unedited july 08 tahoe mt. news
By Kathryn Reed
Because the rankings for people going through the hiring process at South Lake Tahoe Police Department are off limits the Tahoe Mountain News cannot accurately discern if nepotism has taken place.
At issue is whether City Councilwoman Kathay Lovell’s son received preferential treatment in being hired as a patrol officer.
“On your question as to whether or not rankings of officers on hiring lists are public record, no, they are not. They are encompassed under human resources personnel records. Those are exempt under government code.”
City Attorney Cathy DiCamillo’s ruling makes it hard to know if Ryan Wagoner received favoritism when hired by the department. He will graduate from the Sacramento sheriff’s academy July 17 – the last step before becoming a sworn officer for South Lake.
Current officers spoke to the Mountain News off the record. No evidence of preferential treatment was provided, though officers said it’s possible during the interview process if the candidate is someone the panel knows.
Who was on the interview panel was also not disclosed so it is unknown if they knew Wagoner or knew who his mother is. Nor can it be assumed that knowing Wagoner or Lovell would mean preferential treatment – just the opposite could occur.
Lovell and city staff say she was not aware of her son’s intentions until he qualified for the academy. Police Chief Terry Daniels knew Wagoner was a candidate.
“Most people on the panel did not know who he was. The process was very transparent. He did not receive preferential treatment,” Daniels said. “He is a gifted young man, he doesn’t need extra points. It is insulting to him.”
Emails to the paper initiated the investigation. Concrete evidence of illegal or unethical maneuvers was neither provided nor later unearthed.
Everyone must pass a series of tests, as well as the academy. No one can cheat or be passed forward at that level because they know someone. In fact, in Wagoner’s class, 40 percent failed.
Questions have also been raised about Lovell’s voting record when it comes to police matters. A review of her votes indicates she did not vote on most items.
Lovell was absent from the May 6 meeting because of back surgery. The council approved the police supervisors contract then.
At the March 18 council meeting, Lovell recused herself when it came time to vote on the contract agreements with the police officers association and with the city’s safety management association.
Recusing means physically leaving the room so as not to influence any discussion on the subject. Abstaining means a person does not vote, but stays in the room.
On the June 17 consent agenda were contract agreements for the non-sworn police department employees and non-represented group. The latter includes the police chief. Lovell again recused herself.
It is no secret Lovell’s husband, Lt. Les Lovell of the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Department, is best friends with Police Chief Terry Daniels.
“During closed session she will recuse herself on police supervisors (discussions) because it could affect her husband,” explained City Clerk Susan Alessi. The sheriff’s department sometimes uses South Tahoe’s police wages when doing salary comparisons.
When it comes to voting for equipment or accepting grants that benefit the police department, DiCamillo allows Lovell to vote. The thinking is the items don’t benefit one person. A new vehicle, for example, could be shared by all officers.
Lovell has never made it a secret that public safety is her priority in respect to city business. She campaigned on that platform.
In the past year, 54 candidates for the police department passed the initial screening. More than 20 were from the greater Tahoe-Reno area.
“These 54 candidates are the candidates who passed the panel interview and exam process -- the 54 includes candidates for untrained, pre-trained, and lateral recruitments,” explained Human Resources Manager Janet Emmett.
Thirteen have been hired. Seven were sent to a police academy for six months because they had no training. Six of the seven were from the general area. Two were in the department’s Explorer program. One did not make it through the academy.
Daniels said on average about 30 percent fail out of the police academy.
Four of the hires had been officers in Nevada. They were designated as trainees until completing the nearly three-week California Police Officer Standards and Training certification. Three of them were local.
Two other hires had their POST certificates. One was local.
Despite all the local hires, Emmett said they do not get preferential treatment. She and Daniels did acknowledge recruiting efforts were targeted in the region because the thinking is locals are more apt to stay for the long haul.
Between June and September four men and one woman will graduate from area academies and be ready to be on patrol.
Matt Morrison graduated June 19. He was sworn in June 25. Russell Liles, a friend of Wagoner’s, will graduate with his buddy this month. Justin Brock and Darla Matheson are scheduled to graduate in September.
It costs the city about $35,000 for each candidate to go through the academy.
The department has an application people fill out. Resumes are also collected.
To continue on, candidates must pass the POST written test. It’s a pass-fail exam. The city department also asks for an essay. This is go gauge writing skills, grammar, penmanship and the like.
Those still in the running go before a three-person oral board. The board is usually made up of a supervisor, officer and civilian. Everyone is asked the same questions.
Then a captain or lieutenant interviews the candidates.
The applicants are given a score by the panel.
Daniels discusses with the oral board who they think the best candidates are. Those individuals are then offered conditional jobs.
Because the scores are not public information, it is not known if the candidates were taken in order or cherry picked or given preferential treatment.
All still must pass the background check, medical exam, psychological profile and polygraph.
Speeding up the background test is not an option, Daniels said. He said some are completed faster if the person hasn’t traveled much or had many jobs because it means there is less to check.
Once all of those criteria are passed, the person is hired as a trainee. After the academy, the person is a sworn officer.
“Once the patrol staff is up to full complement we will take some veteran police officers and select detectives,” Daniels said. The department pulled its representative to the FBI to have two detectives on staff. Two more will be added down the road.
With a statewide shortage of more than 12,000 officers, South Lake has had a hard time recruiting people from other departments. Part is location and the high cost to live here and part is salary.
The latest contract has the lowest paid sworn officer making $24.41 an hour. They top out at $30.86. Overtime regular boosts the rate of pay. Detectives, sergeants, lieutenants, captains and the chief all make more.
Some of the veterans are wondering if the days when the SWAT team, bike and boat patrols were fully staffed will return.
Morale has been a much debated topic for the entire two years Daniels has been at the helm. Even though he has been with the department for 25 years, his ascension to the top spot has not been smooth.
Daniels believes morale issues come from within; that individuals must be responsible for themselves. He is by admission not a touchy-feely manager.
Some officers believe an atta-boy (or girl) would go a long ways. Some believe managers are not being effective leaders.
“We’ve lost four good cops for morale, not just money,” an officer said. This person said management doesn’t want officers talking to the media – that it’s bad for morale.
A mandatory meeting of all police staff took place for several hours on July 9. Because of deadlines, the outcome of it is not known.
Those on the street question some of the promotions as well. A good ole boy network is how they describe the internal workings. Though some officers acknowledge there will always be people who are unhappy no matter who has chief before their name.
Another officer said Daniels doesn’t help morale when he refuses to help out. Other police chiefs have worked patrol and dispatch when staffing has been short. As it is now, the officers are working tons of overtime.
While it was mandatory for all patrol officers to work July 4, Daniels took that Friday off.