Costa Mesa police chief resigns in protest

In a letter to staff, he accuses the City Council of making unethical decisions. CEO Hatch says Staveley's claims lack evidence.

June 21, 2011|By John Canalis and Mona Shadia,;

COSTA MESA — Publicly opposing a proposal to reduce the size of the city's Police Department, interim Police Chief Steve Staveley resigned in protest Monday.

In an interview with the Daily Pilot and a memo widely circulated at City Hall, Staveley took strong parting shots, questioning the ethics, integrity and legality of some of the decisions made by the City Council majority.

In turn, the city's chief executive defended the proposals as ethical and called the resigning chief's statements "simply libelous."

Staveley, a retired law enforcement veteran, stepped in as the fill-in chief March 16. He was to oversee the department while the city searched for a permanent police chief.


"There's a point in time where I reached an ethical dilemma: stay and take their money and be quiet about the foolish council decision-making, or reject their money and call them on it," Staveley told the Pilot in reference to a decision to trim the police force from 139 officers to 131.

Calling them "foolhardy," Staveley challenged the notion of the council majority that the cuts were necessary to make the budget work. Costa Mesa is in the middle of an ideological battle with four council members who claim there is a budget crisis, and a fifth council member and employee associations saying the problems are overstated.

"I've been doing this for a very long time and I can read a budget," Staveley said. "I am unable to sit there and accept checks for looking pretty. I can't do it. If we can't move the organization forward, that's the way it is."

City Chief Executive Tom Hatch said the city's fiscal problems are not overstated.

"Costa Mesa's financial numbers are simple and alarming," he said in a statement, adding that the city spends much more than it takes in and has used more than $33 million of its reserves in the past three years.

While Hatch tried to stay away from cutting public safety, he said there's not much he can do but make some cuts to the department. The city plans to cut 3.5% from the CMPD budget.

The city and a consultant have come up with a plan to maintain patrol hours, he said.

Costa Mesa proposes increasing the number of non-sworn employees for support services and changing their schedule to five days a week, which would be similar to the work schedule in the private sector, Hatch said.

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