Santa Rosa Police Chief Ed Flint admits that severe strife has made his department dysfunctional, but insists it has not influenced the quality of law enforcement.
The deep divides and mistrust that mark the department hierarchy were thrust into public view last week when city officials fired Capt. James Mitchel, the patrol commander viewed as the chief's second in command.
The firing came in the wake of a series of formal employee complaints directed at Flint and Mitchel alleging gender bias, sexual discrimination and management retaliation.
City Manager Jeff Kolin, who hired Flint in 2003, said the chief has not faced disciplinary action stemming from the turmoil in his department. He also said the city will hire a consulting firm to work with Flint and his commanders to improve personnel and management skills.
The complaints and termination publicly exposed a rift in the department that Flint said has been deepening over the past year.
"The issues of dysfunction surround how we process information, how we make decisions and resolve problems. How we go about that is one of the elements we are looking at closely," Flint said. "But operationally, the department is doing very well."
Flint said this week his concern for the future of the department and community perception of the department has "reached a pinnacle."
"At this point we have a high level of concern as we deal with rumors and complaints," Flint said.
He wouldn't characterize the divisions within his command staff, but sources inside the department said some high-ranking employees are dissatisfied with management styles and that many had separated into factions that tended to support either Mitchel or the other captain on the force, Tom Schwedhelm.
Despite the firing, Mitchel and Flint remain close, according to sources close to them. Mitchel was fired following a hearing that included the city attorney's staff and other city officials.
The intensity of the department's conflicts increased when Flint and Mitchel, 53, were notified in February that an investigation was being conducted into at least four complaints alleging unequal treatment of women and discriminatory conduct based on sexual orientation.
All of the four suits named Flint and at least two named Mitchel. They were filed between January 2007 and February of this year.
Turned in his badge
Mitchel was placed on administrative leave with pay in March. On May 22, he filed a lawsuit against Kolin and incoming city attorney Caroline Fowler. The suit alleges that his constitutional rights were violated when the city turned over the results of the investigation to those who filed the complaints.
Eight days later, on May 30, Fran Elm, the city's director of human resources, told Mitchel he was being terminated. He later received a certified letter from the city, and on Tuesday he turned in his badge.
Mitchel can appeal his termination to an arbitrator, whose decision is binding. A hearing could be held late this summer, according to a source close to Mitchel.
Meanwhile, the city has moved Mitchel's lawsuit to federal court. Santa Rosa has hired a San Francisco law firm, which City Attorney Brien Farrell said will seek to have the suit dismissed within a month.
A case management conference is set for Sept. 3 in San Francisco.