Four years into their new model of government, the City of San Fernando still finds itself adjusting from working with having a city administrator form of government to a city manager model- where department heads report to the city manager instead of directly to the city council.
And the question of who the city’s police chief should report to has been a point of debate at city hall in earlier years. There has always been a lot of ambiguity as where that position should fall. The Police Chief’s position falls into the category of an executive management at -will position.
That uncertainty was brought to a close on Monday when council members voted to officially designate the Chief of Police Tony Vairo as a department head, making him responsible for reporting to the city manager.
The city has been in transition with several top positions currently vacant. The city’s finance director Nick Kimball, has stepped in as the interim city manager. The city conducted interviews last week to fill the city manager’s position. Mayor Sylvia Ballin and City council member Jaime Soto agreed to serve on the ad hoc committee to oversee the interview process. However, Soto failed to show up for the two days of interviews.
Meanwhile, the lack of clarity for the Police Chief prevented him from a pay raise. Kimball, who brought the issue up to the council prior to the vote said, “We have one employee in the city who is not covered by any bargain unit, therefore has not received any compensation increases over the last three years.”
According to Kimball, all other city employees have received an average of 2.5 to 3 percent increase over the last three years. But the chief of police’s position was not part of any bargaining agreement since the city reorganized itself.
“It did not fit neatly into a category because of his unique position as an executive management employee, but also being a sworn office, he didn’t fit neatly into any of the existing MOU’s, [memorandum of understanding] so that position was just kind of left out there and not addressed,” Kimball said.
Before the transition, the police chief would negotiate a contract directly with the city council.
The resolution was approved by all four councilmembers present (Councilmember Jaime Soto was absent) and will give an increase of two and a half percent to the chief’s base salary. The new starting salary for the chief is $162,400 effective July 1, 2017.
However, along with the increase, Kimball said there are a number of things eliminated for the new pay, such as no longer having 100 percent full medical coverage and less time off. The chief will now have a fixed amount that is covered for medical, dental, and vision benefits and he and other department heads will now be eligible for 400 hours of capped vacation and sick time instead of 800 hours. This reduction and change also saves money because it limits the city’s possible financial liability for paying out unused vacation hours upon seperation, Kimball said.
The chief will also be eligible for up to three months severance pay if ever terminated, just like all the other department heads, and the position will have the same retirement package as the sworn officers. Kimball said the total salary increase is about $4,000 to make up for four years the chief went without a raise.
Although the starting salary for the chief of police was $144,000 plus benefits, public records show Vairo did not get paid that amount until 2016. In 2015, he was paid his lieutenant salary for the three months he remained in that position, and started getting paid as chief in March, when he was hired.
Kimball also stated that without this resolution, Vairo would be receiving nearly the same salary as subordinates, since they are scheduled for a three percent increase next year.
“Typically you have a manager making five percent more than subordinates, so without any sort of adjustment, we will have an issue there as far as the pay scale goes,” Kimball said.
The resolution passed without any discussion since the item was discussed in closed session, said Mayor Ballin, but after the meeting she told The Sun it should have been done a long time ago.
“We’ve had many issues to face, and this is just one more,” she said. “And it’s the right thing to do. “
A request to postpone salary increases for city council and department heads until permanent executive positions are filled was placed on the same day’s agenda. However, the item was tabled since the councilmember who placed the item on the agenda, Councilmember Soto, was absent. Calls and emails to Soto for comment have not been returned.
Editor Diana Martinez contributed to this article