WHY DID SEXUAL HARASSMENT SUITS TAKE FOUR MONTHS TO ANNOUNCE?
By Steven Tavares
By most accounts, the hiring of Sandra Spagnoli as the first female police chief in San Leandro history is not the token hire some believe it to be. While a riveting and sometimes revolting slew of sexual harassment suits against the department definitely hardened the city’s resolve to put the incidents behind it, the hiring of a woman to lead the department is smart decision in the realm of public relations, but she appears more than qualified to make the leap from smaller force in Benicia to San Leandro.
Spagnoli sits on the appointed California Police Officers Standards and Training (POST) Advisory Committee and first vice president for the California Peace Officers Association.
San Leandro Police Officers Association President Sgt. Mike Sobek says the department is “cautiously optimistic” of their new chief. Spagnoli is only the second chief hired from outside the department in the city’s history. The other made the short leap from Oakland and most of the longest-serving officers are never worked with an unknown quantity during their tenure.
“We now have a clear plan for the future,” said Sobek, who believes Spagnoli’s youth and potential stability will help the department over the next few years. Spagnoli is 43.
One of Spagnoli’s first tests on the job when she takes command Jan. 10 will be quelling discontent by some senior officers who were passed over in favor of her. The POA is making the first gesture to their new leader by inviting her to the union’s Christmas party.
Word arrived this week to the resolution of one of the worst periods in the history of the San Leandro Police Department when a reporter inquired about the last three of seven sexual harassment suits filed against the city by female members of the police department. The last two suits were settled adding an additional $270,000 in costs to the city. The seventh suit was dismissed by a federal judge.The total loss to the city: $675,000. When were the suits settled? July (!).
Why did it take over four months to notify the public? San Leandro City Attorney Jayne Williams told The Citizen Monday that the Brown Act allowed for the resolution of closed session settlements not to be publicly announced unless they were inquired by the press or public. When the first four settlements were reached earlier this year, news of the deal was announced during a city council meeting along with the names of the plaintiffs and their monetary rewards. This time around, the city found no news was good news, that is, until the arrive of Spagnoli brought the story back to the forefront. It is no secret the city wanted this story to go away and they succeeded for awhile.
San Leandro Mayor-elect Stephen Cassidy announced a rather large transition team this week, but the question of whether his controversial campaign promise for pension reform was only rhetoric remains to be seen. One indication he is serious is Cassidy has yet to contact the San Leandro Police Officers Association. The issue could be a landmine for Cassidy. Backtrack and alienate a core pillar of his campaign or risk paralysis by playing hardball with the police officers and other city employee unions in the next two years.