More Burbank Commentary: Unreasonable? Thoughts on the Letter from Mayor Ralph Becker’s Chief of Staff, David Everitt, to Former Salt Lake Police Chief Burbank
By Ken K. Gourdin
The requirements in the 2014 letter from David Everitt, Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker’s Chief of Staff, to then-Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank are as follows (the letter is available here, last accessed June 25, 2015: http://slcdocs.com/mayor/LetterfromDMEtoBurbank.pdf):
- Issuing a training bulletin reiterating a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harrassment
- Developing a policy for the city’s Human Resources office to review and approve disciplinary actions in the police department
- Developing a formal process for reviewing and approving retirements involving alleged misconduct and other personnel concerns
- Designating a departmental point of contact for medically related personnel actions
- Developing a policy regarding intradepartmental transfers that includes consultation with human resources and the attorney’s office
- Review Internal Affairs functioning to ensure confidentiality is maintained
- Promptly address, involving human resources and the attorney’s office, situations in which officers are on leave longer than sixty days.
While I might, if I were an administrator, be tempted to wonder how much confidence other municipal administrators and elected officials have in my ability to run my own department if I had received such a letter, none of those requirements seem unreasonable to me. And, as an administrator, the fact that I serve at the pleasure of the elected official who appointed me (or at the pleasure of his successors, or at the pleasure of the voters, if directly elected) would always be uppermost in my mind. But, as others have mentioned, it does seem curious that rather than holding Burbank’s feet to the fire to ensure that the letter’s requirements were met within a reasonable time after the letter was sent, the mayor’s office waited until now (an election year, shortly before the election) to take action.
The longer one’s tenure is as an appointed administrator (including law enforcement administrators) the more one might be tempted to think that he is invincible (or at least, off limits) as far as replacement is concerned. I saw this happen in the community in which I grew up (where my father served on the department for 30 years). The previous chief served for 21 years in that position before the then-newly-elected mayor informed him he would not be retained. His replacement has served for seventeen years since then himself. While I don’t know if Burbank perceived himself as invincible or irreplaceable, he had served in the position for nine years before his ouster. No appointee ever should forget that he serves at the pleasure of the authority that appoints him, and that he is accountable to that authority. Perhaps Burbank had forgotten this to a certain extent.
Deseret News senior editorial columnist Jay Evensen sums up the controversy between Mayor Becker and Chief Burbank nicely. (See the following address, last accessed June 25, 2015: http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865630834/Chief-Burbanks-resignation-doesnt-fix-much.html?pg=all). He writes:
Once an internal review substantiated the claims [against former Deputy Chief Findlay] late in 2013, the city faced limited options. Findlay could retire safely in June 2014 with full benefits, regardless. The mayor wanted him demoted in the meantime, reducing his salary from about $106,000 per year to about $64,000 for six months, after which he could collect a retirement that would not be diminished one cent. The chief wanted him placed on administrative leave. That would allow him to collect a full salary for those six months, but it would remove him from the workplace, where he might be a disruption. It also would keep him from appealing the demotion, which could drag out the process.
The Chief’s inaction after placing Findlay on paid administrative leave rather than simply demoting him and returning him to duty also reduced or forestalled a couple of other possibilities Evensen doesn’t mention: (1) it reduced the likelihood that Findlay would sue the city separate from any appeal he might launch of his demotion, although he would probably have to exhaust administrative remedies before doing so; and (2) unless Burbank had demoted Findlay from deputy chief all the way down to a rank-and-file officer, returning Findlay to duty also would have meant that he still would have been responsible for overseeing others and potentially subjecting them to abuse, just as he had the three complainants in the lawsuit over his actions as an administrator.
I think Becker attempted to remove accusations that the decision was political by setting a timetable for the appointment of the new chief after the election. But there is the potential, however remote, to face a “better-the-devil-one-knows-than-the-devil-one-doesn’t” possibility, both with respect to the new mayor (if Becker doesn’t happen to win reelection—which seems a distinct possibility, if the apparent unpopularity of this decision among many of his constituents is a reliable barometer) and with respect to the new chief. On the other hand, it’s also a conceivable possibility (albeit also a remote one) that if Becker were to appoint a permanent replacement before the election and then lose, his replacement simply would, in turn, replace that short-tenured chief.
Burbank’s public comments following his ouster about his future in law enforcement seem to preclude this possibility, but if I were one of the mayor’s opponents, if I happened to win the election, and if I really wanted to put my money where my mouth is with respect to my disapproval of the mayor’s ouster of Burbank, I might be tempted to reappoint him. I was intrigued with the mayor’s selection of an interim chief of someone from Chief Burbank’s command staff, Deputy Chief Mike Brown. See the following address, last accessed June 25, 2015: http://www.sltrib.com/home/2618535-155/salt-lake-citys-new-interim-police). I commented as follows:
While it’s true that the appointment of Brown is only on an interim basis, it seems odd that Mayor Becker would call a Burbank loyalist “the right man for the job” if Becker had so many serious problems with Burbank. It also seems to buttress Burbank’s contention that his resignation under threat of termination was more about politics than it was about anything else.