Reinstatement of police chief has rattled faith in college leaders

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Cartoon by Dan Cordero

What happened?  We just want to know what happened.

We want the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about the gunfire in campus police headquarters.  We deserve to know what happened.  We have the right to know what happened.

We need to know that our police chief is capable of defending us and that our college president is capable of open, honest communication.

So far we have little evidence of either.

It is disconcerting enough that Campus Police Chief Michael Cash fired his service revolver head high through a wall and through three employees in the adjacent room. Thankfully no one was physically injured, although two of the employees are now on stress disability leave. It is hard to blame them for not exactly feeling safe in their workplace.

It is even more disconcerting that Cash apparently had a complete mental meltdown after the shot was fired and became so incoherent that he had to be taken to the hospital in an ambulance.

Most disconcerting of all is the college’s mysterious and stonewalling response to the affair.  Two investigations had different results. One said the chief was negligent, the other called the shooting accidental. Why was SWC’s law firm asked to investigate rather than the Chula Vista Police Department?  Why were college employees ordered not to speak to the media or the community? Why did the investigator (as some interviewees claimed) seem to have her mind made up that Cash was going to return before the investigation was complete? Why won’t our leaders show us the investigator’s report? Why did the administration allow the chief to return to work (armed) after he clearly had a psychological breakdown after the gunshot?

A brief email by President Dr. Melinda Nish to the campus community was cavalier and dismissive to the point of being laughable. She basically said we are glad to have our trigger-happy, mentally fragile top cop back and, hey, don’t worry, we’re going to fortify the wall at HQ in case he fires his gun again. That was possibly the least presidential moment of her two-year presidency.

There are two serious problems here: (1) Is our chief of police capable of leading the men in the SWCPD and keeping us safe? and (2) Is our college, which has been boasting of a new age of honesty, professionalism and transparency, starting a slow slide back into secrecy and mistrust?

Michael Cash, by the way, is a really nice guy and very likeable. Journalism students at The Sun like him very much as a person.  In his year-and-a-half as chief he has been friendly, helpful and very accessible, which we appreciate greatly.  He is a beam of happy sunlight after the dour, arrogant reign of Brent Chartier. He has tried to clean up Chartier’s mess and reconnect the campus police with the student body. We feel he was making progress and we were rooting for him.

That said, we also want to know that we have a calm, steely professional protecting us. We want someone who will not go to pieces if a psycho has a knife to our throat and he is the first person on the scene.

More troubling is the dreadful way the college has handled this situation. College leaders are hiding behind the clichéd and vacuous claim that details of the situation are confidential because it is (take your pick because they have tried all of these): (a) a personal matter, (b) a personnel matter, (c) a HIPAA matter, (d) a legal matter, and (e) beat it, kids, it’s none of your business.

The correct answer is none of the above. California law is very clear. Citizens’ right to know about the conduct, work product and decisions of public employees in matters of public interest trump any artificial constructs public employees offer up. (A letter from the Editorial Board of The Sun to Dr. Nish citing specific California case law has been published at theswcsun.com.)

Dr. Nish’s high-handed “because I told you so” stance on this issue is enough to put shivers down the spines of anyone who survived the Chopra/Alioto years. Sorry, but that does not cut it in fall 2013.  Too many people in this community fought and bled for transparency, professionalism and restoration of trust. Four of our five board members campaigned or interviewed on promises to restore transparency and end even the slightest appearance of cronyism and corruption. Nish herself stood in front of hundreds of students and staff at her open forum in 2011 and pledged to be a communicative, open and ethical leader. A lot of us were sitting in the room that day and we applauded when she said it.

We are holding all of our leaders to those standards. We are open to the possibility that reinstating Cash was the right thing to do. Fair enough. Show us your cards. Explain to us the research that was done, the evidence collected and the decision-making process. Let us see that this was a professional decision in the best interest of students and not another case of administrators circling the wagons to protect colleagues. Convince us that we do not need to worry about another Cash meltdown.

Failure to do this will further fuel the flames of mistrust and suspicion that this case has lit. Nish can either pour water or gas on this fire. So far her bucket smells like 91 octane.

This newspaper has been highly supportive of the current board and Dr. Nish. We editorialized against a nascent No Confidence vote against Nish some faculty advocated for earlier this year.  Dr. Nish, please show us that our support of you and our faith in you was justified. Governing board members, please show us that you are still the warriors for honesty, professionalism and transparent government we supported in 2010 and 2012.  You have all shaken our confidence in your judgment and leadership.

Please, tell us the truth.

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  • No_Thanks

    Thank you for the fair, balanced view in this piece. I wish the Chief well, but confidence seems to be irreparably harmed and the wheels keep falling off of the college leadership.