State pension rules have prompted an earlier-than-expected retirement for the two highest-ranking officers: April 1 was the last day of work for Chief of Police Robert Sanderson and Capt. Gene Gioia. That has put Capt. Robert Guthrie into the role of interim chief as the city sets out to recruit a new top cop.
The closing date for applications to fill the position is May 5, said City Manager Don Penman, who Arcadia's charter authorizes to select the new chief. He anticipated screening and interviewing candidates would take two to three months.
Penman didn't know the exact number of applicants who were gunning for the job, and he was tight-lipped about potential candidates. Some states have laws that require disclosure of candidates, but California does not.
Sanderson and Gioia had planned to retire later this year after more than three decades on the force. But as an APD sergeant was getting his own pension paperwork in order, the city became aware of California Public Employee Retirement System rules that expedited the senior officers' departure. Within a few days, the chief and captain officially stopped reporting for duty.
"We heard about it Tuesday, and by Friday we were out," said Sanderson.
PERS requires the officers to retire at age 50 or face losing half of spousal benefits in the event of their death while employed by the city. This knowledge abruptly cut short Sanderson and Gioia's intentions to remain as part-time workers during the transition to new department leadership, as well as the onset of the budgeting and salary negotiation processes.
Both have been with the APD since entering in the 1970s as cadets, which caused another clash, this one between PERS rules and their part-time transitional employment.
"The reason they had to leave is because they worked under two retirement formulas: one as a cadet, which is not considered a safety position, and one as a police officer," Penman said. "A retired annuitant must use the older of the two formulas. In this case the cadet retirement age is 55, while the safety minimum retirement age is 50."
PERS also requires a break from city employment for 60 days until part-time work can commence.
"These rules are in the PERS regulations, but it is something that would rarely apply," said Penman. "No one was aware of it until another potential police employee retiree found out about it."
Sanderson said this type of scenario is "infrequent. Normally they don't talk about it when you retire. The PERS representative didn't bring it up when we met late last year to calculate whether I was eligible to retire."
The former chief of police and Gioia agreed that PERS protocol discourages staying past retirement age, regardless of an employee's professional circumstances.
"If you're 50 or 52, and still a patrol officer, when you start getting into your 50s it takes a greater toll on the person," Gioia said. "If it's a position where like the chief and I are doing things in the management side and are capable of working a little bit longer, they shouldn't penalize a person who wants to continue working. It does provide a disincentive."
Sanderson and Gioia said they would consider seeking employment outside the realm of law enforcement.
"I was having a good time, but I've got 32 years in, and maybe it's time to try something different," said Sanderson, who served six years as chief.
Their pensions provide 90 percent of their salary at the time of retirement. Sanderson earned nearly $175,000 annually, according to an employee compensation disclosure document.