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$375,000 Deal for Chief’s Departure Reported Reached

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A mediator recruited by Mayor Richard Riordan has struck a proposed deal to pay Police Chief Willie L. Williams about $375,000 so that Williams can leave his job early and clear the way for a transition to an interim chief next month, according to sources familiar with the delicate negotiations.

Those sources said the mediator, retired Superior Court Presiding Judge Richard J. “Skip” Byrne, plans to attend the council session and endorse the proposal when it is presented today. Riordan intends to make the presentation and participate in the closed-door discussion of the deal. And Police Commission President Raymond C. Fisher has been asked to be available to present the commission’s perspective--including its belief that a severance package for the chief would help the Los Angeles Police Department negotiate the potentially difficult transition that lies ahead.

“We need to get somebody in place,” Fisher said of the commission’s interest in finding an interim chief to take over for Williams. “The sooner the better.”

Fisher declined to comment on any proposed deal, as did Riordan.

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“The mayor has said all along that Chief Williams should be treated with dignity as he departs his office,” Noelia Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for Riordan, said Monday. “That has been his goal, as it has been the goal of the mediator. The mayor remains optimistic that that can happen.”

The sources said Williams has been considering the deal, and they believe he will accept it if the council approves offering it to him.

As of late Monday, aides to the mayor were trying to round up enough votes on the council to secure passage of the proposed agreement. Although the vote is too close to call with certainty, there appears to be substantial council support for the notion--one that would resolve a long-running city controversy and head off the possibility of litigation between the city government and one of its most popular officials.

According to sources familiar with the deal worked out by Byrne, the money for Williams would pay him to the end of his five-year term, which concludes July 6. It also would provide him with a personal services contract to ease the transition to a new chief and would boost his pension benefits at the same time that it compensated him for unused sick time and other leave. The package would not pay his legal fees--a key point with many council members and others angered by the conduct of Williams’ attorneys--nor would it compensate him for depreciation on his Woodland Hills home.

Some of the 15 council members have argued that Williams does not deserve any special treatment; according to their view, the chief has served his five-year term and is not entitled to any benefit for failing to win commission support for a second term. Those council members warn of setting a bad precedent by giving a payout to Williams, whose management and honesty both came under fire in his final years as chief.

His supporters, meanwhile, argue that making a deal with Williams would represent a humane gesture to a popular chief who did much to restore public confidence in the LAPD. In addition, some advocates of a deal say it would help in the recruitment of candidates to succeed Williams by demonstrating that the city government is committed to generous treatment of its employees.

Political observers tallying votes said they believe there are seven solid council supporters for the proposal: Richard Alatorre, Marvin Braude, Jackie Goldberg, Mike Hernandez, Nate Holden, Mark Ridley-Thomas and Rita Walters. Other potential backers for the deal include Richard Alarcon, John Ferraro, Ruth Galanter and Rudy Svorinich Jr., sources said.

Alatorre, the council’s shrewdest deal-maker and its most reliable vote-counter, said Monday that he believes a majority will agree today to give Williams a severance package.

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“I would be really surprised if something is not agreed upon [today],” he said. “I think it will come out somewhere in the $300,000 to $400,000 range.”

If all seven of the supportive council members back the proposal--and are joined by at least one of the potential swing votes--Williams could have his severance package and be gone from the LAPD by the end of next month. That would clear the way for an interim chief to take his place and manage the department until a permanent replacement can be tapped.

Although the Police Commission has not publicly announced a deadline for finding a permanent chief, sources say that group would like to have Williams’ successor in place by late summer. Like Williams, that person would have a five-year term, renewable for a second term at the commission’s discretion.

The desire to move quickly is in part spurred by concerns that the LAPD today is languishing without an engaged leader. Among others, Fisher has long stressed the need for an orderly transition in the department’s top ranks, and already there are signs of fraying management.

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“We’re in a major grind-down period,” said one high-ranking LAPD official. “People in general are pleased the decision’s made not to give [Williams] another five years. But people are thinking: How does this impact me? No one’s attention span is too long. People tend to click off.”

One graphic example of the management difficulties took commissioners and others by surprise Monday. Assistant Chief Ronald C. Banks, who is the department’s chief of staff, filed a grievance protesting the selection procedures for an interim chief.

Banks, a longtime LAPD veteran who is not popular with other top police officials, charges that he has been unfairly excluded from consideration as the interim chief. In his grievance, dated April 15 and obtained by some officials Monday, Banks said he has been discriminated against, judged by unpublished criteria, denied potential property rights and victimized by unfair labor practices.

Banks’ grievance does not fully elaborate the basis for his charges, but in a letter to The Times, the assistant chief complained that he believed discussions about LAPD transition issues were used against him unfairly.

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“The board recently interviewed the chief officers of the department for the expressed purpose of discussing ideas for a smooth ‘transition,’ ” Banks said in his letter. “This was an admirable strategy for obtaining insight from top management. It now appears that these chats were part of a screening process for the interim chief position. There is nothing inherently insidious with this process unless the interviewee was unaware of its purpose. It is my conclusion that candor and constructive criticism were not highly regarded by the board during the interview.”

Banks’ unusual charge will force the Police Commission to consult with lawyers--the latest in a long series of legal tangles created by the effort to evaluate Chief Williams and consider possible successors. But the commission intends to press ahead with its selection process anyway, said Fisher, who heads the civilian board.

Meanwhile, the department’s other two assistant chiefs are eyeing their futures: Bayan Lewis, who heads LAPD operations, has asked to be considered for the interim job, but is also a candidate to head the Reno Police Department. Frank Piersol, who heads LAPD administrative services, is weighing retirement, in part because he could lose substantial pension benefits if he stays too long and is demoted by Williams’ successor.

Although Fisher did not discuss particular officers, he said questions of management stability are one reason the commission would like to move quickly to pick an interim chief. In fact, Fisher said, Williams suggested moving ahead with the interim chief selection, saying that he had suffered by a rough transition from Daryl F. Gates’ term and wanted to avoid imposing that problem on his successor.

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If a deal can be struck this week to move Williams along before the end of his term, it would represent a significant political triumph for Riordan, who has long urged that the council make the chief a reasonable offer.

Instead, the council recently called on the chief to serve out his term and told Riordan that if he thought otherwise, he should make a proposal to the council. That had the ironic effect of making Riordan, long seen as a Williams antagonist, suddenly the chief’s best chance for a lucrative financial package.


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