Coalinga has hired former Madera County Undersheriff Michael Salvador as its new chief of police.
Salvador will officially take over the department on Monday. He stayed with the Sheriff’s Office for about a year after an unsuccessful bid for sheriff in which he accepted at least one questionable campaign donation.
He takes over for veteran Valley lawman Cal Minor, who resigned June 30 amid an investigation into possible retirement fraud by the California Public Employees’ Retirement System. Fire Chief Steve Henry resigned for the same reason on Aug. 10.
Retirement vs. work
The two chiefs are retired annuitants, meaning they collect full benefits from CalPERS. Retired annuitants are not permitted to work more than 960 hours per year while collecting these benefits. Minor retired from the California Highway Patrol after 33 years on the job before taking over in Coalinga.
On April 16, the issue was brought up for discussion at the Coalinga City Council meeting. Jeff Reynolds, a Coalinga resident and retired corrections employee, explained the situation in great detail to council members.
Mayor Ron Ramsey asked City Attorney David J. Wolfe if the city was doing anything wrong in keeping Minor on full time. Wolfe said it was not. The council voted 3-2 in favor of extending Minor’s contract.
Coalinga Mayor Pro-Tem Patrick Keough said the City Council received word from CalPERS in June that Minor and Henry had violated the annuitant rules. The two resigned from their departments. Keough believes they face around $250,000 each in fines or benefit garnishments.
CalPERS spokeswoman Amy Morgan said the agency was “reviewing the employment of Steven Henry and Calvin Minor.” She could not confirm the amount given by Keough, saying these investigations take time and a total dollar amount may not be available for a while.
Keough, one of the two council members who voted against extending Minor’s contract, fears that the two ousted chiefs will sue the city if CalPERS fines the former employees for violations.
Minor said Friday that he warned the city about a possible violation in 2013, when it officially joined CalPERS. He stressed that no fines or action had been taken against him, and that he, the city and CalPERS still are discussing the issue.
The city is currently searching for Henry’s replacement.
New job, years of experience
Salvador, like Minor, brings years of local law enforcement experience to the department. He also carries some baggage.
Salvador started his career as an officer with the Kerman Police Department and was promoted to sergeant. He moved to the Madera County Sheriff’s Office in 1997. In 2003, he was promoted to lieutenant and in 2013 was promoted to undersheriff by former Sheriff John Anderson.
Anderson retired in 2014 and endorsed Salvador to replace him. He lost the election to Chowchilla police Chief Jay Varney. Salvador remained with the Sheriff’s Office for nearly a year, working primarily on the construction project for the new headquarters in Madera.
During his campaign, Salvador received $3,000 in donations from Smith Manor Grace Chapel. Sharlane Smith, a co-owner of the mortuary, was later accused of defrauding the county to the tune of about $110,000 in fraudulent coroner service bills from around 2011 to 2015.
Salvador said he was unaware of the investigation into Smith Manor when he accepted the donation, and he has not been officially implicated in any fraud.
Keough was part of a community interview panel that ultimately chose Salvador as the new chief. The panel included members from the Coalinga-Huron Unified School District, the Coalinga Chamber of Commerce and other local agencies.
Marissa Trejo, Coalinga’s interim city manager, said Salvador completed a polygraph examination, background investigation, psychological evaluation and pre-employment physical before being hired. His salary will be about $93,000 a year, she said.
However, Keough was not aware of Smith’s donations to Salvador’s campaign.
“That’s news to me – who did we hire?”
He said that Salvador was a good candidate compared to the others.
“I don’t know much about him beyond his résumé, which was impressive,” Keough said. “He told us he was given a pink slip by his current employer.”
A spokesman for the Madera County Sheriff’s Office did not return The Bee’s request for comment.