Fire chief's suicide leads to city code of conduct

The code prohibits abusive conduct, personal charges or verbal attacks upon the character or motives of the staff

Ventura County Star

FILLMORE, Calif. — Fillmore has been talking for a month about the suicide of Fire Chief Rigo Landeros, but it wasn't until Tuesday night's City Council meeting that people began to speak openly and publicly about the events leading up to Landeros' death.

Landeros, 51, shot himself on Jan. 7, while parked in his city car on a rural stretch of Goodenough Road. The community was united in grief at the news of his death, but since then rifts have opened over what some describe as unfair treatment and even bullying by members of the City Council.

On Tuesday night, the council voted 5-0 to adopt a new code of conduct for council members to follow in their dealings with city employees. It prohibits "abusive conduct, personal charges, or verbal attacks upon the character or motives of the staff," and it recommends that council members go through the city manager, the city's top administrative employee, if they have concerns about an employee.

The meeting filled the council chambers for the first time in months, with around 50 spectators at one point. Many of them left before the vote on the code of conduct, after a public comment session in which 10 people spoke about Landeros, some of them urging healing and unity, and others demanding the resignation of Councilman Rick Neal.

Two days before Landeros died, the City Council held a meeting to discuss its goals for the year. At that meeting, Neal questioned Landeros about possible improprieties in the way the nonprofit foundation that supports the fire department obtains and spends grant money. Tiffany Israel, Fillmore's city attorney, later determined there were no improprieties.

People close to Landeros and to the city have since said that his conflicts with Neal and Councilman Douglas Tucker went back further than that meeting, and some have called the treatment "harassment" or "bullying."

Steve McKinnon used both of those terms when he addressed the council Tuesday. He brought a sign that said "No One Will Miss A Bully. Resign Now." Another person in the audience had a sign with "Justice For Rigo" on one side and the word "Bullying" with a line through it on the other.

"To jeopardize a man's livelihood when he has given so much to this community is wrong," McKinnon said. "The pressure that our friend Rigo might have been under is uncalled for."

Kenneth Creason said he thought Neal's questioning "had a devastating impact on Rigo."

"You impugned his character. You impugned his integrity. … I think the only remedy is the resignation of Councilman Neal," Creason said.

When asked after the meeting if he plans to resign, Neal said he had "no response at this time."

"I have a lot to think about," he said.

The speakers on Tuesday included five former members of the City Council. One of them, Brian Sipes, was elected in 2010 and resigned three years into his first term.

At the time, he said he was stepping down to devote more time to his career. But on Tuesday, Sipes said he resigned because Tucker, Neal and the rest of the council majority ostracized him and took away his seats on City Council committees.

"I made a colossal mistake in letting those who would bully me override my elected position," Sipes said.

Another former councilman, Ernie Villegas, said the best thing that can be done for Landeros' memory to try to heal the community's divisions.

"It is a time for us to heal," Villegas said. "I will commit to you all that I can do to help with the healing process to help move this community forward."

Copyright 2016 Ventura County Star
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