GUSTINE -- It's been about five months since Richard Calderon's abrupt exodus as Gustine's police chief -- but the political fireworks over his departure apparently still are sparking.
On Monday, the San Jose Mercury News published an article about the Santa Clara County sheriff's race, where Calderon is a candidate.
Calderon and city leaders were relatively quiet after his relationship ended with Gustine in August. In Monday's Mercury News article, however, Calderon accused Gustine leaders of illegal and unethical behavior.
Calderon, 56, told the Mercury News that he was "forced out" by city leaders, even though he was supported by his fellow officers and residents.
"I reported improprieties on the part of the highest level of city government. They chose not to take action," Calderon was quoted as saying. "Their ethical compass pointed in a different direction."
Reached by telephone Wednesday, Calderon told the Merced Sun-Star that he stood by the comments he made to the Mercury News. Still, Calderon said he wanted to be careful about mentioning specific improprieties on the part of city officials, saying he's "spoken to an attorney" about what he can and cannot say.
Gustine City Manager Margaret Silveira said she couldn't comment on much of Calderon's employment with the city, citing personnel issues. She did acknowledge, however, that they had differences over the city's spending of $249,633 in stimulus money under the federal government's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services Hiring Recovery Program.
The COPS program included $1 billion in stimulus funds geared toward helping police departments hire and retain officers under the American Recovery and Re- investment Act of 2009.
Silveira said the city is using the $249,633, which is funded over a three-year period, to retain one police officer with the department. While Silveira said the city used the money to prevent laying off an officer, she said Calderon claimed it was illegal to use the federal money for that purpose.
Federal guidelines followed?
On the city's use of the COPS funding, Calderon said he didn't believe Silveira was following the COPS guidelines properly. He said the guidelines allowed for the COPS funds to be used in the event officers were laid off or had received a pink slip about pending layoffs.
Calderon said they also could have used the funds if the city had substantiated there was a budget hardship. "We had not met that criterion at that time," Calderon said.
Silveira, on the other hand, said the city's use of the federal funds was approved by the U.S. Department of Justice -- and Calderon's claims are absolutely "appalling."
"In his eyes, he wanted more officers, and he said that I was trying to do something illegal with that (money), which is absolutely crazy," Silveira said. "Ethics and values are at the forefront here. For someone to say something like that is totally false."
Gustine Mayor Rich Ford said little when Calderon left the department in August -- although he was vocal in Monday's Mercury News article. Ford echoed many of his comments Wednesday, saying Calderon was heavy-handed on residents for minor infractions.
Ford said Calderon was more concerned with handing out traffic tickets than handling major issues, such as gang activity and crime.
"Before he came to Gustine, I would get a complaint (about the police) maybe once every week or so," Ford told the Sun-Star. "It got to the point where it was almost daily."
Calderon disagreed with Ford's assessment, saying he asked his officers to hand out a survey about police service, with positive results. Of 600 surveys given to residents, Calderon said, 250 were returned. He said about 90 percent of those surveys gave the department high marks. "I was honored with the responses we were getting," Calderon said.
Calderon's last day with the Gustine Police Department was Aug. 19, after the city bought out the remaining four months of his yearlong contract for $29,008, which came from the city's general fund.
A retired captain with the San Jose Police Department, Calderon was Gustine's police chief for eight months. He moved back to San Jose from Gustine in September, and is running against incumbent Santa Clara Sheriff Laurie Smith and two other candidates. The election is June 8.