WESTMORLAND — The Westmorland City Council Wednesday chose to rescind the titles given to three police officers in early September after much negative outcry from the public.
When new Police Chief Perry Monita was hired early this month, three new ranks were given to officers of the Westmorland Police by city council member and Police Commissioner Mary-Ann Smith and City Clerk Sally Traylor. However, according to detractors, this action was done without city council approval.
According to City Attorney Mitchell Driskill, the actions taken by Smith and Traylor are illegal under California governance law as well as a violation of the Brown Act.
Following Monita’s selection, three city council members’ names were immediately put onto a recall list by a group of citizens. Rumors also circulated that the selection had been fixed to ensure Monita’s position. Others claimed Smith and Traylor were trying to undermine Monita’s job in order to make things harder for the new chief by creating their own “Dream Team.”
Three men from the law enforcement community, Imperial County Undersheriff Fred Miramontes, El Centro Police Chief Eddie Madueno, and recently retired Brawley Police Chief Michael Crankshaw, judged the candidates vying for the Westmorland post. Monita reportedly scored top marks in the test.
Smith and Traylor have countered the accusations, saying they had simply reclassified the three officers and the officers went through qualifying tests in order to earn the titles. Traylor also claimed the panel of judges on hiring the chief was fixed, citing council member Henry Graham’s former position as Brawley Police Chief as giving him special privileges with the three men who were on the panel. Graham denied the accusation.
When confronted about the issue at the meeting, Smith said she thought she was doing the right thing for the people of Westmorland.
“As somebody who listens to the community, the city wanted something different rather than the same old police department,” said Smith. “I didn’t do anything malicious. I really thought I was doing the (right) thing and these guys deserve that promotion.”
But many Westmorland residents at the recent council meeting said they were behind Chief Monita and the three other council members, and questioned everything Smith and Traylor did.
“I think it’s embarrassing what we are going through,” said Westmorland resident Edith.
One Westmorland resident dubbed the whole situation, “The Westmorland Soap Opera.”
“I’m disturbed you imply supporting the city council is not supporting our people in blue,” said resident Karla Price.
“Why would our clerk make decisions for the city? That’s the City Council,” asked Abraham Alvarez about Traylor’s actions. Alvarez was also the one to call for the stripping of the titles.
The council has chosen to give the power to choose his own sergeant back to Chief Monita. Monita stated he did not need a lieutenant or a corporal, but really needed a good sergeant and clerk.
Chief Monita said he is already beginning to make changes at the Westmorland PD by requesting new equipment, training, and permission to make some sort of changes to the department building that will keep everyone safe.
Smith has offered to step down from her position as police commissioner after her missteps. The Westmorland City Council chose to end the meeting with further discussions to take place at a later time.