Patterson car policy surprises police chief
By PRESTON GILL
The day after The Daily Review published findings showed the City of Patterson was in violation of its own charter and state law, Mayor Rodney Grogan emailed department heads Wednesday informing them that city vehicles, including police units, would be subject to a new policy.
The new policy states city vehicles are not allowed out of the city limits without his permission unless on “approved official city business … Only city workers living within the city limits will be allowed to drive city-owned … vehicles home.” The policy was effective 12 hours later; one minute after midnight Thursday.
Grogan said the policy applies to everyone in city government, with the exception of himself and the police chief, both of whom live inside the city limits.
Patterson Police Chief Patrick LaSalle said he was surprised by the memo. The policy change was “hasty” and would have a “devastating effect” on the police department in its effectiveness and morale, he said.
Each Patterson police officer was assigned a unit that was brought home before the policy change. LaSalle was proud to have instituted the “car for man” policy in Patterson and it is a valuable aid in recruitment as well as crime prevention, he said.
LaSalle said he was disappointed the mayor did not discuss the issue and its ramifications with him before making the change.
“But, we will follow the mayor’s policy and my officers will park their units at the substation at the end of their shifts,” LaSalle said.
Under the charter, the mayor oversees all city employees except the elected police chief.
Grogan said he intended to get Patterson policy and practices in compliance with the city charter. If the charter does not address an issue, he intended to have it addressed in a handbook or by resolution or ordinance.
Prior to the Wednesday memo, there was no written policy on the use of city vehicles.
Grogan said it would be up to the chief to make an argument to the council as to why the units should go home with the officers who live out of the city limits.
Today, the police chief was still expressing frustration with the new policy and said he would talk to the council and impress on them the value of letting an officer keep a unit on and off duty.
“I will make my argument regards keeping this blanket of security in the community at the first opportunity I am given,” LaSalle said. “It is no doubt in my mind that this policy helps John Q. Public.”
Last week city clerk Pam Washington predicted there would be consequences to the changes the mayor would make.
“A lot of people will be affected,” Washington said. “The mayor has power to do a lot of things he hasn’t been doing because of protocol. Now there is going to be a whole different ball game.”
Over a period of several weeks the newspaper had discussions with the Legislative Auditor’s office, Attorney General’s office and assistant district attorneys in the 16th Judicial District, and Allen Taylor, the auditor who performed the report for Kolder, Champagne, Slaven & Company. Among other issues, the newspaper asked what laws govern the provision of an automobile to the mayor and its use outside of official purposes.
On Sept. 13, the newspaper spoke with Grogan about the audit report findings and other practices not mentioned in the report.
Before stating the single policy change, the Sept. 18 memo said prior common practices would be discontinued because of “allegations made by a person or persons to the District Attorney’s Office.” The memo did not address any other policy or practice changes.
During the Sept. 13 meeting, Grogan said a $300 monthly automobile stipend was given to previous mayors in addition to the $20,261 annual salary as part time mayor. He said because of his travels in Patterson on official business and to functions he has been asked to attend as mayor, that stipend did not cover his expenses.
Grogan said he, Washington and longtime councilman Larry Mendoza discussed the issue and they decided he and the city would be better served by purchasing a vehicle for use by the mayor.
Grogan said on Wednesday that he would ask the council to make a resolution giving him and future mayors the option of the stipend or the use of a city vehicle.
Grogan said the Patterson Police Department has 23 vehicles, not all of which are patrol units. LaSalle said in addition to his 10 patrolmen, his department encompasses him, his assistant police chief, detectives, jail warden and others. He said the vehicle count includes a prisoner transport unit and a pair of “special use” vehicles.
Tri-City mayoral car allowance, police department vehicles
Mayor: $63,000 annual salary, uses own vehicle, accepts $500 monthly stipend.
Police: 53 hired personnel using 46 automobiles, which can be taken home if the officer lives within 30 miles of the city.
Mayor: $20,261 annual salary, uses city vehicle in lieu of $300 monthly stipend.
Police: 31 personnel including police chief use 23 vehicles that now must be stored at the substation when off duty
Mayor: $36,000 annual salary, no automobile or stipend provided.
Police: 10 hired personnel using 11 cars, only the chief and assistant chief bring cars home.