ORANGE — A group of residents outraged that Police Chief John R. Robertson was relieved of his duties last month has asked the Orange County Grand Jury to investigate.
The group says the City Council and city administrative officials have conflicts of interest that prevent them from fairly evaluating Robertson's job performance.
"We need an independent party such as the grand jury to review the city's actions in this case," the group, Citizens for Leadership, Ethics, Accountability Now (CLEAN), said in its complaint to the grand jury.
About 100 members are expected to rally in front of City Hall tonight with brooms as the council meets in executive session to discuss the Robertson case.
"We're bringing brooms to let them know we want ethics in City Hall," said Carole Walters, a group member.
She said that a recall campaign will be launched if the council does not reinstate Robertson.
The request for grand jury involvement added another layer of intrigue to a scandal that has gripped the city since April.
Then, the Police Department began looking into allegations of possible misappropriation of funds by the city's trash hauler, Orange Disposal Service Inc., and its affiliated recycler, Orange Resource Recovery Systems Inc. Sources have told police the amount of funds lost to the city may run as high as $6 million.
Documents later released by City Hall indicated that city officials had evidence of financial irregularities at the recycling company, which is contracted to sell salvage material for the city, for months before handing the case to the Police Department.
In what city officials said was an unrelated action, Robertson was placed on paid administrative leave Oct. 15.
City Personnel Director Steven V. Pham announced that the city had hired outside attorneys to investigate claims that Robertson had allowed a "hostile workplace" to develop in his department.
Robertson has said he cannot comment directly on the case.
The decision was made by Pham and City Manager David L. Rudat with a 3-2 vote of the council to move ahead with the investigation.
Charges of political retaliation were quick to follow.
Robertson's attorneys, David L. Miller and George H. Jaramillo, have said that the chief's probe of the trash company was getting too close to top officials at City Hall.
Miller later added to the emotional debate at a council meeting when he revealed that Robertson had found numerous sets of fingerprints on the city manager's copy of a sealed affidavit detailing the trash investigation.
Police were trying to identify the prints on the document, which had been leaked to the press, when Robertson was placed on leave, according to Miller.
Rudat has denied being the source of the leak.
Activists with CLEAN, which has signed up about 200 members since its founding last week, said there are too many personal and political connections for council members to continue with the case.
"We're asking the grand jury to remove this process from Orange," said Shannon Tucker, a co-founder of the group. "We're not going after anybody. We have asked the grand jury to investigate the process by which the chief was placed on leave and the method by which [city officials] collected their evidence."
The three council members who supported investigating the chief--Mayor Joanne Coontz, Mike Spurgeon and Mark Murphy--said they are following the legal rules regarding purported personnel complaints against the chief.
"The road is littered with the dead bodies of other agencies that did not investigate charges and go through the process," Spurgeon said Tuesday. "It might sound good to be going to the grand jury, but what data do these people have that the rest of us don't have? I'm afraid they are getting one-sided facts."
Jaramillo said the city had no facts before putting Robertson on leave.
"They have still not articulated to us what the chief allegedly has done wrong," he said. "We know they can't put a case together. I just hope these people realize it's time to put up or shut up."
Residents will have a brief period to comment to the council at 5 p.m., before the officials go into closed session.