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City planner questions police chief's endorsement

McCarthy says Gazsi should stay out of Assembly election, while the chief says he has every right as an individual to participate in politics.

February 24, 2014|By Bradley Zint

A Costa Mesa planning commissioner has sent city officials what he terms a "formal grievance" regarding Police Chief Tom Gazsi's decision to endorse Newport Beach City Councilman Keith Curry's bid for state Assembly.

"I don't believe a Costa Mesa police chief should be endorsing political candidates in races," Colin McCarthy wrote in an email Friday to city CEO Tom Hatch and City Atty. Tom Duarte. "It is [prominently] listed on Mr. Curry's website. City employees using their titles should stay out of races."

McCarthy, an attorney who said he was complaining in his capacity "as a resident," also wrote that the endorsement sends "a bad message and has to violate some city or state policy."

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In an interview, Gazsi said the state's government code specifically allows him, as an individual, free participation in political activities. He said he did not make his endorsement officially as the chief of police or in relation to any of his professional endeavors.

"There's nothing that prohibits police officers' ability to participate in political activities, associate with those they choose to associate with or express themselves, as protected under the U.S. Constitution," Gazsi said.

He added that "there are plenty of instances of government executives who have endorsed a variety of candidates," and his doing so is not uncommon.

"Some of my professional colleagues would suggest that it's inappropriate, while in public service, to endorse candidates," Gazsi said. "However, to remain silent about potentially elected officials that have influence over a region of our country doesn't seem reasonable."

In a follow-up interview, McCarthy called Gazsi's endorsement "inappropriate." McCarthy said he was worried about a top-ranking law enforcement official — one who's sworn to protect campaign laws — showing favoritism to a candidate.

"The city manager/CEO would never endorse a supervisor candidate in a race," he said. "Why is this any different?"

Gazsi, a longtime Newport-Mesa resident, said he's been friends with Curry and his wife, Pamela, for decades. Before being selected in 2011 as Costa Mesa's police chief, Gazsi worked for the Newport Beach Police Department for more than 30 years.

"I have the upmost regard and respect for Keith and Pam," Gazsi said.

A recent posting on the Costa Mesa Taxpayers Assn. Facebook page also questioned Gazsi's support.

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