Chief concern

There’s a big story in Chico that no one is telling. This isn’t the Chico version of Watergate, Abu Ghraib or Enron; still, it’s significant. Many people are talking about it, in private and in confidence.

No one wants to bring it forward, though. No one wants to go on the record. That’s created a journalistic conundrum: how to inform the public without crossing personal ethical boundaries.

Well, the tip of the iceberg came into view with an announcement in the Enterprise-Record last week. After mulling this over, and discussing it with my column editor and a number of the people who can’t or won’t talk openly, I’m going to put the buzz in writing:

Bruce Hagerty’s leave may last longer than five months.

In fact, if some individuals of influence have their way, it’ll be permanent.

Why is this hush-hush? Well, suggesting that a veteran police chief should step aside is a sensitive matter under any circumstances. It’s particularly tricky when the chief has taken time off for medical reasons, and even more so when (as the E-R reported) it’s for a back ailment akin to one for which he had surgery and took a leave two years ago.

Retirement, from Hagerty’s perspective (at least the one he expressed at a ceremony recognizing officers who got promoted last month), won’t come for four years. That’s not a timetable inspiring universal optimism.

To be clear: I have heard no accusations of incompetence or malfeasance. I have heard no one say he’s a bad man. In fact, his volunteer efforts on behalf of Chico youth—Boys and Girls Club, Sunshine Kids Club—and through Chico Rotary are widely respected and appreciated (so much so that they suggest a niche for when he does retire).

What I have heard are concerns about his leadership, similar to those I expressed nine months ago (“Review use of the force,” In My Eyes, April 17) when I pointed out a conspicuous shortcoming in political acumen. Subsequently, he received criticism and was placed under a gag order by then-Assistant City Manager Dennis Beardsley after comments regarding the arrest of Councilwoman Mary Flynn.

Is he putting forth the best face possible for the Chico Police Department? Inspiring public confidence is a key component to the job, for which he receives roughly $200,000 a year as compensation ($171,705 in salary alone).

Every three months he remains chief—not necessarily in the office, just on the payroll—it costs the city around $50,000. That’s a huge sum in light of the budget deficit that’s taken officers off the streets.

No one wants to mention this in public. No one wants to step up and ask Chief Hagerty the hard question: “Is it time to leave?” (I would have, had he returned my phone messages before the column went to press, and will if he does subsequently.) There’s a perception that he’ll leave on his own accord, in due course, and pushing him might prolong that inevitability. So buzzing persists with no action.

For the foreseeable future, Capt. Mike Maloney will serve as acting chief, as he has previously in Hagerty’s absence. I hope city officials—including the chief himself—will take the course that’s best for the city instead of the path of least resistance.