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View: Should Kensington "De-Contract" the Police Chief?

In this opinion column, Kensington resident Anna Shane challenges the expense of the township's contract with its police chief, whose competency she questions.

Kensington residents may have noticed an increase in "news" articles about our elected volunteer Board, and our community funded police department and its chief, Gregory Harman. So far the stories have mainly focused on alleged “violations” of Harman’s rights, specifically the claim that questioning him about city business or holding him accountable will cause him to sue our city. The "concern" over violating his rights has led the majority board to meet secretly when they are discussing Harman’s duties (he is also city manager) and has also led to an unprecedented and extensive “classification" of public documents. 
 
An example is Harman’s and Toomb’s holding that all internal documents about Harman’s use of the city credit card show only proper expenses, but at the same time holding that releasing these public documents would violate Chief Harman’s rights and lead him to sue the city.

Harman doesn’t hold himself to this standard when he makes reckless claims about an elected Board member.  

On the Kensington police website, Chief Harman listed no crimes were solved in 2011, but when an elected Board member cited Harman’s statistics in a community distributed flier, Harman told a Patch reporter that she’d told “a blatant out and out lie,” called her “malicious,” and then cited an irrelevant 2012 solved murder, apparently to "prove she’s a liar." 
  
He read aloud a letter from his own lawyer at a public Board meeting, which castigated this elected Board member for having filed a citizen complaint about a police officer, one month after she had first reported the incident to Harman, who had failed to investigate it, and failed to contact her about his decision to ignore her complaint.  

In the Patch report, Harman’s lawyer supposedly quotes what one officer once told Harman, who later told his lawyer, who then included this alleged third-party statement as "evidence" of a Board member’s "lying" character.  The unlikely "quotation" included the implausible claims that she’d confided in a police officer that she planned to outsource his job, and that she’d also told this police officer she’d “say anything to get Chief Harman (his direct boss) fired.” In fact an undisclosed number of past police officers were fired based on what Chief Harman had “said,” and some have apparently successfully sued our city. These cases, however, are "classified," lest they cause Harman’s rights to be violated, which could cause him to sue our city. (In 2011 nearly $300,000 was paid out in unexplained legal expenses. ) 

Here’s a list of the employees who have been either fired by Harman, or quit during Harman’s tenure:  
 
(1)    Helen Horowitz, administrator (Kensington Resident) 
(2)    Steve Smith, administrator (Kensington Resident) 
(3)    Stephanie Fries, administrator 
(4)    Donald Miller, internal affairs (Kensington resident ) 
(5)    Sgt. Angela Escobar 
(6)    Officer Caesar Celada, 
(7)    Officer John Ty 
(8)    Officer Paul Borgfeldt 
(9)    Officer Rodney Lafitte 
(10)  Officer Jill Chandler 
(11)  Officer Susan X? 
(12)  Officer Doug Medina 
(13)  Officer Duong 
(14)  Anita Darden Gardyne (possibly, she hasn’t been seen recently, but there has been no official announcement. By the by, when she’d been here six months she told me that Chief Harman told her on her first day that he didn’t intend to learn her name because she wouldn’t last long enough for it to matter to him.)

Does it not seem strange that a city employee who works for the Board would have so little fear of losing his job that he would smear one of his five bosses, in public and in newspapers? But, in a recent article published in the Contra Costa Times, Chief Harman did express his fear that he will be "de-contracted," should Kosel (and Hausken) win.  So we should be unsurprised to find that the Kensington Police Officer’s Association donated just shy of $1,000 to Toombs and Gillette, who vow to continue protecting Chief Harman’s rights, whatever the cost to our community.  

Should we not, as a community, wonder if we want to retain this police chief, or should we allow him to relocate to the greener pastures, the expressed reason our majority board hurried through a 17 percent pay increase for him, with no time for community input or debate, and without making public the cited documentation that led them to select the 17 percent amount. 

