After serving as Anderson’s Police Chief for little more than a year, Michael Johnson may soon leave to become chief of the Eureka Police Department where he once worked as a patrolman and a sergeant, Anderson officials confirmed July 3.
Eureka City Manager Bill Panos said the city is not naming a new chief or releasing the name of its job search finalist until a background check is completed.
Although Panos was unwilling to make an official announcement, three Anderson city council members and the city manager said Johnson had told them he was offered the Eureka position.
According to the Times-Standard in Eureka, Panos said a conditional offer was made to the finalist but the city will keep the name confidential until the individual has successfully completed a background check, psychological testing and a medical physical examination that includes drug testing.
Panos said the testing is expected to be completed later in July and the new chief should be sworn in by the end of August.
However, Panos did say the finalist is from Eureka, but now lives elsewhere.
Anderson officials, however, confirmed that Johnson was offered the job.
“I am happy for him, but I am not happy for us. It is very disappointing. It puts us into a place where we have to recruit and go to all the expense of hiring and training someone like Michael (Johnson), who was here for a little more than a year,” said Susie Baugh, Anderson’s newest council member.
Johnson previously worked as a peace officer with the Eureka Police Department, serving nearly 11 years, from 1996 to 2007. He was promoted to the rank of sergeant in December of 2001.
Johnson was hired May 1, 2012, as Anderson’s police chief. He was previously chief in Ione, Calif.
Johnson left Eureka (population 30,000) in 2007, after a controversial and highly-publicized officer-involved shooting, to serve as police chief of Ione.
He eventually recruited former Eureka police officer Rocky Harpham to the Ione Police Department, where Harpham served as interim Police Chief upon Johnson’s departure for Anderson.
Anderson Mayor James Yarbrough was unhappy with Johnson’s likely departure.
“It’s very disappointing. These young men who serve on the police force need some stability in their lives,” said Yarbrough, referring to the departure last week of police Capt. Robert Kirvin, 50, who retired after 12 years in Anderson and the hiring of a new lieutenant.
When Johnson was hired in Anderson he was offered $4,000 for moving expenses and a three-year “at-will” contract with an annual salary of $110,196.
He also had use of a department vehicle for business and commuting, received $75 per month for a cellular phone and technology allowance, and accrued vacation as if he was a five-year employee with 140 hours of vacation leave.
A few months ago Johnson hired his long-time friend, Rocky Harpham, to serve as lieutenant for the Anderson department. The current chief of police for Eureka is Rocky Harpham’s father, Murl Harpham, who stepped in as interim chief after the prior chief, Garr Nielsen was fired in 2011.
Chief Murl Harpham received an annual base salary of $132,500, effective July 1, 2012, through June 30, 2013, the Times-Standard in Eureka reported last week.
When he was Eureka’s police chief, Garr Nielsen was paid $126,000 annually with a 5 percent merit pay increase possible after successfully completing an annual review. The city manager did reserve the right to withhold the chief’s pay raise during any year when other city employees did not receive a salary increase due to budget constraints, Times-Standard Managing Editor Kimberly Wear told the Valley Post.
Johnson’s last day with the Anderson Police Department has yet to be decided, pending his starting date in Eureka, Anderson City Manager Jeff Kiser said.
“We are disappointed to see him go but are also excited for him. It’s great to see they are recruiting out of our police department,” Kiser added.
However, Kiser is already working on the search process to replace Johnson as well as Johnson’s wife, Rosemary, who works in the city’s Finance Department as a customer service front desk clerk, he said.
Mrs. Johnson gave her two-weeks notice Tuesday, July 2, Kiser noted
“I am working on a recruitment ad and we’ll fly the job all around the state. Rest assured, we will not take two years to hire our next police chief like Eureka did,” Kiser said.
“We’re very hopeful to recruit someone who will be a long-term employee and be invested in the community,” said Kiser, noting that Lt. Rocky Harpham may well end up being a candidate.
“Rocky has made it very clear that he has no interest in ever going back to Eureka and he shared with me the other day that he is making an offer on a house here in the area,” Kiser said.
On replacing Rosemary Johnson, Kiser said he has already this morning made a phone call to a semi-finalist who scored very high on the skills list when Mrs. Johnson was hired.
“We needed to move quickly on that because we will soon be moving into the audit period and we need someone familiar with the budget who can help the auditors find things quickly,” Kiser said.
“It’s just one of those things. I know that Eureka pays a lot more money and that is (Johnson’s) home. That’s where he’s from, so I wish him all the best,” Yarbrough said.
Long a supporter of the rank and file officers, council member Debe Hopkins said today, “The department has proven themselves to be adaptable to change and we know they will continue to do their jobs in a professional manner.”
As president of the Anderson Police Officers Association, Robert Modin offered as comment, “Chief Johnson is starting a new chapter in his life and we are excited for him.”
“Chief Johnson brought some fresh ideas into this department and that is very much appreciated. He has always been a good listener and was open to new ideas,” Modin said.
Calls made to Johnson and Murl Harpham were not returned Wednesday.