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Council votes 3-2 to reject agreement for Smith to oversee chief transition
Chief Smith.jpg
Ceres Police Chief Brent Smith's last day is Friday, March 29. - photo by Don Cool

A divided Ceres City Council rejected a retirement annuity agreement with Police Chief Brent Smith whose last day on the job is Friday.

Originally Smith was set to retire on June 30. But he decided to leave earlier for retirement reasons relating to recent action by the Stanislaus County Employee Retirement Association (StanCERA).

The council was asked to waive the exception to the 180-day wait period in the Government Code to allow the city to contract with Smith to serve as the interim police chief pending the transition of the incoming Police Chief Rick Collins. Collins officially starts as chief on July 1 and will be interim until that time. City Manager Toby Wells had recommended that the city enter into an agreement for Smith to serve as Interim Police Chief from April 1 through May 3, 2019.

Under the regulations relating to County Employee Retirement Law (“CERL”) and the Public Employees’ Pension Reform Act of 2013 (“PEPRA”), the city could have entered into an agreement with Chief Smith to provide services for no more than 960 hours per fiscal year after retirement. The Government Code section states that a retiree is eligible for employment 180 days following retirement but there are exceptions to the rule.

Councilman Mike Kline protested the action, saying current Captain Collins is ready to take over the department without Smith’s guidance.

“I think it’s time for Captain Collins to make it his department,” said Kline.

Vice Mayor Linda Ryno said she was perplexed why a transition was needed when Collins has been second in command of the department for five years and with the agency for 22 years.

“I think pretty much everyone knew that Chief Smith would be leaving shortly so there should have been some sort of training going on,” said Ryno. She also noted that when Fire Chief Kevin Wise started there was no transition period. “I personally believe Captain Collins can step right in.”

She cited the cost of keeping Smith on for $70.21 per hour.

That prompted Finance Director Suzanne Dean to note that currently the department’s budget is $129,000 over budget due to worker’s compensation and cash out for two retirees this year. Collins will have three months to pare down the budget.

“I would not be able to support it,” said Ryno.

Councilman Channce Condit asked if there was a precedence for the action and was told by Wells not in the city. But he said other cities have done similar contracts. Mayor Chris Vierra said there was a precedence set with then Sgt. Sam Ryno.

Vierra supported the agreement.

“I just don’t see it as big of an issue as we’re making out,” said the mayor. “I don’t want people to get hung up on his retirement early is hitting us an additional amount of money because we still were going to get hit with that amount of money whether you retire now or in June.”

Councilman Bret Durossette suggested that the school districts has these types of agreements “all the time” for principals.

When it came to a vote Ryno, Kline and Condit voted no against the yes votes of Vierra and Durossette.

Chief Smith commented that Collins is “ready to be chief – there’s no doubt about that.”