Updated: Council shuts down police contract talks in 3-2 vote

The sheriff's office sets up a perimeter at a 2011 search for a wanted suspect on the west side of Hollister.

Don’t expect serious talks to pick up until at least 2016 on law enforcement consolidation in San Benito County.

Hollister City Council members Monday once again shut down any prospects for a contract agreement between the city police department and county sheriff’s office.

Council members voted 3-2 on a motion Monday from Councilman Ray Friend to table any discussions for three years on a police contract.

The idea to broach a possible police contract – a proposal that was also tabled two years ago after a hired consultant urged against it due to minimal estimated savings – has been a push from Mayor Ignacio Velazquez since he won the election in November. He has had support from Councilman Robert Scattini to continue talks between the city and county, which already included soliciting cost estimates for providing services from the police chief and sheriff.

Council members Victor Gomez and Ray Friend have been openly against any consideration of a merger contract, though, and their side Monday gained the eventual swing vote from Councilwoman Pauline Valdivia.

It means that the on-again, off-again speculation over law enforcement consolidation is over for now. Moving to a contract situation involving city police and the sheriff’s office last gained momentum in 2011, before a hired consultant’s report – often referenced Monday – recommended against a consolidation contract.

That consultant’s report, though, did include 10 recommendations for certain functions – such as vehicle maintenance and detective bureaus – in which the two cooperating agencies could improve efficiencies. A resident’s criticism over lacking movement on those 10 items sparked a response from Interim Police Chief Carlos Reynoso, who pointed blame toward the sheriff by saying the “communication’s not there” from the county agency’s end.

Council members at the outset of Monday’s discussion made it clear where the vote was headed after Valdivia stated openly it was “time to move on” beyond talk of a contract. Before that vote occurred at night’s end, though, many residents spoke at the podium.

One of those residents was Hollister police officer Bo Leland.

As examples of efficiencies in the department, Leland reflected on thousands of dollars in grants obtained by the HPD in recent times to upgrade equipment and he mentioned the agency’s “pioneering” use of social media to inform the public. As for speculation over a police contract, he said on multiple occasions he has spent months worrying whether he would keep his job.

“It’s frustrating that some people wish to ship us off to another agency,” Leland said.

Velazquez didn’t need to hear public speakers or even wait for a vote, however, to express his own frustration about the council’s ultimate direction. He made his feelings clear after realizing how Valdivia would vote.

“In a few years we’ll be back with our hat in our hand begging for money and we’re going to make every excuse in the world for how we tried,” Velazquez said. “We didn’t.”

Velazquez had been hopeful the city could save as much as $2 million annually by contracting with the sheriff – a figure based on Sheriff Darren Thompson’s estimate that he could provide 20 or so officers for $3 million to $3.5 million compared with the annual police budget of $5.8 million.

“We’re just asking a question – and we don’t do it?” he said. “Shame on us.”

Councilman Victor Gomez brought the item forward in an attempt to put the question to rest.

He was among those who pointed to the 2011 consultant’s report and said the “facts are before you” in opposing further contract discussions. He said he “felt bad” for Thompson with continued cuts to the sheriff’s office, but also underlined city voters’ passage of Measure E that was billed as a way to maintain public service levels.

“It’s time to stop playing political games with our officers,” Gomez said.

Councilman Robert Scattini, on the other hand, has supported looking at a contract and said the consultant in 2011 “did a terrible job.” Scattini added that he respects all the officers in the department.

Friend then moved for a vote and mistakenly attempted to prevent the public from speaking.

“That’s not open to the public,” Friend said. “It’s just a report.”

The city attorney corrected him and said everything on the agenda is open for public comment.

Marty Richman, a Free Lance columnist, was the first person to speak.

“Now my friend Ray, my fellow veteran, doesn’t want me to come up and say anything about this project,” Richman said.

Richman claimed that none of the city officials were serious about the 10 recommendations for efficiency gains included in the 2011 report.

Reynoso, the interim police chief, was the last speaker. Reynoso contended that the police department is open to consideration of all the suggested items. He said police officials met with the sheriff and “encouraged most of those.”

“And nothing ever came back – we’re open to all these things,” Reynoso said. “The statement’s been made that nothing’s been done. If nothing’s been done, it’s not because of us.”

He went on to say the city has been communicating, but added, “The communication’s not there,” without clarifying his statement further.

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