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Livingston Police chief decides against retirement

LIVINGSTON — Cancel the retirement party and return the gold watch because Police Chief Bill Eldridge isn’t ready to give up his job.

The longtime head of the police department announced Wednesday that he was rescinding his April announcement to retire. “I probably overreacted,” the 58-year-old Eldridge said. “I’m just going to take a little more time off.”

Eldridge, who regularly works 12-hour days, said he plans to schedule more vacations so he doesn’t tire of his job.

He plans to lead the police department for at least one more year before taking another look at retirement.

His change-of-heart means relief for city administrators and for local residents who were critical about the search process to find a replacement.

For some time, the chief has kicked around the idea of turning in his gun and badge, and seriously considered it last year. Several members of the community publicly asked him to stay.

A year later, he made up his mind and told the city he had finally decided to cap his 36-year-long law career on July 5.While he still enjoyed work, Mondays dragged more and more, he said at the time. He wanted to leave before he burned out. The city scheduled a going-away party, and Eldridge turned in the retirement paperwork.

Then he changed his mind.

Eldridge decided he was leaving the city at a bad time. The budget will be tight and some members of the department will be taking better-paying jobs with other agencies.

Cashing in his unused sick and vacation hours would cost the city about $100,000 — money that could be used to help his department’s salaries.

As a compromise with himself, Eldridge plans to take off a little more time. He’s already planned a vacation in Oregon this summer.

“If I just force myself to do what I should be doing — taking time off, relaxing — I’m fine,” he explained. “I’m a workaholic. It’s real tough for me.”

Eldridge arrived at the department after a previous chief was fired in 1993 amid allegations of misconduct. He’s been credited with uniting the department, being a problem-solver and not falling into petty politics.

Replacing him wouldn’t be easy, city leaders acknowledged, just as the search was beginning earlier this month.

A handful of citizens were upset because it looked as if they wouldn’t have a say in sketching the profile of an ideal candidate.

City Manager Richard Warne told them he didn’t want the search to become politicized or turn into the television show “American Idol.” He was pleased to receive Eldridge’s letter rescinding his retirement.

“He’s the best police chief I’ve worked with in 26 years (of public service),” Warne said.Elected leaders were also pushing Eldridge to stay with the force longer. Mayor Gurpal Samra said he’d call the chief a couple times a week urging him to reconsider.

Though they don’t always see eye-to-eye, Samra said he enjoys a strong relationship with the chief and didn’t want to see him leave.

“I look forward to calling him a few names and being called a few names,” he said.

Samra joked that he wants the chief to understand he cost the city money by having staff print the professional headhunter’s search proposal.

In copying costs, the Eldridge’s bill could come to $1.50.

“He’s going to be shocked when he gets that bill,” Samra said. “If you’re going to do this and cause city expenses, you’re going to pay for it.”

Reporter Scott Jason can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or sjason@mercedsun-star.com.

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