Pro’s and con’s of keeping Chief Harman:

We never had much crime, he didn’t lower it by 90 percent after all, and it’s up so far this year, so the critics of Measure G were right, who the police chief is doesn’t impact crime, and we probably could get by with a less expensive police chief.  

Reportedly we are one of the safest driving communities among comparable cities, and without Harman we could institute proven safety measures to keep our drivers and pedestrians safer, and not have to continue with Harman’s very own directive, which is an admittedly expensive, ineffective and un-recommended (but après coup Chuck Toombs-approved) "use" of a traffic safety report, because of fears that residents asking for effective policies could violate Harman’s rights and cause him to sue us. 

On the plus side, the city has some great new vehicles (and more coming), for example that black sedan (nicknamed the Black Maria) with the heavily tinted windows, which seems to be Chief Harman’s preferred "modus o’concord-commute."     

Gillette recently suggested, in an article published in the Contra Costa Times, the fact that 70 percent of residents voted for Measure G obviously means we don’t care how much the community funded police force costs, (and presumably we’ll be glad to vote the police department more money, as soon as they again run out, scheduled for mid-2013?). 

All joking aside, Harman is expensive, he’s in his fifties, he’ll qualify for retirement benefits within two years, and he’ll qualify for retirement within 10 years. Do we really want to saddle ourselves and our heirs with his lifetime upkeep; for this fellow who doesn’t seem particularly competent, who feels free to publicly disrespect Board members we elected, who can’t get his reports in on time, or be consistent, or get his numbers right, and who seems always threatening to sue us?

Harman’s fear he’ll be de-contracted is reality based (although strange given we pay him so much supposedly because he’s in hot demand). His contract includes the provision that he can be de-contracted at any time, with or without cause. (If it’s no cause, we just pay him six months salary, and he can’t sue.) It’s not whether or not he’s a fine fellow well met, it’s whether Kensington residents can afford him.  

Let’s talk with our neighbors about our options, and whoever is elected in November, let’s ask them to start making smarter spending choices so we can have a future that doesn’t include (avoidable and embarrassing) city bankruptcy.  

Anna Shane is a resident of Kensington.

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El Cerrito Patch welcomes letters to the editor (up to 450 words) and guest columns (more than 450 words) from members of the community. Those interested in contributing can write to elcerrito@patch.com. To see past letters to the editor, please click here. Past guest columns can be found here. 

