Frank Pietro, an Atwater native who rose through 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.
The move may appear abrupt, he told the Sun-Star on Tuesday, but Pietro, who has been both police chief and city manager, said he’s been planning his departure for several months. Samuel Joseph, a 19-year veteran with the Atwater Police Department, has been named interim chief of police effective immediately, and Pietro will stay on as city manager until Dec. 31.
Pietro first made the announcement publicly during Monday’s regular meeting of the City Council. He said he wants to help the city shore up a new tax-sharing agreement with Merced County and a sewer agreement to service Castle Commerce Center.
Relinquishing the police chief role, Pietro said, should allow him to devote more time to city business.
“It’s been hectic for the last four years trying to give 110 percent to each one of those departments,” he said. “They’re both huge, overwhelming departments that take a lot of your time.”
Pietro was named chief of police in 2011 after more than 30 years with the department. He was appointed interim city manager in 2012 as city leaders were considering bankruptcy.
It’s been hectic for the last four years trying to give 110 percent to each one of those departments. They’re both huge, overwhelming departments that take a lot of your time.
Frank Pietro, Atwater’s city manager
Pietro 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.
Mayor Jim Price praised Pietro as someone who is “committed to Atwater.” Price, in office for almost two years, said Pietro’s knowledge of the city has been invaluable.
“I’m really impressed how he brought the city away from the doorstep of bankruptcy,” Price said. “I just can’t say enough about him.”
The city will look to maintain separate positions for a chief and city manager, he said, which it hasn’t had in the past four years.
“Financing is always an issue with us,” Price said.
Along with finalizing Atwater’s agreements, Pietro said he would like to work on getting the city a new employee, who would serve as both an engineer and public works director. The city has been without a director for some time.
The next six months should also allow Joseph to get his feet wet as chief, Pietro said.
“I’ve been working with Sammy for the last six or seven months to bring him on board,” he said. “And I think it’s his turn to run the agency.”
I’m really impressed how he brought the city away from the doorstep of bankruptcy. I just can’t say enough about him.
Mayor Jim Price
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, 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 supervisor of the detectives unit before being 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.
Pietro, who turns 60 in October, will have served Atwater for 39 years when he retires.
“I told myself when I turn 60 it will be time for me to retire and enjoy my life,” he said.
Digital Content Editor Rob Parsons contributed to this report.