracy, who is considered a leading contender for the job of police chief in Palos Verdes Estates, assumed those duties last week after Chief Monte Newman took a medical leave because of hypertension.
Officials say they do not expect the 55-year-old Newman to return. Two months ago, Newman announced that he would retire on Sept. 1, citing frustration over low police pay. Police sources also blamed a rift between Newman, who has spent his 26-year police career with the city, and City Manager Gordon Siebert, who was appointed two years ago.
Tracy, 43 and a 19-year member of the department, automatically took over as chief because of his rank but does not have the title of acting chief, Siebert said.
Tracy said he is one of five candidates for chief from within the department. Others are Lt. Louis Najera, Sgt. Ed Jakola, Sgt. Bill Hetherington and Sgt. Ron Echols, Tracy said.
Mayor Edward Ritscher said the City Council intends to hire from within unless it determines that none of the local candidates are qualified. The council had planned to use an executive search firm to recruit candidates but backed down after 23 residents appeared at a council meeting and said bringing a chief from outside would damage police morale.
Ritscher said Tracy is the leading contender "in terms of having the managerial background." However, he said other factors could play a part in the selection.
Officials said Paul Whisenand, professor of police administration at California State University, Long Beach, has been retained for a $4,000 fee to develop job qualifications--using suggestions from Siebert, Newman and council members--and to evaluate candidates from within the department. The city wants to name a new chief by Sept. 1.
Siebert said that even though Newman is gone, he said he would provide information to the consultant.
Acknowledging a conflict between Newman and Siebert, Ritscher said he met with both in an attempt to forge a "more professional relationship." He said he thought progress was being made until Newman went on leave.
"I thought things were better, but in the final analysis, perhaps Monte felt he or people in his department should get things that I as manager at least raised questions about," Siebert said.
Tracy said Newman "experienced frustration" over police salary negotiations, which escalated with a city offer to management employees that would result in lieutenants and captains being paid less than sergeants because top ranks would lose longevity pay while sergeants would retain it. Tracy said this is "not fair" and is being negotiated.
Ritscher said the offer has been misinterpreted: "The council never intended to make people lose money." He said, however, that the council wants to replace longevity pay with a bonus system for outstanding performance.
Siebert also said the offer has been misunderstood. "The city offer would have granted an increase in base pay in exchange for certain bonus pay provisions," he said. "The result would have been that no one would have lost anything."