Like others in this community, I am also dismayed at the public and private turmoil in our city over the Downey Police Department, its chief and its officers--but from a different perspective than the alarmed letters I have been reading in local editorial pages. I hope others will express a similar perspective.
I am dismayed at the shock and indignant surprise being exhibited by our Downey City Council majority who, I believe, have mistakenly dug themselves in to defend a situation they could have avoided in the first place--the appointment of D. Clayton Mayes as police chief. (Or, if you prefer, their ratification of the city manager's appointment of Mayes.)
It is not my intention to debate the issue of Downey Police Officers Assn. gripes versus policy changes made by Mayes, which has already filled enough newspaper column inches for a lifetime. Likewise, Chief Mayes will get no public criticism from me. His desire to serve and qualifications to serve as police chief somewhere are not my issue.
The issue is whether Mayes is the "right fit" for Downey. The appointer(s) of the chief should have known--and did know--that their first choice would come to this office with an excess of "political baggage" that might not make him the best choice for the entire community. That baggage included having served in a Downey political office himself; having been a personal friend and political ally of one of the appointing council members, Randall Barb (which, unwisely, has been denied); the undercurrents associated with losing his school board seat in a bitter election, and holding close social ties to those perceived as wielding the most power in Downey.
None of these circumstances makes Mayes a bad person or a bad professional. In fact, he is known for his philanthropy and helpfulness, as are his social peers. But they do make for a "bad fit" for Mayes in the highly visible position of Downey's police chief, which, at the very least, should have started out with the perception of neutrality for every officer and citizen.
What is NOT good is their tunnel vision that allowed the council majority to ignore the predictable, avoidable and natural polarization of the community that might occur--and HAS occurred. To call those with differing views "factions" or to yell "sour grapes" is pointless. To say people shouldn't feel the way they do (including the rank-and-file Downey police officers) is useless talk.
If members of the City Council could put aside any preconceived positions in reading the police officers association's morale survey, they might find a common thread that sounds very specific to me: The officers don't trust their chief personally or professionally and they have tried to articulate why. Because some of their concerns may relate to the above-described "political baggage" that the council chose to ignore does not make those concerns any less real or valid. They are simply falling on deaf ears.
As a consequence, our police chief is in the exquisitely embarrassing position of having his and his officers' laundry hanging out on the community clothesline. The City Council majority draws its step-over line in the sand, says "get out of town" to over 80 association members if they don't like it, and continues to try and shove the glass slipper on a foot it will not fit.
We cannot go back in time to the day before these decisions were made. We have to go forward. I, too, want this episode in our community's history over with. I ask that those we have empowered to serve this city will think about the entire community--and act accordingly.
JOYCE L. LAWRENCE
Downey Planning Commission