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April 15, 2011

Reno clerk, acting police chief suspended and investigated

RENO — The Reno city council suspended their acting chief of police and court clerk Monday night amid allegations of unethical conduct and appointed their accusers to conduct an investigation.

Former interim police chief Sean Foley and court clerk Jessica Robles were suspended with pay pending the outcome of an investigation.

At issue is how and why the then court clerk, reportedly at the request of then acting chief of police Foley, requested from city staff the Social Security numbers of city secretary Gary Robinson and new public safety director Joe Polino.

With Mayor Roen Cox objecting, both Polino and Robinson were asked by the council Monday to conduct an investigation into the incident, and Polino was named acting chief of police in Foley’s place.

“I do think there’s been a breach of ethics by the mayor and captain [Sean Foley],” said Mayor Pro Tem Lynda Stokes, who called Friday for the special session on the issue.

Cox, who has clashed with the city council on issues in the past and is being challenged by Stokes in the election for the position of mayor, said he believes the council’s actions Monday night were unethical in appointing the accusers to do the investigation.

“No public entity that I’m aware of would allow that to happen,” Cox said.

He said he is also concerned the city is hiring people, such as Polino, without doing thorough background checks.  

With the resignation of the former chief of police and another officer following the March hiring of Polino, according to Cox, the city’s police force has reportedly been reduced to recent hire Thomas Kirby and Foley.

“My client didn’t do anything wrong period,” Foley’s attorney Lance Wyatt said.

Foley was not conducting an investigation or background check on his boss, according to Wyatt, who declined to comment on what Foley was doing.

“I don’t think anybody knows what this is,” Wyatt said about what type of investigation the council is conducting. As far as he is aware, no criminal complaint has been filed.

To appoint the accuser to conduct the investigation is unusual, Wyatt said.

“The only thing we are doing is cooperating with this so called investigation,” Wyatt said. “We will let them conduct their investigation and deal with it from there.”

“There were activities that were in our mind bordering on criminal,” council member Bonnie Black said about her decision to support the suspension of Foley and the court clerk.  

“Right now it’s just an internal investigation,” Black said. “Depending on what they find, it looked very serious.”

“Joe Polino and Gary Robinson are very trustworthy and honest and there is no reason they shouldn’t be trusted,” Black said when asked whether she had any ethical concerns that the alleged victims had been appointed by the council to conduct the investigation.

Polino, reportedly hired just over a month ago as the city’s public safety director, encouraged the council to name Foley in the interim chief’s position, according to Black.  

“He was hired to oversee our police department,” according to Stokes.

Cox, however, said city ordinance designates the mayor as the immediate supervisor of the chief of police.

According to three council members, Cox requested an independent third party for the situation but the council told him they didn’t have the money to hire an investigator.  

Stokes said the council has no experience in conducting investigations, and they wanted to make sure it was done properly.  

The interviews with those involved have been recorded and will be disseminated to council members to view over the weekend to make a decision, according to Stokes.  

“It’s strictly fact finding,” Stokes said about the investigation being conducted by Polino and Robinson. “If it goes anywhere from there, somebody else would be brought in.”

Polino has not been given a pay raise with the additional position, according to Stokes.  

“He has not gained one thing except extra work,” Stokes said.  

However, according to Cox, the Tahoe purchased by the city for the chief of police to drive has been given to Polino to drive.  

Two messages left Thursday at city hall for Polino were not returned Thursday.

Email messages sent to council members Loyd Bailey and Carol Houlihan, who Black said were present, were not immediately responded to Thursday afternoon.

A message left for Robles was not returned Thursday.

The controversy is just one of many recent issues that have plagued the city council in recent months and weeks, including whether the Monday meeting was properly called and posted and the mayor’s access to city computers.  

The mayor initially cancelled the Monday meeting called by Stokes but later rescheduled it.

“I want to assure everyone that our city attorney reviewed all actions and verified his opinions with Texas Municipal League attorneys and the Attorney General’s Office,” City Secretary Gary Robinson said in a statement released Thursday. “Based on these opinions he allowed the meeting to be held which he would not have done had there been doubt about its being a proper meeting.”

“What’s going on in our city has to be stopped, has to be confronted,” Black said. “All we do is fight with the mayor over everything. It’s just everything.”

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