$230,000 of settlement meant for Paso police chief’s reputation damage

Lisa Solomon and Paso officials agree not to sue further and not to say bad things about the other

sdaniel@thetribunenews.comMarch 21, 2012 

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Paso Robles officials Wednesday would not discuss why Police Chief Lisa Solomon would receive $250,000 in a settlement to leave her job, though the city manager said it represented a negotiated amount.

Nor would they outline what an investigation found after a former officer accused her of sexual harassment and another filed suit claiming officers were required to meet illegal ticket quotas.

The settlement shows that of the $250,000, almost all of that — $230,500 — is to be paid to Solomon as a result of damage to her reputation, the result of the controversy that has surrounded her the past few months.

Only $19,500 is tied to wages she will no longer receive. Her last day with the city is April 2.

The settlement also stipulates that neither the city nor Solomon would disparage the other, and the city would keep details about her career at the department confidential.

Solomon waived her right to sue on the basis of age and other possible discrimination categories. She will also have city-paid health benefits through April but then will be on her own for such coverage.

Solomon will not return to her office other than “to say her final goodbyes and do her final administrative checkout,” City Manager Jim App said.

Solomon is expected to turn in her badge, weapon, keys to all buildings and police vehicles, and other property and equipment on or before April 2.

In a letter of resignation, submitted Tuesday night to App, Solomon stated, “recent attacks on my character by unscrupulous media sources and self-serving individuals have reached a level of indecency so great, I will no longer subject myself, my family or my colleagues to such invasions of privacy and distraction from the mission of my office; to protect and serve the community of Paso Robles.”

In a telephone interview Wednesday, Solomon told The Tribune, “This is purely my decision. It’s best for me and my family and the department given everything we have gone through with the attacks and media coverage.”

Solomon said she will not return to police work and wanted to thank people in the community who have supported her. “Yes, I’m going to miss this profession. ... I got into police work to help the public and I have done so honorably for 26 years. And I will miss the people. There are aspects of it that have become extremely negative that I will not miss, but the mission of the job I will miss deeply,” Solomon said.

After Tuesday night’s announcement of her departure, the city faces the task of putting its fragmented police department back together.

“I’m relieved this is behind us,” Paso Robles City Councilman Nick Gilman said Wednesday. “All of the publicity has really thrown a kink in getting business done. It will take some time for the city to recover from this.”

“It’s really a shame because no one is perfect,” Gilman said. “The chief had been doing a credible job. I never had any complaints about the chief or the Police Department.”

Searching for a new chief will cost the city time and money. Officials did not immediately say how much it might cost. In the meantime, Capt. Robert Burton will lead the department.

Gilman said Paso Robles would look outside San Luis Obispo County to find a replacement.

“You can imagine we’re going to be vetting whoever we choose as a replacement very carefully,” he said.

App said he didn’t remember which party first mentioned entering into a separation agreement, but that they both knew it was the best path for everyone involved.

The settlement will be paid entirely by the city, which means taxpayers are footing the bill.

“It is a significant amount of money,” App said. “We expect people will be concerned and downright angry.”

But, he added, by paying the settlement, the city is protected from more substantial risks down the road such as future lawsuits or other claims.

In her resignation letter, Solomon, 43, referred to her departure as an early retirement.

Under the California Public Employees Retirement System standards, the earliest that a retiree can start collecting benefits is age 50. However, if a retiree can prove a disability, he or she could collect his or her benefits earlier.

Separately, Solomon filed a worker’s compensation claim against the city March 13. App would not discuss the details of that claim, citing privacy issues.

In November, the city’s attorney hired lawyer Debra Estrin of San Francisco to investigate sexual harassment allegations. Officer T.J. McCall, who has been on leave because of an injury, said he was interviewed by her, as was another officer who asked to remain anonymous in earlier interviews with The Tribune.

When asked about his reaction to the findings of the investigation conducted by Estrin, App reiterated Wednesday, “I can neither confirm nor deny there is such a report.”

When pressed on the matter he said, “I have been advised by the city attorney not to say anything because of state laws that protect the police.”

Estrin was hired Nov. 30 as a consultant and paid $150 an hour plus expenses, according to her contract. After everything that has happened, App said he has no regrets about his decision to appoint Solomon in 2007. She started her career with the department in 1986 as a dispatcher.

“I would stand behind her appointment (as chief),” App said. “She was an exceptional officer and an exceptional chief. I am disappointed she is no longer here, but I understand the reasons.”

Jonah Owen Lamb contributed to this report.

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