The city intends to fire Police Chief Samuel L. Buntyn for allegedly trying to influence a promotion board, for sexual harassment and for eight other charges, sources at City Hall said this week.
City Manager John Bernardi notified Buntyn of his termination, effective later this month, in a letter mailed last week, the sources said. A draft of that letter was obtained by The Times. Buntyn has denied any wrongdoing.
Bernardi and members of the council refused to comment except to say that state law prohibits them from discussing Buntyn's employment status or the circumstances surrounding it. "Our attorney has advised us that we cannot discuss reasons for asking for his resignation or (for considering) his termination," Bernardi said.
City officials met in a closed-door session last week to discuss Buntyn's employment status, the sources said. The results of that meeting have not been publicly disclosed, but the draft of Bernardi's letter contends that Buntyn:
- Imposed undue influence over the board giving oral reviews to candidates for promotion.
- Engaged in sexual harassment of a subordinate.
- Kept secret files on city personnel.
- Purchased capital equipment without proper authorization.
- Falsified time sheets.
- Failed to address and/or achieve progress in goals set by the City Council.
- Failed to respond to direct orders given in a staff meeting.
- Failed to maintain "on the job availability" for response to department problems and response to the city manager's office.
- Failed to maintain administrative contact and reasonable cooperation with the city manager's office.
- Maintained "arrogant behavior" toward City Council members during a public meeting.
The draft referred to several "exhibits" detailing some of the allegations, but that information was not attached to the document obtained by The Times.
"Since you have indicated that you have no desire to submit your resignation, this letter is transmitted as formal notice of my intention to terminate your employment with the City of South Pasadena," Bernardi's letter states.
He May Ask for Hearing
The letter also noted that Buntyn has the right to respond to the charges orally or in writing and that he has the right to request a hearing, the sources confirmed. Buntyn said earlier that he would demand a hearing.
Buntyn was asked to resign on June 6, but refused and immediately filed for a stress-related disability. He has been on medical leave since then. Buntyn, 41, has said he will request a hearing and if the outcome is unsatisfactory, he will contest his dismissal in court. He said stress caused by the city's attempt to oust him from office has contributed to his illness. Buntyn, who collapsed in March and was taken to a hospital, has said he has a heart problem. If his request for permanent disability is approved, Buntyn could be entitled to half of his $50,496 annual salary for life, Bernardi has said.
Before receiving the letter, Buntyn said in an interview last week that he had not been told why his dismissal is being sought. After being read the draft letter he said:
"I don't know any more than I knew on June 6 (the day he was asked to resign). You understand they've never talked to me about this. Bernardi, if he was a good administrator and knew his job, would have sat down and ironed this thing out.
"The problem with elected officials is that they would like to have a certain amount of control over the Police Department. I've had a problem with four of the five councilmen at various times. Three of the five have been investigated for various things. Obviously, if you have three of them under investigation at one time or another, you're not going to be best of friends.
"They're going to have to deal with that. This is not going to be a clean fight at all."
Buntyn would not say which councilmen he had investigated or for what reason. When contacted Tuesday, he would not discuss the letter.
Buntyn has been police chief for eight years and last year was also named director of public safety, with additional responsibility for the Fire Department. The latter position will be eliminated if Buntyn is fired, Councilman Robert Wagner said. Cmdr. William Reese, a veteran of more than 20 years in the department, has been serving as acting police chief since Buntyn went on leave.