Police Chief Ordered to Quit or Be Fired

Times Staff Writer

Police Chief Sam Buntyn, who took an extended medical leave last month after the City Council requested his resignation, will be fired if he does not resign within the next few days, city officials said Wednesday.

City officials, citing state laws governing privacy in personnel matters, have refused to say why they want to get rid of the chief. And Buntyn said he has no idea why he is being asked to quit. Meanwhile, hundreds of local residents have signed petitions asking for a public hearing on the matter.

"We should have a resolution shortly," said City Manager John Bernardi, who recommended that the council ask for Buntyn's resignation in a closed personnel session held early last month. The action was reported at a subsequent council meeting.

Bernardi said Wednesday that negotiations are under way through "mutual friends" to secure Buntyn's resignation. If those efforts fail, Bernardi said, Buntyn will be fired. Under South Pasadena's form of government, the city manager has the authority to fire the police chief. "It will probably be resolved within the next few days," Bernardi said.

Buntyn, who has not responded to the council's request for his resignation, filed for stress-related disability and went on sick leave June 6, the day after the City Council unanimously voted in favor of Bernardi's recommendation.

Buntyn said Wednesday that he has not been told why he was asked to leave and that he is unaware of any ongoing negotiations.

"No one has evaluated me, no one has discussed anything with me concerning my actions, or lack of actions," Buntyn said.

"There's no negotiations as far as I know," he added. "Whatever they're talking about, I don't know. If I'm on sick leave, how can they legally terminate me?"

Shortly after the council's vote, friends of Buntyn circulated petitions asking city officials to disclose their reasons for requesting his resignation. The petitions, bearing about 460 signatures, were presented to council members on June 19.

The city clerk's office said this week that no action will be taken on the petitions.

"This is a personnel matter. We have nothing further that we have to do," said Irene Dabrowski, deputy city clerk .

Buntyn, 41, who has been police chief for eight years and was chief of police in Stanton before that, said he was informed by Bernardi on June 6 that the council had voted the day before to request his resignation.

Over a cup of coffee with Bernardi, Buntyn said he asked the city manager why he was being asked to leave.

"He said they were not happy with my performance," Buntyn recounted. "I said, 'What does that mean?' He said, 'I don't know.'

"I don't know what the city is doing," Buntyn said. "I'm not sure the city knows what the city is doing."

Buntyn said he filed for disability because of his health. He said he has a heart problem that began in March, when he collapsed in his office and was taken to Huntington Memorial Hospital. "I'm going through the testing right now to determine the extent of the problem," he said.

"Right now," he continued, "I'm just waiting to see what the doctors say," and whether the city's insurance carrier accepts his claim for permanent disability, he said.

Buntyn is eligible for up to one year's full pay while a determination is pending on his claim, Bernardi said. If Buntyn's request for permanent disability is approved, he could be entitled to half of his $50,496 yearly salary for the rest of his life.

Meanwhile, city officials, including Bernardi, remain tight-lipped about what prompted them to seek Buntyn's resignation.

"I'd love to expound, I'd love to get it out," Councilman Ted Shaw said Tuesday. "It's very cumbersome. It's very frustrating to everyone. Our attorney is telling us what to say, to keep us in the perimeters of employee relationships.

"You can't discuss everything that goes on behind closed doors," Shaw said. "We are not at liberty to discuss personnel on any level, on any plane, in any way, shape or form."

Councilman Bob Wagner said Wednesday that in the closed personnel session regarding Buntyn "there were reasons that were pointed out that persuaded the mayor and the City Council members to support the city manager's recommendation."

What those reasons were, however, cannot not be made public, Bernardi said, without written consent from Buntyn.

"It's a very strange situation," said Dave Rhodes, a friend of Buntyn who helped circulate the petitions. "The City Council has something on the police chief, but they won't say what it is, and they won't tell the police chief either.

"They make it sound like he's done some evil deed. We'd like to know more. Sam would like to know more. They won't tell us anything."

But the situation, Rhodes said, "is really in (Buntyn's) hands; whether he wants to battle it out in the public or just let it go."

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