Antioch City Council will not assume control over hiring, firing police chief

Some council members wanted more say in the chief’s hiring, firing process, but others wanted a limit on how long that would last

A proposal to give the Antioch City Council the authority to hire, fire, and supervise the police chief failed to move forward this week after one council member changed her mind about the issue.

On Aug. 22, the council approved a first reading on the structural changes 3-2, with Councilmembers Lori Ogorchock and Mike Barbanica voting no. However, on the final reading Tuesday, Mayor Pro Tem Tamisha Torres-Walker, one of the original proponents of the idea, requested that the council include a provision that would terminate its authority after a year or as soon as a new permanent city manager was appointed.

The councilwoman stated that she had second thoughts because “absolute power corrupts absolutely” and removed the item from the consent calendar.

“A lot of times, when people who haven’t had a lot of power get a little, they misuse it – and that can happen in politics,” Torres-Walker explained. “That could happen in the city council… Because most of us work full-time, I offered the compromise. We also want to keep a close eye on the hiring process and make it as transparent as possible. However, I do not believe that this policy should become the norm. I believe we should set a time limit for this policy.”

According to City Attorney Thomas Lloyd Smith, city councils are given broad latitude in deciding how a city will be administered and operated, as well as the authority to hire and fire a police chief. Some cities, such as Fullerton, do so, but in Antioch, the city manager currently has authority over all departments, including the police chief.

The idea of the council taking an active role in hiring a chief was first discussed in 2021, when Thorpe and Torres-Walker asked staff to draft a police chief hiring process with community input and the council ratifying the contract during a police oversight standing committee.

However, by 2022, the FBI and DA were investigating East Contra Costa County officers, and it was clear that a permanent chief was needed immediately to replace Chief Tammany Brooks, who had left in late 2021. Steven Ford was hired quickly but resigned a year later.

The council later discovered that it could not only hire or fire a chief, but also supervise that person if it wanted to change the process.

Torres-Walker credited former police officer and Councilman Ralph Hernandez with exposing police department mismanagement, including ignoring complaints about abuse and covering it up, which necessitated the policy. It should be noted that, despite his criticism of some Antioch police officers and former chiefs, Hernandez stated that he opposed the proposal.

“It’s the idea that you can’t hold them accountable because they have an affinity for protecting their own and putting the community at risk,” Torres-Walker explained. “The fact is that there have been no (police) evaluations for seven years… and the fact that, in the absence of evaluations and quality training, many of them received promotions, large paychecks, and some were able to retire with pensions.”

Torres-Walker said she supported the proposal as a means of holding the police chief accountable, but she wanted the policy to have an expiration date.

“I really want to move forward with this tonight,” she said, “but I hope my colleagues on the council will accept the compromise.”

Mayor Lamar Thorpe, on the other hand, has stated that he will not change his stance. He had previously claimed that previous councils, city managers, and police chiefs had allowed a corrupt culture to thrive within the police department with no accountability. Dozens of people have been placed on administrative leave while the FBI and District Attorney conduct investigations.

“I am sticking to the original proposal,” he stated. “My values say that having a policy that extends to the hiring of the permanent city manager is not a policy because there will never be oversight.”

“The goal was to move toward transparency and accountability.” I am unable to support your policy. Then it simply will not pass.”

Councilwoman Monica Wilson, on the other hand, said she supported a sunset date for the policy, but Torres-Walker’s motion to bring back the amended proposal for a vote was defeated. Council members Lori Ogorchock and Mike Barbanica, as well as Mayor Thorpe, voted against it.

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