Councilors speak out day later

Two Portales city councilors said Wednesday they feel Portales Police Chief Jeff Gill should have been disciplined based on a report critical of his administration.

Councilors Antonio Salguero and Keith Thomas said they felt too outnumbered to express their feelings at Tuesday's council meeting when the report was discussed and other city officials praised Gill and his staff for improvements they've made in the four months since the review.

Councilor Dianne Parker on Tuesday even thanked the department for its service and expressed sympathy in regards to the department being criticized.

But Wednesday, Salguero and Thomas expressed disappointment in the police department's leadership.

"I'm in favor of the report itself but I'm not in favor of all the results of the report," Salguero said. "He (Gill) was in charge; it should have been on his shoulders. We should not be putting all the blame on the (previous) deputy chief."

The 14-page report, released last week, was critical of the department and Gill for allowing a culture rife with officer intimidation, lack of communication and sloppy handling of evidence.

The review from a Rio Rancho consulting firm was ordered by the City Council after Deputy Chief Lonnie Berry resigned after being charged with tampering with public records. Gill and other police department personnel blamed some issues addressed in the report on Berry.

Thomas said after commending police at the Tuesday council meeting, he had a series of questions pertaining to how and why the issues in the department occurred, but became flustered and didn't pursue asking the questions.

He said he received several phone calls from Portales citizens Wednesday asking him why he didn't speak up.

"I'm still upset with myself that I didn't press the issue and get answers citizens deserve," Thomas said. "I got flustered and I didn't do what citizens pay me to do. I let them down."

Salguero and Thomas said they didn't speak up in the meeting because it was clear to them the majority of the council was OK with the department issues.

Mayor Sharon King commended Gill for turning things around within four months of the review while also expressing a positive outlook on the department review, along with other councilors.

"The only way to change old culture is to make new culture," said Councilor Leo Lovett, who expressed, along with King and Gill, that it was time to move forward.

Councilor Michael Lucero, who had previously expressed disappointment concerning the results of the department review and Gill's leadership, did not express them in the council meeting.

He could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Gill has repeatedly said he has been proactive in making changes in the department since Berry left late last year.

"I'll take the blame," Gill said. "The responsibility is mine and all I can tell you is I'm going to fix it. I've taken big steps to fix it and I'm taking more."

Salguero and Thomas said Wednesday they feel the police department's issues should be further investigated and Gill should be disciplined.

"Exactly what I told the review people is that leadership should be held more responsible. We hire these people to do a job and we expect them to do it," Salguero said. "We don't know exactly what took place in that police department and we never will. I've heard and read about city managers and police personnel who have been fired for less than that."

City Manager Tom Howell said he cannot discuss personnel issues, but said none of the councilors have approached him regarding Gill being disciplined.

Thomas said he feels approaching a city manager would be "improper," since councilors are not allowed to address personnel matters.

Salguero said the police department issues, including the situation with Berry, never should have happened and the fact that they did is a reflection of poor leadership.

"This old culture dates back several years and you're telling me this man (Gill) miraculously turns it around in four months?" Salguero said. "This is just word-of-mouth. This is what we'd like to see happen, but we have a tendency to believe what we want to believe."

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