Ceres City Council votes to release police chief for medical issues

etracy@modbee.comJune 16, 2014 

BA Press Conf 1

Ceres’ City Council has voted to let Art de Werk leave his post as interim city manager and return to his duties as police chief and public safety director.

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— Police Chief and Public Safety Director Art de Werk was relieved of his duties Monday after the City Council unanimously approved an agreement to release him.

During the second closed-session meeting held this month to discuss de Werk’s “discipline/dismissal/release,” the council voted to end de Werk’s employment. Councilman Bret Durossette was absent.

“Under California law, the agreement will not be final for a period of seven days from today’s date,” said City Attorney Mike Lyions. “The agreement is maintained in an employee personnel file and will only be disclosed as authorized by law, court order or subpoena.”

A statement attributed to de Werk in a press release issued after the meeting says his departure was a result of medical issues, but he did not respond to phone inquiries seeking additional comment. He did not attend the meeting.

“My recent medical issues have changed my priorities and the healing process will have to continue for some time,” the statement read. The nature of his illness is confidential.

The 60-year-old combination police and fire chief had been out on medical leave for about two months and returned to work the first week of June.

At a regular council meeting June 9, de Werk expressed concern about City Manager Toby Wells’ suggestion to freeze the deputy chief position vacated by Mike Borges in March, saying it would leave the department grossly undermanaged and more susceptible to lawsuits.

But the council passed the budget and left the position frozen.

The next day, a closed-session hearing was held to discuss de Werk’s performance. Lyions reported no action taken at that meeting, but the next day, Wells announced de Werk was back on medical leave.

Few Fire or Police Department personnel could be reached Monday evening, and those who could said they hadn’t received any notice from the city about the decision so they couldn’t comment until they had additional details.

De Werk has served as the city’s police chief and public safety director for 15 years.

He came to the city from Casper, Wyo., where he served in a similar dual police and fire chief role for seven years.

He started his law enforcement career at the Palo Alto Police Department, climbing the ranks quickly and becoming a captain by age 27.

Wells became city manager in March when de Werk left that position, in which he had served on an interim basis for more than three years.

As noted in the press release, de Werk led the city through “some of the most difficult times in the city’s history, including the shooting of two highly respected police officers and serving as the acting city manager during the great recession.”

He was instrumental in the passage of Measure H, a supplemental sales tax to enhance public safety.

Lt. Brent Smith, who was appointed as interim police chief last week, will continue in the role until a permanent replacement is hired, Wells said.

Wells said he will present options about how to fill the position at a future council meeting.

Bee staff writer Erin Tracy can be reached at etracy@modbee.com or (209) 578-2366. Follow her on Twitter @ModestoBeeCrime.

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