Rodney Paul October 30, 2012 at 01:44 PM
Readers who seek more objective information on this issue should reach the original Patch article at http://elcerrito.patch.com/articles/da-clears-kensington-police-chief-and-sergeant written by editor Charles Burress. There is also good election coverage in the more recent Kensington Outlook at http://www.kensingtonoutlook.com/issues/outlook_nov_12.pdf. Cathie Kosel derides the Kensington Police Department at every opportunity. Her aim is to outsource police services even though studies have shown this would be more expensive and probably result in a decline of service. In addition to her attacks on the Police Chief, she has also filed criminal charges against Master Sgt. Rickey Hull and accused Officer Doug Wilson of lying. In this letter, Shane claims that no crimes were "solved" in 2011. In fact, 20 property crimes investigated in 2011 resulted in arrests. And "solved" is not a statistic kept by the KPD. So by this logic, no crimes have ever been solved by KPD. Shane and Kosel would like you to believe that crime is spiraling out of control in Kensington as a result of police mismanagement. One need only look around to see this is untrue. Vote down Cathie Kosel on Nov. 6 to maintain our independent police services in Kensington.
paul young October 30, 2012 at 03:12 PM
I saw that black, dark tinted car in Kensington. I was going to report it to the police as a suspicious vehicle..... Until I saw it has government plates.
LONG TIME RESIDENT October 30, 2012 at 06:58 PM
Dear Ms. Shane. Thank you for your article. You make reference to "Mr. Harman's lawyer." Do you know if "Mr. Harman's lawyer" was paid from Mr. Harman's pocket or from the pockets Kensington property tax payers? Thank you.
LONG TIME RESIDENT October 31, 2012 at 01:14 AM
Contra Costa Times editorial: Kosel and Hausken for Kensington District Contra Costa Times editorial © Copyright 2012, Bay Area News Group Posted: 10/30/2012 02:31:55 PM PDT "It's mind-boggling how governance of the highly educated little community of Kensington has become so dysfunctional. Voters can start fixing that Tuesday by electing retired teacher Jim Hausken and re-electing incumbent Cathie Kosel to the Police Protection and Community Services District board.This community needs leaders who value openness and fiscal discipline. Currently, public information is withheld and the board has failed to control employee benefit costs. meeting minutes reveal the systemic secrecy. ..The actual (police chief's) contract was drawn up after the meeting and signed by the board president, Charles Toombs, before the public had a chance to see it. Amazingly, Toombs insists he's running an open government. But he confuses letting people speak at meetings with providing them public information to which they're entitled. His attitude is part of the problem. He doesn't deserve another term. As for Kosel, she raised legitimate issues about the process and about the magnitude of the raises...her concerns deserve serious consideration, and she deserves another term...we found Hausken ..versed on the pension problem and had a more pragmatic approach for putting the government board back on track. We hope this election leads to real change."
M. E. Campbell of Kensington, CA October 31, 2012 at 11:01 PM
Why is it that letters supporting the status quo and insider clique running Kensington are featured headliners on Patch, while this thoughtful, critical thinking piece, isn't? Anna's points are well taken. It costs me nearly $1000 a year to have the private police force in Kensington. Promoting 5 of the 10 officers to Sergeants and giving the Chief a pay package worth a quarter of a million dollars, setting us up for his lifetime pension based on these high rates, worries me. It sounds like Kensington residents are being set up by Toombs and co. for a huge future debt. We need to keep Director Kosel and bring in Jim Hausken to replace Toombs and protect us from our protectors.
Gayle Tapscott November 01, 2012 at 04:06 AM
Mr Paul, you are right about Cathy Kosel wanting to outsource the police department. And of course she denies it at every turn. I have heard that one of the reasons she wants to outsouce the police department is to position herself to be the General Manager for the district. She actually said that she coulde be General Manager directly to someone. I do see there needs to be a discussion regarding the two duties being combined, but the question as to how the General Manager should be hired (if the duties were separated) should definitely be part of that discussion.
Gayle Tapscott November 01, 2012 at 04:56 AM
I think no one's defending the Chief is because he hasn't done anything wrong. Defending the Chief against the lunatic frenge is beneath folks, and maybe they (definitely me) don't want to be subjected to uncivil rhetoric or insults.
LONG TIME RESIDENT November 01, 2012 at 07:35 PM
If you take a look at the Harman employment contract prepared by Mr. Toombs passed by 3/5 of the the Board in what seems to be an unlawfully held session in July- extended without the required 4/5 vote - it provides that on the one hand, Mr. Harman must be a police officer and then, when describing Mr. Harman's responsibilities, provides that the person in Mr. Harman's position has the responsibility of advising the community services district board in their negotiations with the police officers on matters of salary and benefits. I suggested to Mr. Toombs that this has the appearance of a conflict of interest as Mr. Harman seems to be on each side of the negotiation at the same time. Mr Toombs has written that this is not a conflict of interest for Mr Harman.
LONG TIME RESIDENT November 05, 2012 at 01:50 PM
Please consider the post at http://elcerrito.patch.com/articles/view-the-kensington-election-does-it-matter. And also the post at http://elcerrito.patch.com/articles/view-kensington-board-s-failure-to-disclose-information Thank you.
LONG TIME RESIDENT November 06, 2012 at 03:08 PM
Dear Ms. Tapscott: I am truly surprised that you find the police chief's use of public funds to purchase airline tickets for his wife to meet any definition of "he hasn't done anything wrong." The California Constitution, Article 16, section 6 prohibits the"gift of public funds." This constitutional provision prohibits the making any gift of any public money or thing of value to any individual.

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