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Chief Accuses City Officials of 'Tampering'

October 01, 1994|JIM NEWTON and JAMES RAINEY | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

In a rare public broadside, an angry Police Chief Willie L. Williams on Friday accused City Council members of attempting to thwart his proposed LAPD reorganization.

"I'm facing political tampering, but the tampering is not going to be effective on Willie Williams as the chief of police," Williams told reporters after a graduation ceremony at the Los Angeles Police Academy. "I make the decisions."

Williams' comments came after several weeks in which the chief's management of the department has come under increasingly harsh criticism from members of the mayor's staff and from certain City Council members, some of whom are attempting to broker a deal to keep Williams' top aide, Assistant Chief Bernard C. Parks, from leaving the department.

In a news conference last month, Williams announced that he was not working effectively with Parks and was demoting him from assistant chief to deputy chief. Williams also announced the creation of a position of first assistant chief, installing Deputy Chief Ronald Banks in that job.

Since then, however, Williams has come under heavy fire for his handling of the shake-up and has become embroiled in the most serious political controversy of his Administration. Within days of the initial announcement, council members intervened to protect Parks' pension by drafting a deal allowing him to retire at his current rank and salary in return for his agreement not to sue the city.

Banks' promotion also hit a snag when it became clear that the move required council approval. Williams still has not sent the proposal to City Hall for consideration, leaving the process in limbo.

This week, Williams has tried to shore up his political support at the same time that some council members have moved to keep Parks in the department by promising to protect his salary even at the lower rank. Sources close to Parks say he is intrigued but undecided about that proposal.

The backlash has surprised and angered Williams, and it provoked the normally taciturn chief to lash back Friday during a carefully staged appearance. Dressed in full uniform and accompanied by the Police Commission president, Williams signaled his displeasure with council members and reaffirmed his determination to press ahead with the reorganization.

Williams said the fallout has "created a lot of concern because I was brought here to help manage the organization. I was not brought here for people to make decisions about what Willie Williams is going to do. . . . That has not happened in the past, and it will not happen in the future."

And yet, even as Williams spoke, council sources said opposition to his proposed reorganization remains formidable.

Williams' comments appeared to have little effect on the council's misgivings. Councilman Nate Holden said the council was right to act in defense of a longtime, respected civil servant who was being mistreated. "If we can save him," Holden said, "the council should be applauded."

Likewise, Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky said he will not back off his efforts in support of Parks.

"I won't stand idly by and see anyone, and that includes a very popular police chief, ruin someone's career and reputation," Yaroslavsky said. "Having destroyed (Parks') reputation and demoted him on citywide television, he now wants to drive the final nail in his coffin and have him leave the department in a way that makes him unemployable."

Although the chief has said Parks is welcome to return to work as a deputy chief, Williams has never publicly specified where he would be assigned. That has redoubled the sense among some council members that Williams' real goal is to have Parks leave altogether.

Despite Williams' charges of political manipulation, Yaroslavsky and Holden said the City Council is exercising its authority to protect the city from litigation.

Parks would have a good chance of winning a suit against the city because he was given improper notice of his termination, Yaroslavsky said. He added that Parks' exemplary record and position as the runner-up in the competition to become chief would make him a powerful witness before a jury.

But Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas of the Public Safety Committee said some of his colleagues are only complicating the matter.

"Members of the council who have interjected themselves into this conflict are making a bigger mess of an already messy situation," he said. "If they were protecting the city from liability, they wouldn't be mouthing off in the press, but very discreetly and privately trying to resolve it."

Williams, who has enjoyed deep political support and public admiration in his two years here, has been rattled by the fallout from his department shake-up. One televised report went so far as to suggest that Williams had been given a letter by Commission President Enrique Hernandez Jr. warning him that he had only a year to improve or face dismissal--a report that Williams and Hernandez both said was inaccurate.

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