Tunson seeks controversial post

November 15, 2001|By AARON CLAVERIE, Staff Writer

CALEXICO — Tommy Tunson, the police chief here, has been hired by the Southgate Police Department.

Tunson had seven and a half-months left on his contract with the city of Calexico. Tunson had been Calexico's police chief for two and a half years.

The Calexico City Council had not offered the Gulf War veteran and lieutenant colonel in the Army reserve a new contract after a series of performance evaluations. Tunson had been looking for a new position for some time, according to Mayor Victor Carrillo.

In Southgate, which is south of Los Angeles, Tunson will be hired as deputy police chief.

On Tuesday, Southgate Police Chief Doug Crist was fired by the city manager, which means Tunson would be acting chief after he arrives until a new chief is hired.


The lawyer for the Southgate police management and officers' association, Sylvia Kellison, said Tunson's hiring will be protested and his name will be added to a lawsuit that alleges the Southgate City Council and others in city management engaged in a corrupt hiring process.

She said the hiring process was a "scam from the very beginning," orchestrated by high-ranking members of Southgate city government.

Other candidates have been offered the deputy chief job but have turned down the job in the face of a lawsuit.

Tunson said he would not be cowed.

Regarding the controversy surrounding his pending hiring, he said, "It's the price you pay for trying to get ahead in life."

Tunson's hiring is pending because he has yet to pass an exhaustive series of background checks. He will continue to serve in Calexico until Nov. 28.

Kellison said Tunson was selected by a "corrupt process" and turned down the job once only to later accept it later.

She alleges Tunson was hired because he is "diverse" and that qualification violates Proposition 209, which bans hiring based on racial or non-job related qualifications.

Tunson was surprised at Kellison's comments and said, "It's called defamation."

He said the controversy is not going to stop him from doing a professional job.

"Right is right and wrong is wrong and there are rules and policies that they (the association) seem to feel don't apply," he said.

Carrillo said Tunson will be missed in Calexico for his work with youth.

"I'm not surprised that someone as talented as the chief would be sought after by other departments," Carrillo said.

He added Tunson was not pushed out even though some council members had concerns with the management of the Police Department.

Tunson leaves a department that is short of officers, a point of contention for Mayor Pro Tem John Renison and councilman Javier Alatorre.

They have both asked Tunson to address the department's retention problem.

Tunson said, "Bottom line — this is the fourth-lowest paying department in the county. The long and short of it is salary."

As for concerns that some officers under his command have been overzealous at times, Tunson said, "We look into those concerns but we have to follow due process."

On the challenges in Southgate, Tunson said, "It's a new challenge that is going to give me an opportunity to step into some serious issues in a metropolitan area."

Councilman Gilbert Grijalva said Tunson will be strong enough to weather the political storm "up there."

As for the Calexico Police Department, Grijalva expects there to be similar qualifications for the hiring of a new chief as there were when Tunson was hired.

There were rumblings in the community over Tunson's hiring after qualified officers were passed over for promotion because they didn't have college degrees.

Councilman Frank Montoya said, "The best man for the job should be hired. We have to decide who is best qualified."

>> Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at 337-3419 or

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