CLAREMONT — After four months of investigations and divisive disputes between residents and city officials, Police Chief Dexter Atkinson resigned this week, expressing hope that reconciliation would replace the rancor that has gripped the community.
In a settlement announced Tuesday by City Manager Glenn Southard, Atkinson agreed to resign the position he has held since 1986 in return for a severance payment of $60,000.
Atkinson had been on paid administrative leave since Aug. 4, when Southard asked the district attorney to investigate whether the police chief broke the law by letting Claremont contractor John Donald Barber do remodeling work in lieu of serving 120 days in jail for his third drunk-driving conviction.
After Pomona Municipal Court Judge Jack P. Hunt ruled in October that Barber had not violated the terms of his probation by performing work instead of serving time in jail, Deputy Dist. Atty. Lawrence Mason announced that he did not have sufficient evidence to prosecute Atkinson.
Mason's inquiry focused on whether Atkinson had provided false documentation to the court that Barber had satisfied his sentence. However, Atkinson remained the subject of a city investigation into his administrative practices.
"The handling of the Barber case . . . was just one of a number of areas that were under investigation," Southard said, refusing to specify the focus of the inquiry. "It was just basically the management of the department."
Southard said the results of the investigation and the reasons for Atkinson's resignation were confidential, but added, "there's a relationship between the investigation and the settlement agreement."
However, Atkinson said this week that the investigation did not indicate any impropriety in his management of the department and that he resigned to spare his family and the community any continued stress over the matter.
"The controversy had to be put to rest somehow," he said. "Four months is just too long for this to drag on. . . . I've maintained all along that there was no wrongdoing on my part and I feel (the resignation) was in the best interests of all concerned. Obviously, if I had done anything wrong, they would have terminated me, not reached a settlement."
Capt. Doug Allen, who took over as acting police chief when Atkinson was relieved of his duties, will remain in that post until next month, when Southard will choose an acting chief from outside the department. Southard said he will soon begin a search for a permanent successor to Atkinson, which may take as long as 6 months.
The resignation brought to an end 4 months of acrimony over the investigation, which some of the police chief's supporters said was a personal vendetta by Southard, who became city manager 2 months before the investigations began.
In recent months, Atkinson's supporters had packed City Council meetings, waving signs reading "Bring Back Dex" and calling for a district attorney's investigation of Southard.
"This issue has put a strain on the entire community and particularly the city manager," Mayor Judy Wright said in an interview, denying that the controversy had been rooted in a personality clash. "There was no power play. The City Council wouldn't tolerate that."
The Rev. George Crites, spokesman for Atkinson's supporters, declined to comment on the chief's resignation except to say that the group planned no further protest or retaliatory action against city officials.
"It's time for healing to take place," Crites said.
Atkinson stressed that he had not asked supporters to protest to the city on his behalf. He said he met with the group Tuesday night to thank members for their support, but also told them to lay the matter to rest.
"There are still some people who are very angry over things," Atkinson said. "They are angry about the way they were treated (by city officials). . . . I indicated to them that the only way we can go on and heal is to let things go. I didn't orchestrate their efforts in any way, so what they do is up to them."
The settlement offer was made to the police chief's attorney last week, Atkinson said. The agreement was approved unanimously by the City Council, Southard said.
Asked whether the investigation had disclosed improprieties by Atkinson, the mayor said, "I don't know that I'd characterize it that way." However, she said the council did not study the investigation's results in detail, preferring to leave that to Southard.
"I think that a lot of the issues that were called into question in the investigation involved Dexter Atkinson's management and administration and those are matters for the (city) manager to judge," Wright said. "We trust his judgment and we accept whatever he has found."
Atkinson refused to discuss the city investigation in detail, saying, "It really serves no purpose to drag up old issues." However, he said his discussions with Southard during the investigation boiled down to differences in administrative style.