Senior Sgt. Tom Ortega appointed acting chief
MONTE VISTA — Monte Vista Police Chief Rick Needham has resigned. While he said he could not discuss particulars of the negotiated severance settlement, he made no secret of the fact that he had been looking for work elsewhere.
His resignation was effective at 5 p.m. July 5.
Needham said the hostile atmosphere at the police department and in city government, especially with the city council, made it difficult to work effectively and he felt he should move on.
City Manager Don Van Wormer said that Sgt. Tom Ortega, as senior officer, would serve in that capacity until other arrangements could be worked out.
Ortega has more than 14 years in law enforcement and has been with the Monte Vista Police Department for 10 years, working eight of those years as a sergeant.
Noting that he was on vacation when Needham resigned, Ortega said he had no comment, adding, “We have a job to do and we are doing the best we can do.”
Van Wormer said at the council meeting that he had contacted an agency which conducts searches for police chiefs and has been speaking with a retired commander from El Paso County about serving in the interim while the city seeks a replacement.
Needham was interim chief in Monte Vista following the retirement of Jim Gallegos and was subsequently offered the job.
Van Wormer said Needham had provided written information about grants, shifts and ongoing police business before leaving.
The next order of business announced by Van Wormer was the need for security during Stampede.
Stampede Committee representative Terry Hillin briefly discussed the matter regarding those arrangements, then Van Wormer suggested using a private security firm, since the police department will be short one officer who is on maternity leave, another who is an auxiliary officer and command staff.
The council agreed.
In executive session after the meeting, the council formally accepted a confidential agreement between the city and Needham, which included accrued pay, vacation time and other elements of the chief’s departure, and authorized Mayor Jose “Art” Medina to sign off on the agreement.
The police report Thursday was given by Jason Russell, who answered questions posed by Errol Sweetser, who was concerned about burglaries and attempted burglaries on Dennis St. and in other parts of town.
Public comments Thursday were limited, in contrast to a session June 6, in which numerous people voiced opinions and complaints.
After that meeting, the Monte Vista City Council ordered an in-depth investigation of both the city administration and the police department.
Following that meeting, Mayor Pro-Tem Debbie Garcia made it clear that the council had no intention of terminating Van Wormer or demanding that he fire Needham, pending completion of the joint investigation.
Garcia claimed that tensions between the community and Needham had been rising for a while, especially about security at public functions, and events where numerous people were expected to be present, and they came to a head during a discussion of security at the summer youth rodeo series sponsored by Burris & Sons.
On June 7, City Attorney Eugene Farish said the Colorado Intergovernmental Risk Sharing Agency (CIRSA) would be asked to do the investigation and should be in within the month.
Nothing is available regarding an investigation, whether one was conducted or what was found in the probe.