Frank Pietro, an Atwater native who rose from the ranks to become his hometown’s top cop and later guided the city out of dire financial straits, has decided to retire, the Sun-Star has confirmed.
Reached by telephone Monday, City Councilman Brian Raymond confirmed Pietro announced his intention to step down as police chief, effective immediately, and plans to retire Dec. 31 from his position as city manager.
Samuel Joseph, a 19-year veteran with the Atwater Police Department, has been named interim chief of police.
Joseph also confirmed the news when contacted late Monday by the Merced Sun-Star.
“I’m very honored for this opportunity and extremely thankful,” Joseph said in a brief interview.
Pietro was named chief of police in 2011 after more than 30 years with the department. He was appointed interim city manager in 2012 at a time when city leaders were considering bankruptcy.
Pietro widely was credited with navigating the city away from financial collapse through a series of difficult maneuvers, including laying off nine city employees, negotiating a 22 percent pay cut for police officers and wrangling with debtors to help collect nearly $1 million owed to the city at the time. He also was credited for receiving one salary — reported last year to be $188,667 in total — while doing both jobs, according to Sun-Star archives.
Pietro could not immediately be reached for comment late Monday.
Joseph praised Pietro’s leadership and said he “saved this city and saved this department.”
“I have tremendous respect for him and am extremely grateful for his guidance and leadership throughout my time here,” Joseph said.
Joseph deflected questions about his own promotion on Monday, saying it would be premature to comment further until he’s had more time to speak with Pietro and city officials.
The 47-year-old police commander first joined the department in 1997. He also climbed through the ranks, working as an officer, a detective, and supervised the detectives unit before he was promoted to sergeant in 2005.
Joseph advanced to lieutenant in 2012 and worked as the No. 2 man in the department after Pietro was named the city’s top executive, playing a key role in both the administrative and operational duties of the Police Department.
This story will be updated.