About two weeks into his temporary contract, interim City Manager Art de Werk has made a change in Atwater Police Department management.
Chief Samuel Joseph has been removed from the top spot in favor of interim Police Chief Armando Echevarria, de Werk said Monday. Joseph remains employed by the city as of Monday night.
De Werk said Echevarria "enjoys widespread respect by the police employees," adding the length of his interim position is uncertain.
"It's not political at all. It's my professional expertise that determines what I need to do," de Werk told the Sun-Star. "I think they (City Council) were shocked when I told them."
De Werk told the council during a closed session meeting before Monday's regular meeting, according to multiple members of the council. De Werk said he could not discuss the reasons for Joseph's removal, citing personnel issues.
"The department will be stable and there will be a management review of the organization," de Werk said. "That will be done by an outside firm."
Joseph, who has been chief since November 2016, was not available for comment on Monday.
Councilwoman Cindy Vierra has been a vocal supporter of de Werk in the past year while the city was looking for a new city manager. During that time she also brushed off any idea that she would use her time in office to get her husband, Ceres police Sgt. Danny Vierra, a job as Atwater's chief.
She denied it again on Monday. "It has nothing to do with trying to get my husband here," she told the Sun-Star.
Vierra also said her son, Atwater Detective Matt Vierra, did not play into the removal of Joseph. She noted that the police chief's employment does not fall under the purview of the council.
"My son has never said a negative word about Chief Joseph at all," she said. "As a council we don't have any say. We haven't been given any details on that, because it's a personnel issue."
Mayor Jim Price, too, said the council was not given any information on why Joseph was removed.
During the Monday meeting, the council also voted 5-0 to pay a firm to conduct a Peace Officer Standards and Training background check on de Werk. In December, Price called for a deeper background check because of the "past history" of de Werk.