unedited 1/09 Tahoe Mt. News:
By Kathryn Reed
On a split vote in closed session, the South Lake Tahoe City Council agreed Jan. 6 to appeal an arbitration panel’s decision that said Johnny Poland should be reinstated as a city police officer.
It is likely to cost the city upward of $100,000 to fight the case in Superior Court. It is not known how much the city has paid outside counsel or the number of staff hours that have gone into this case.
The arbitration panel of former South Lake Mayor Tom Davis, ex-SLT Police Chief Don Muren and mediator-arbitrator Bill Reeves met for two days in August to interview people and review facts regarding Poland’s firing in June 2007 because of his actions in November 2006 when South Tahoe High School had to go on lockdown. It was a 3-0 vote last month for Poland to be given back his badge.
Four days after the Dec. 18 ruling was made, the City Council met behind closed doors to discuss anticipated litigation with its outside legal counsel.
City Manager Dave Jinkens and Police Chief Terry Daniels would not comment on this personnel issue.
Prior to this month’s closed session about the issue, Mayor Pro Tem Kathay Lovell consulted with City Attorney Cathy DiCamillo and the city’s special counsel about whether she should be a party to the discussions and if she should vote on the matter. Both attorneys ruled that even though Lovell’s son joined the police department after the 2007 firing occurred, no conflict exists. Nor is there a conflict with her husband, El Dorado County sheriff’s Lt. Les Lovell, being friends with the police chief.
But this isn’t good enough for Poland. He wants the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission to rule on whether Lovell has a conflict that should preclude her from voting on the matter.
The city had 90 days to appeal, reinstate the 10-year veteran or offer Poland a buyout.
The police officers’ union does not support the chief’s stance to keep fighting the case. Daniels was denied their support after he asked Officer Scott Willson, who was on the 2008 South Lake Tahoe Police Officers Association board, for the union’s support. (Willson took over the school resource officer position from Poland after the 2006 incident.)
A majority of the 2008 and 2009 board members met Dec. 31 to discuss the matter. A letter was written to the chief from the two boards that in part says, “If the city chooses to take further action against Officer Poland it will be without your requested support of the Association.”
A copy of that letter was attached to a letter to the city manager dated Jan. 5 and signed by Officer David Allen, secretary of the officers’ union, explaining their position.
However, this does mean Poland has the support of every officer.
Legally the city cannot release the arbitration findings. Poland could. He chooses not to until he gets back on the streets as an officer.
“I’ve read the report. It’s not like they ruled everything in my favor. It just said there is no way you are going to fire this guy,” Poland said. “I feel like I got a fair hearing and that’s all I wanted.”
Poland said his attorney told the city prior to the Jan. 6 meeting that he was not interested in a buyout – that he’s “not for sale.”
The 40-year-old said he would not take a buyout even if it’s in the quarter million dollar range. He said, “… it would defeat the whole purpose of what I did. Even if the money is good, how do I explain that to another agency?”
Poland said the arbitration ruling means he is owed back pay for 16 months and two weeks. The panel also ruled he should be suspended without pay for six weeks for actions related to the November 2006 incident where he admittedly let a student leave campus with a BB gun in his vehicle.
Poland acknowledges it would be difficult to work for people who don’t want him to be an officer. He believes management would have a harder time.
While he waits for the appeal process to go forward, Poland continues to work as a security guard at Harrah’s-Harveys.