In the early morning hours following election celebrations in downtown Fullerton, City Manager Joe Felz drove his car over a curb in a residential neighborhood, mowing down a young tree in the parkway and leaving pieces of his vehicle there. According to neighbors, he eventually freed the car from the curb and drove it down the street for a short distance, effectively leaving the scene of an accident that involved damage to public property. The police who responded to the call of a concerned neighbor described him as emitting an odor of alcohol. The Chief of Police, set to retire just two days later, was called. He reportedly gave instructions for a field sobriety test, which Mr. Felz reportedly passed. No other test for alcohol inebriation was given, as far as we know, and Mr Felz was driven to his nearby home, evidently without any legal citation.
Although a final report of the incident is supposed to be forthcoming (?), the circumstances raise too many questions for Mayor Jennifer Fitzgerald to remain silent. Residents may reasonably ask whether or not the City Manager was given special treatment by the outgoing Chief of Police, or by the officers at the scene, who would certainly not have called the Chief if just about anyone else had been discovered in similar circumstances. In light of unconfirmed reports that those officers were not happy about driving Mr. Felz home without further action, an independent investigation is needed, including a review of the officers’ body cams.
Now that the story has been picked up by the news media, including KCAL 9 News, who aired a segment about it last night, Mayor Fitzgerald needs to make a statement about what the city intends to do to reassure Fullerton residents that the situation will be resolved in a fair, just, and transparent manner. Four years ago three members of the Fullerton City Council, including sitting Mayor Dick Jones, were swept from office for their inadequate response to a more serious, but similarly disconcerting incident, when a man was effectively beaten to death by officers of the Fullerton Police Department for no evident reason. A perceived lack of action on the part of city officials left Fullerton under national scrutiny while Chief of Police Michael Sellers embarked on a vacation.
As of today, Fullerton has no Chief of Police because Michael Sellers’ replacement Dan Hughes has left the position to go work for Disneyland. His interim replacement will be named by City Manager Joe Felz. This arrangement is intolerable under the present circumstances, and the Mayor and City Council of Fullerton need to communicate what they are going to do about it, now.