Antioch Council told City facing $6 million deficit, moves forward on directly hiring police chief

City has 83 vacancies; will restructure Police Crime Prevention Commission; Thorpe claims Barbanica, Ogorchock, others are siding with racism for opposing direct hire of police chief

By Allen D. Payton

During their meeting on Tuesday night, April 11, 2023, the Antioch City Council discussed the budget for Fiscal Years 2023-25 and the majority of members agreed to pursue a new ordinance for directly hiring the police chief. The council also decided to “reframe” the Police Crime Prevention Commission rather than disbanding it.

Budget Workshop

During the Budget Workshop before the regular meeting, Acting City Manager Forrest Ebbs reminded the council “the City is facing a $6 million deficit in the coming fiscal year.”

Finance Director Dawn Merchant said that there were “83 vacancies citywide” in staff, providing savings for the budget.

The council directed staff to return with three options for using Budget Stabilization Funds of zero, $3 million and $4 million to balance the budget.

Police Crime Prevention Commission to Be Reframed

Rather than disband it the council decided to “reframe” the Police Crime Prevention Commission. Mayor Pro Tem Tamisha Torres-Walker volunteered to help lead the discussion. The matter will be brought back to the council for future decision.

Moves Forward With Directly Hiring Police Chief

During public comments on the matter of the council directly hiring the police chief, one resident spoke in favor, another, Melissa Case, said she was torn since the mayor has “a tendency to micromanage”.

Sandy Hartrick said she was concerned about the “checks and balances” if the council hires the police chief. “With that, no one group has all the power. If you take over the hiring and management of the police department you will have all the power.” She also shared concern that the council is moving away toward a Charter City form of government.

“Chief Ford is doing a great job. He’s working hard to change the culture,” Hartrick continued.

Another resident, Ron Mohammed said, “I’m not quite clear…in terms of the authority and how that would look. Communication between the council and the chief would be great. But I think it’s wrong Chief Ford has to fall on the sword for all the things that happened before. The micromanaging is not said when they talk about…the city manager.”

Resident Ralph Hernandez spoke next saying, “definitely, no. I do not agree with the change that is proposed. Unfortunately, tonight, you have a lot of people that have a misunderstanding of law enforcement. In fact, the council majority are too busy in their lives…they voted to take on secretaries. Now, they want to take on hiring the chief. You need to be very specific with the city manager when hiring the police chief comes up, and what you’re looking for.”

“Taking it away from the city manager. What’s next, taking away the Public Works Director, the Recreation manager?” he asked.

“I’m here to celebrate democracy. We the people elected you,” Patricia Granados said. “I would feel confident and trusting in our city council making decisions like this. Maybe even some federal oversight to put in their two cents in what is the reasoning for getting hired and getting fired.”

“I do want to clarify…in 2020, we agreed to changing the hiring process for the chief of police,” Mayor Lamar Thorpe said. “I was a huge advocate that the contract was ratified by the city council. The City Attorney said we can’t do that. It’s either one or the other.”

“Every decision made in this room is made by three. Quit believing what the blogs are telling you. It’s trash,” Thorpe said, while raising his voice. “This is not about Chief Ford, it’s about a process that started back in 2020. So, stop personalizing it.”

“OK. Bring it down a notch,” Mayor Pro Tem Tamisha Torres-Walker said with a laugh. 

“I do remember discussing this in detail,” she said. “It’s just been my experience working in public policy for the past 14 years, city managers are not the check and balance…which is their job. The chief of police runs a department that is to be managed and sometime micromanaged by the city manager. And when the city manager fails for over a decade…is what got us here. It is within the authority of this body to make this change. We won’t be running the police department because we hire the police chief. We will be managing directly the individual who is supposed to be running the police department for transparency and accountability sake which has not happened for over a decade.”

“When we hired Cornelius Johnson, I didn’t want to give him the authority to hire and fire. But we have to give each person a chance. We gave Chief Ford a chance,” Torres-Walker said. “This isn’t the only move in light of transparency we need to make. I hope that Chief Steven Ford agrees to stay because this is necessary.”

“I think this is a mistake…because the police department is not an extension of a political arm,” said District 2 Councilman Mike Barbanica. “The city manager needs to be a buffer between politicians and enforcing law. This won’t be just this council it will set policy for years and years to come. It’s not about Chief Ford it’s about the office of the Chief of Police. I think this is a mistake and I do not support it.”

“Yeah, and it’s that buffer that got us to where we are, today,” District 4 Councilwoman Monica Wilson shot back to applause from the audience. “A couple weeks ago I was on the fence about this. But in light of events over weeks…and today with the texts, it’s obvious there needs to be that line with the Chief of Police. Because that buffer didn’t work.”

“I’ve been through five city managers and the buffer is not working,” she added.

“If this is the will of the council majority how will this affect Chief Ford,” District 3 Councilwoman Lori Ogorchock asked City Attorney Thomas L. Smith.

“If you want to give direction to change the structure, we would come back with an ordinance,” Smith responded. “Once the ordinance is passed…the impact it has on an individual police chief…if there is a contract in place, we would have to look at how that would interact with the ordinance.”

“I am not for this,” Ogorchock said. “We’ve never had the accountability with the police chief, before. I’m for that type of vision before anything else.”

“Even if you got a report every six months you wouldn’t have any authority,” Torres-Walker responded.

Thorpe spoke last saying, “I’m for this. I’ve always been for this. The choice is really simple. Either we do this or stay on the side of racism. Come back with an ordinance please.”

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