Thursday, November 21, 2013

Stockton POA President, Officer Vindicated of Insubordination Charges

As reported in LRIS, an arbitrator reversed the suspensions of Stockton's POA president and a board member after the City retaliated against them for participating in a POA charitable fundraiser and ordered full back pay.  The decision vindicates the officers and makes clear they did nothing wrong.  Indeed, according to the Stockton Record, "the dispute ended with an arbitrator finding that [the chief] mishandled the situation."

In the lead up to Stockton's bankruptcy, the City and the POA engaged in several legal battles, including the City’s unconstitutional attempt to void the POA contract through a declaration of fiscal emergency.  As the city manager tried to discredit the POA and blunt their public relations efforts, his chief of police claimed POA members couldn't do charitable work because it violated the Department's outside employment policy. 

Then he issued a vague order to "SPOA members" to not "directly or indirectly" participate in the selling/bartending of alcohol. The POA fought back and went forward with a charitable fundraiser, having members' families sell beer instead of the officers.  Then, after the POA made a vote of no confidence against the chief, he suspended SPOA President Stephen Leonesio and Director Mark McLaughlin for insubordination based on their participation in the charitable fundraiser.

The arbitrator ruled the suspensions unjustified.  The arbitrator ruled the chief's order was vague and confusing.  The order did not spell out what counted as selling/bartending and what it could even mean to "indirectly" bartend.  The arbitrator found that "they attempted to comply with the order as they reasonably understood it based on Leonesio’s discussions with Ulring and the language of the order itself.  It bears repeating that, before the event began, SPOA recruited family members and friends to staff the booths and sell alcohol in the place of SPOA members."

The order also didn't make sense because the POA had served alcohol at several charitable events in the past and "In fact, [the chief] himself has served and purchased alcohol at such events."  “If [the chief] truly had the concerns, … he should have said so in clear and unambiguous language,” the arbitrator said. “Instead, he issued an ambiguous and confusing order."  Since the order was unclear and the officers made a reasonable effort to comply with it, they should never have been suspended.

“The taint the city tried to put on their careers has been erased,” David Mastagni said. “The city insisted on going forward with the discipline on these two guys. … It was certainly personal on the city’s end.”  Mastagni attorneys David E. Mastagni and Jeffrey R. A. Edwards represented Officers Leonesio and McLaughlin.