Angry Cloverdale residents call for council to fire city manager in police shakeup

Some in Coverdale are demanding the City Council fire its city manager for placing Police Chief Mark Tuma on paid administrative leave for reasons that weren’t publicly disclosed.|
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Cloverdale Police Chief Mark Tuma. (PD File)
March 11, 2015

Protesting a shakeup in the city’s Police Department, a crowd of Cloverdale residents Wednesday night called on the City Council to fire City Manager Paul Cayler, who earlier in the day had placed Police Chief Mark Tuma on paid administrative leave for reasons that weren’t publicly disclosed.

About 70 people packed the council meeting at the Cloverdale Performing Arts Center, with most of them loudly applauding criticism of Cayler’s action and his role in the sudden retirement on Monday of former Sgt. Keith King, a 31-year veteran of the force that serves the town of about 8,600 residents.

Tuma, wearing a Chicago Bears jacket, sat quietly in the front row through the public comments portion of the council meeting, while King and others directly confronted Cayler.

"I’m ordered not to talk," Tuma said prior to the council meeting, adding that he was given the instruction by Cayler.

The chief’s wife, Susan Bennett, a former Cloverdale planning commissioner, said she had seen the allegations against Tuma but declined to elaborate on them.

"When you look at it, it’s just a farce," she said.

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Council members made brief comments but took no official action, following Mayor Bob Cox’s admonition that it couldn’t do so since the matter was not on the agenda.

Cayler at one point apologized directly to King.

"Please get this thing fixed before it gets out of hand," Joe Miller, a retired Cloverdale police dispatcher, told the council, adding that it should terminate Cayler "if that’s what it takes."

In the 1970s, the ouster of a Cloverdale police chief "destroyed the community and it darned near destroyed the Police Department," Miller said.

Mike Boehm, son of the deposed chief, the late Buck Boehm, said the city was "making a very serious mistake," calling Cayler’s treatment of King "inexcusable."

"The only people who can do anything about it is you folks," Boehm told the five-member council.

In an interview prior to the meeting, King said he decided to retire after Cayler presented him with a letter late last month that said he was being investigated for possible misconduct. The allegations, King said in a post on his Facebook page, were that he had mismanaged the department’s field training program and falsified documents in the field training manuals.

King, a Cloverdale native who joined the force in 1983, denied the allegations.

During the Feb. 27 meeting, Cayler commented, as he was pushing the letter across his desk toward King, "Sorry to hear about your mom," according to King.

King’s mother had died on Feb. 2 and his uncle 13 days later, and the family had held a memorial for them on Feb. 22. The meeting with Cayler occurred on his first day back at work, King said.

He and his wife subsequently agreed that the combination of grief and stress justified his retirement.

King said he has filed a formal complaint against Cayler for workplace harassment and for "creating a stressful and hostile work environment." King said he believes the manager’s actions may have violated a state anti-bullying law.

During the public comments, Cayler asked for "respect and cooperation" as the investigation of alleged misconduct is investigated. "State law prohibits me from discussing personnel matters," he said.

Speaking directly to King, the manager said "if you felt disrespected" during the Feb. 27 meeting, "I apologize."

Notices of an investigation are required, Cayler said, "and I was doing my duty."

In response, King said that Cayler’s comment about his mother’s death was "absolutely horrid. It hurt tremendously. You have no clue how angry I was with you at that point."

Councilman Joe Palla, a former Cloverdale police chief, said that any citizen complaint against police "needs to be investigated," adding that it "doesn’t mean anyone did anything wrong."

City Attorney Jose Sanchez said the investigation is a "personnel action" led by the city manager, with an "independent investigator" conducting the probe. The manager, not the council, handles personnel matters, Sanchez said.

Several speakers referred to a Willits News story in January 2013 regarding the Willits council’s decision to fire Cayler as manager of the Mendocino County town. The story mentioned the preceding early retirement of a popular Willits city employee, prompting some Cloverdale residents to suggest a comparison with the current controversy.

Palla said that he and Councilwoman Carol Russell were on the hiring committee that screened applicants for the Cloverdale manager’s job. "I want you to know we did our due diligence," Palla said, noting that an investigator was hired to check the applicants’ backgrounds.

Cayler was hired by the Cloverdale council in February 2013.

Tuma, a former commander with the Riverside, Ill., Police Department with a total of 38 years in law enforcement, was hired as Cloverdale’s chief in 2006.

About 50 people gathered outside the performing arts center before the meeting, with four supporters of King - including his daughter, Ashley - holding signs that said "Fire Cayler" and "Take Back Our Town."

"We’re behind you guys," Cloverdale resident Damien D’Amico told King.

"Seems like a witch hunt," D’Amico told a reporter. "Seems like management’s clearing house."

D’Amico, who said he is Tuma’s next-door neighbor, said the chief is "the nicest guy you’d ever want to meet."

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 521-5457 or [email protected] On Twitter @guykovner.

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