CALEXICO — The Calexico City Council voted 4-0 on Dec. 9 to amend the police Chief Gonzalo Gerardo’s contract and give him about a $6,000 per year raise.
The chief’s base salary will
go from $127,395 to $133,765 a year.
Council member Lewis
Pacheco was absent.
The amendment also
included extending the chief’s severance pay from four months to six months. No
other changes were requested by the chief or City Manager David Dale, who
negotiated the raise with Gerardo.
“Our police chief is
doing, and has done, an excellent job,” Mayor Bill Hodge said.
Quoting from a letter of
confidence in the chief issued by the Calexico Police Officers’ Association,
the mayor added, “The one sentence that struck me the most, that helps out the
community, is not only is the morale in the department a lot higher and the
department is a lot more efficient … but it says, ‘Chief Gerardo’s efforts have
greatly reduced the overall crime problem in Calexico, thereby enhancing the
quality of life for its citizens.’”
The Calexico Police
Advisory Commission also issued a letter in support of Gerardo. Both were
included in the agenda backup materials.
With some of the smallest
police staffing numbers in decades and a city barely on the mend from a $4-million
deficit that threatened to bankrupt it, Gerardo’s contract negotiations were
clearly tempered by how they would affect the general fund.
The changes to Gerardo’s
contract will cost the general fund an additional $5,006 in salaries and
benefits through June 30, 2020. For the 2020 calendar year, the increase totals
$8,582 through Dec. 31, 2020. Gerardo is on a year-long contract that runs from
December to December.
“Of course (I’m happy). I
feel the council appreciates what I’m doing,” Gerardo said Dec. 10 of his pay
raise, but he didn’t dwell on it. Instead, Gerardo acknowledged that staffing
challenges at the department are among his biggest concerns and that he is
doing what he can to manage the situation.
‘It’s a National Problem’
It appears Gonzalo’s
officers, members of the Advisory Commission and
city staff all acknowledge Calexico’s police staffing struggles are common
among other departments.
As has become the case
over the last several city council meetings and in other conversations, city
officials have found themselves repeatedly explaining why Calexico only has 22
patrol officers. The department has five open patrol positions.
Gerardo said it again during
an interview with this newspaper Dec. 10, Dale said it on Dec. 9 and even Police
Association President Sgt. Sean Acuña said it several weeks ago while
addressing the council: “It’s a nationwide problem.”
In fending off public criticism
over staffing levels, including from one former police union president in
attendance at the Dec. 9 meeting, Dale explained to the council, “We have
openings for officers right now. The problem is we can’t fill them because the
applicants just aren’t qualified, or don’t pass the site exams, etcetera,
He added, “It’s not just
this city. You take El Centro; they’re down 11 officers. We do have openings
and we’re trying to fill them, but it’s difficult.”
Added Gerardo in a Dec.
10 interview: “We are hurting in manpower,” and that he refuses to let the shortage of good candidates
force him into bad decisions.
He said he asks the city
regularly, “Do you want a warm body or a good officer? Do you want 24 good guys
and 10 lazy guys who don’t want to do their work? I’m on patrol myself. … When
was the last time you heard of the top brass making arrests? It’s because my
guys need help.”
Critics Howl But Steer Clear of Chief
Perhaps tellingly, even
when two members of the public attempted to hijack the Dec. 9 meeting to
criticize the council and the Police Association president over their praise of
management above front-line staff, those critics were careful not to take due credit
from the chief.
“I’m not against the
police chief, but how does the city pay attention to the management level
only?” asked Joong Kim, a former council member and now a candidate for the
Imperial Irrigation District board. “We have lack of the Indians. You are
cheering all the chiefs.”
Kim regularly appears at
Calexico council meetings to criticize the city.
Former Police Association
President Luis Casillas loudly criticized Acuña, who was not in attendance at
the Dec. 9 meeting, for his letter of confidence for Gerardo. Casillas,
however, was at first attacking Hodge and then Acuña’s role as association president,
and not so much attacking Gerardo.
He asked Hodge how he
could say things are better at the police department today when there are only
22 patrol officers, including two officers and one supervisor working the
overnight shift. He said earlier in the meeting that when he was union
president several years ago there were 48 to 50 patrol officers.
“Do you feel proud
telling your community that?” Casillas forcefully asked Hodge before targeting
“Nothing against the
chief, but I’m appalled by Mr. Sean Acuña’s comments. Here he is, they’ve got
him by the string; he’s on probation,” Casillas said, motioning as if he had a
leash around his neck. “He will lobby for the chief of police, but he will not
lobby for his own officers.”
Before making a motion to
grant Gerardo his raise, City Council Member Morris Reisen somewhat tried to
diffuse the situation with Casillas.
“Casillas, you have a point.
You’re pissed off and we can see that. But here’s the deal … I’ve known you for
many, many years. You’ve been coming into (my) store and always complaining
about the chief … You guys weren’t united,” Reisen said, raising Police Association
and Advisory Commission letters that praised Gerardo over his head. “And when
you get two letters like this … that’s telling us he’s doing his job.”