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Interim Huntington Beach police chief Kelly Rodriguez resigns citing political divisiveness

Kelly Rodriguez has announced she will resign rather than stay on as interim police chief in Huntington Beach.
Kelly Rodriguez has announced she will resign rather than stay on as interim police chief in Huntington Beach.
(Courtesy of city of Huntington Beach)

Kelly Rodriguez has resigned as the interim police chief of the Huntington Beach Police Department, citing divisiveness in the community and within the Police Department.

Rodriguez, the first female captain in department history, was promoted to assistant chief in early 2019. She was to serve as the interim police chief while the city found a replacement for Robert Handy, who announced his retirement earlier this month.

Instead, she will retire from the department on Nov. 13.

“After 24 years with the city of Huntington Beach, I have decided that now is the right time to retire,” Rodriguez said in a statement. “I have loved being part of this amazing police department and had been looking forward to serving as the acting chief. However, there is an unhealthy level of divisiveness right now in our community, and I have no desire to be thrust into the middle of the political fights that are currently occurring.”

Robert Handy, who has been the Huntington Beach Police Department chief since 2013, plans to leave law enforcement by the end of the month.

Rodriguez said in the statement that she didn’t want to be part of conflict, and that she urged people to come together to find common ground.

Rodriguez declined an interview request Friday.

City Manager Oliver Chi said he hoped that Rodriguez would stay on as interim chief.

“Acting Chief Rodriguez is a model of integrity and we’ve been lucky to have had her as part of our team for the last 24 years,” Chi said. “As the last couple of days have unfolded, acting Chief Rodriguez decided she wanted to retire rather than become engaged in the current political divisiveness that’s occurring within the police department. Really, there’s some conflict on our City Council as well that she just didn’t want to be part of.”

Chi said he planned to name Rodriguez as acting chief, before City Councilman Mike Posey asked to put that item on the agenda for further discussion. According to the city charter, the council has the authority to review the city manager’s decision on hiring a police chief.

“Kelly and I discussed the matter, and she decided that rather than become a part of the political narrative that’s currently happening, she wanted to retire instead,” Chi said. “She actually was planning on retiring on Oct. 31, before Chief Handy announced his retirement. Given that context ... Kelly informed me that she wanted to retire, and that’s ultimately what’s happening now.”

The Huntington Beach Police Department has been divided as Election Day approaches. The Huntington Beach Police Management Assn., which represents nine lieutenants and three captains in the department, endorses Tito Ortiz, Casey McKeon and Gracey Van Der Mark, who are loosely running together as a three-candidate ticket.

A political flyer sent to homes in Huntington Beach.
A political flyer sent to homes in Huntington Beach, endorsed by the Police Management Assn., was critical of City Council candidates Natalie Moser, Dan Kalmick and Oscar Rodriguez.

The Police Management Assn. also recently backed a mailer that was sent out to homes in Surf City and slammed City Council candidates Natalie Moser, Dan Kalmick and Oscar Rodriguez. The advertisement, paid for by political action committee Cal Pacific, labels the three Democratic candidates as “Extreme Public Safety Risks.”

“Don’t let Natalie Moser, Dan Kalmick and Oscar Rodriguez turn HB into Portland!” the flier says.

Two customers on the outdoor patio. $6 in a tip jar labeled “Tips For College.” Few masks in sight. This is the reality of Huntington Beach service workers during the pandemic.

However, Kalmick has been endorsed by the Police Officers Assn., which is another police union that represents the rank-and-file police officers within the department.

Pat Garcia, who heads Cal Pacific and also sits on the Huntington Beach Planning Commission with Kalmick, said it’s nothing personal.

“We’re just trying to get conservative and moderate people [on the City Council],” Garcia said. “We think [Moser, Kalmick and Rodriguez] are farther left, and that’s what we’re trying to avoid.”

Since Chi needs the City Council’s approval to hire a police chief, the new City Council after Nov. 3 would play a role in doing that. There are 15 candidates vying for three open spots.

Mayor Pro Tem Kim Carr said Rodriguez’s decision not to get in the middle of a political fight was “totally her call.”

“I respect the hell out of Kelly,” Carr said. “I think she’s an amazing woman, a very strong woman, and she’s represented our city in the most professional and dignified way during a very intense period for our city.”

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