Fired Petaluma police Lt. Dave Sears and the City of Petaluma reached an agreement Monday to avoid court by taking Sears' wrongful termination claim to binding arbitration.
The news came shortly after the city began to reassemble a long-disbanded personnel board designed to review employee appeals on discipline and termination. The little-known three-person board, a requirement under the city's municipal code since 1967, has not been convened since 1999.
In lieu of the personnel board, each side will present their arguments to a retired judge, whose ruling is typically final in binding arbitration. City Manager John Brown confirmed the city was headed to arbitration, but would not comment on the case citing issues of personnel privacy.
"We've agreed to a closed hearing, with the final decision to be provided to both parties," said Sears' attorney Chris Miller. "Whether the final decision will be disclosed publicly is a matter we will discuss after a decision has been rendered."
Miller declined to comment on the outlook of the case.
Sears was placed on administrative leave last June, stemming from a department complaint that originated in 2012. After a two-month internal investigation. Brown fired him for what Brown called "dishonest behavior." Due to privacy laws, Brown wouldn't explain the reasons for Sears' dismissal. Sears, who continues to maintain his innocence, says he hopes the process will clear his name.
Sears worked with the Petaluma Police Department for 14 years. He was hired in 1999 after 12 years with the Benicia Police Department. He was one of the city's two police captains before the city removed those positions in 2011. Sears was subsequently demoted in rank and salary to lieutenant.
It is unknown when the binding arbitration process will begin or how long it will last.
(Contact Janelle Wetzstein at firstname.lastname@example.org)