San Joaquin County Sheriff Pat Withrow didn’t mince any words when he stepped up to the lectern Monday night in front of the Lathrop City Council.
As long as Lathrop City Manager Steve Salvatore is in his current job, Withrow said, there will be no more contracts between the San Joaquin County Sheriff Office and the City of Lathrop.
The sharp, biting rebuke came during a discussion about the City of Lathrop’s current progress towards transitioning to its own police department after more than 30 years of receiving contracted police services from the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office.
On an agenda that included consent calendar items that would have hired consulting firms to search for the city’s first-ever independent police chief and the firm that would conduct recruitment for the overall police force, nearly 3 hours were spent on the informational update – which veered sharply as soon as Withrow, a former Sergeant assigned to Lathrop Police Services, stepped up the lectern.
“It’s been clear to us that he does not speak honestly to the council and does not deal honestly business-wise – there is still a million dollars owed on the contract so why would anyone go back into a contract with someone so they could arbitrarily choose when they’re going to pay?” Withrow said. “If there’s somebody else that we’re comfortable with – we’d be happy to work with them. We have been wanting to start this transition from three years ago – I said I wish you would stay, and we would help you.”
Withrow, who defeated previous sheriff Steve Moore – who was in charge when the previous contract was signed and had tangled with the Lathrop City Council over the contract and its rising costs – in 2018, said that after his offer was made to help the city transition to its own department, he heard nothing back.
And then he let his feelings be known.
“We’ve had one meeting – in 2019 – and I heard him say at the special meeting that he made some type of offer and that’s a bald-faced-lie,” Withrow said. “That offer never happened, and we’re not comfortable dealing a man like that.
“I’ve said before that we’ll do everything that we can to help the City of Lathrop transition, but we’re not going to do it as long as Mr. Salvatore is City Manager.”
The comments drew sharp criticism from some on the dais – Councilman Paul Akinjo expressed his outright shock, and Vice Mayor Jennifer Torres-O’Callaghan asked if it would be possible to censure people who spoke like that from the lectern – and ultimately drew a response from Lathrop City Attorney Sal Navarrete.
As part of Withrow’s comments he mentioned “redacted” documents that had been distributed to a member of the council – later identified as Minnie Diallo – and expressed his concern and likened the practice to what unfolded in the City of Bell.
It was the comparison to Bell, a Southern California city that was embroiled in a very public misappropriation of funds case that landed several city officials in prison, that offended Navarrete.
When it came to the financial issue and the withholding of a portion of the contract, Navarrete said that the city’s motives were always transparent and clear.
“I’m personally offended by the correlation with the City of Bell,” Navarrete said – noting that the more than $1 million that the city has decided not to pay is currently in legal dispute, and the money is there in the event that the city’s contention is not raised.
“The county has previously told us that there would be a nexus study, and they have shared it with the sheriff and have not shared it with me. At the discussion that was had at the council meeting there were claims that the million dollars had been worked out and there was reason for the city to pay it immediately – it went back to the county counsel and was told that it was being prepared and would be ready on April 15 and I have not gotten that yet.
“We are setting aside that money – it’s not like we aren’t going to be able to pay it. I know that $1 million sounds like a lot, but it’s a small portion of the $10 million we are paying every year for the contract and the amount that we’re not paying is the amount that the government code says that we’re not to pay. That’s State law and it says that the county is charging us things that they should not be charging us.”
While Salvatore did not directly respond to Withrow’s comments, Mayor Sonny Dhaliwal held a largely respectful – which was at times contentious – dialogue about the city’s efforts to reach out and contact the sheriff to discuss what direction the city was planning to go.
“The City Manager doesn’t do anything on his own – he does it at this body’s direction,” Dhaliwal told Withrow. “He doesn’t do it at my direction, or the vice mayor’s direction – it’s the entire body’s decision about what they want him to do. If we fail or succeed, it’s not his fault – he’s trying to do whatever we’ve told him to do.”
In his response, Withrow reiterated that he would not abandon the City of Lathrop even if the city doesn’t meet its mark in transitioning to the new department by July of next year.
But he also reiterated that as long as Salvatore was in the position that he is in, the sheriff’s office would not be contracting again with the City of Lathrop – not for policing services, or for the dispatch or evidence services that the city’s consultant was hoping that the sheriff would be open to negotiate about.
“I’m just saying – this is a bad marriage. You say this is a bad contract – I’m saying this is a bad contract,” Withrow said. “You have a fantastic company that has done this for other people, but we’re not going to be a part of that as long as this City Manager is in place.
“This is a damaged relationship – it was damaged before I got here and I did everything I could to try and save it, and now I can start to see why people looked at me funny when I said I was trying to save the Lathrop contract.”
Akinjo, in an animated response, pointed out that in all of the government meetings that he has ever attended in a professional capacity, he had never seen something unfold what had unfolded before him on Monday night – noting that Steve Salvatore’s job performance or employment status were not on the agenda for the evening.
“I don’t have the city manager on my agenda – whether he’s employed or not,” Akinjo said. “My duty is to consider the genuineness of what is presented to me as a council member – in truthfulness and to the facts that we’re sworn to, including us.
“This tells you the state that we have now – this will go down as an attempt to remove a city manager in open discussion.”
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