SELMA – There was mixed reaction when it was announced that Police Chief Greg Garner’s contract had been extended for another four years at the latest Selma City Council meeting.
The decision was reached during closed session at the May 7 meeting and announced by City Attorney Neal Costanzo.
The vote was 4-1 with Mayor Pro Tem Scott Robertson dissenting.
Robertson said he didn’t think Garner’s contract should be renewed as he felt the chief didn’t give information on a timely basis and that problems that existed even before Garner arrived haven’t been resolved since he was hired.
“It’s the norm we hear about violent crimes first on [a social media site] before we receive any kind of city notification,” Robertson said.
Robertson said the Council is doing its part by approving raises for the officers and admits there were problems even before Garner arrived. Since those problems still exist, Robertson said he thought the time was right for new leadership in the department.
“Someone is needed who will rock the boat and make changes necessary to lower the attrition rate and position the department where it needs to be as the pre-eminent law enforcement agency in the South County. Our city needs someone to raise morale more than we need an advocate for a building.”
Interim City Manager Henry Perea said typically chiefs are appointed and evaluated by the city manager. That person can get input from the Council in making that decision “to ensure the proposed action is consistent with the will of the elected representatives of the citizens of Selma.”
Selma resident Yolanda Torrez was among those who voiced shock at the decision and vowed that those who voted for the renewal would be ousted once elections are tallied in November.
“Shame on you that voted for this contract,” Torrez said. “We’ve been here time after time, year after year begging for help to change what is happening at our police department, asking for help for our officers and for our families. Those of you whose seats are up, you’d better get ready to move on.”
Selma resident Sarah Guerra said she too was disappointed at the contract extension.
“The issue we’re having is with administration and leadership. The officers continue to complain about the morale and the leadership. They don’t feel appreciated and there’s no camaraderie.”
Others support Garner and say citizens need to do their part to prevent crime.
Marty Lynch, a pastor with Christ-Driven Assembly Church, was present for the invocation and spoke in support of Chief Garner and crime prevention efforts he’s founded such as the Bringing Broken Neighborhoods Back to Life programs that bring resources to at-risk neighborhoods.
“We don’t have a chief or police problem, we have a people problem,” Lynch said in reference to societal and family issues. “I’m not going to depend on the police to do my job. They’re law enforcement, they’re not my parents. I believe in Chief Garner and our churches are behind him. The people who don’t know who this man is don’t sit down with him on a weekly or daily basis. They just see the problems.”
Garner said after the meeting that some of the issues raised are not his, but the city council’s, to decide.
“The elected officials decide how many police officers we have. I would love to have more officers if [the city] can afford it, but I also know the police department is just one component of the city’s operation. My job is to do the best I can to ensure public safety with the resources I have, rather than focus on what I don’t have.”
Garner said he’ll continue to conduct specific operations to deal with crime spikes such as a recent rash of shootings.
“Operation Blue Shield was the sixth operation of this nature we’ve had since I’ve been here,” he said of a recent crime suppression effort reported to City Council.
Garner said he’s looking forward to seeing the new police station built, adding more officers to the force as the city’s income increases through economic growth and working with the Valley Regional Occupational Program to steer high school students into a law enforcement career.
Garner also touted other accomplishments such as reinstituting the Volunteers In Policing program, the Explorer program and the Bringing Broken Neighborhoods Back to Life block parties held in conjunction with area churches.
“Folks may not particularly care for my style of being community oriented, but that’s what I’m paid for. I’ll continue to be responsive and will be available for anyone to ask me anything. I’m going to continue to do my job and I’m inspired that so many people support what we’re doing.”
Contracts with police and fire mid-management were also announced at this City Council meeting. For the police lieutenants and sergeants, it includes a 5 percent salary increase this year, with another 4 percent increase in 2019 and then another 4 percent increase in 2020. For fire department staff such as the fire division chief, fire marshal and fire captain, salaries will be increased by 4 percent this year. Increases of 3.5 percent and 3 percent follow in 2019 and 2020.
Mayor Jim Avalos said the contract talks were “a tough decision” and realizes citizens will either accept Council’s decision or “go out and make a change” he said in regards to the November elections.