Sheriff candidate allegedly cheated on test
July 13, 2009
By KAREN VELIE
Former police officers have charged that sheriff candidate Ian Parkinson’s brother provided him the answers to sergeant promotion essay questions in 2001.
Police officers, vying for one open sergeant position, answered three essay questions designed to test their writing and leadership abilities. For applicants, the essay questions, a multiple choice written exam, and an oral test offered not only a chance at a promotion, but also a pay raise.
According to San Luis Obispo Police Department Captain Ian Parkinson’s essay answers, moral integrity is a primary quality of leadership: “I must set an example in this area. Not only to maintain the officers’ respect, but also as an example for officers to follow.”
On March 15, 2001, local attorney Eric Parkinson e-mailed the answers to three questions from his computer to Ian Parkinson’s city e-mail account.
“Let me know if you can’t open it (the attachment) and we can arrange a time that you can drop by to grab the disk,” Eric Parkinson says in the e-mail. “Your bribe was more than sufficient – thanks. I love you.”
Ian Parkinson justified his brother’s assistance stating the questions were part of the application and not part of the test, and as such, the author is unimportant.
However, court documents say, the essay questions were used to evaluate writing skills, listening skills, and leadership abilities. The answers were then employed by the oral panel and the staff as a tool in making their evaluations. The chief also utilized the answers in making the final promotion selection.
Subsequently, in his defense, Ian Parkinson said he produced the answers and then sent them to his brother for a grammatical check. He refused to provide the e-mails he said would support his claim.
Nevertheless, the author of the essay questions, according to Microsoft’s word program, is Eric J. Parkinson.
Department employees discovered the essay answers on a city computer, copied the e-mail, and provided a reproduction of the e-mail as well as the essay questions to the San Luis Obispo Police Officer Association (POA).
Officers with the POA asked Ian Parkinson to explain the e-mail.
“He acknowledged he had poor writing skills, but said that they were his thoughts,” said former POA Board Member Mike Brennler. “He said his brother was helping him prepare his thoughts in a written form.”
When asked about the alleged discussion, Parkinson said Brennler’s recollection was a “total lie.” He also noted that whoever copied the e-mail had invaded his privacy.
Shortly before the POA became aware of the e-mail, union officials filed an objection to the 2001 sergeant tests based on former chief James Gardiner’s addition of two essay questions that allegedly focused on “political prerogatives and freedom of association.” Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Burke ruled in favor of the association and ordered the department to dispose of the disputed questions and to restart the process.
Gardiner’s deposition supplies readers with a rare peek at the contentious atmosphere that existed between the chief and officers of the POA. Battles over a variety of issues included yelling, foul language, and use of Gardiner’s middle finger, according to the deposition.
Attorneys for the POA asked Gardiner to explain why he passed over POA board members selecting officers with lower evaluations for promotions. His answers included allegations that some board members were not team players.
Nevertheless, regardless of an applicant’s testing scores, the chief makes the final promotion selection.
Opponents of the process, contend that Ian Parkinson’s ultimate promotion to sergeant was based on his essay answer that holds the POA accountable for unrest between the chief and the POA.
Describing the relationship between the POA and the department management as “stable” though “occasionally volatile,” Parkinson blamed the most frequent cause of the disruptions on the collective bargaining previously enacted by the union, according to Parkinson’s 2001 sergeant application essay.
Following his promotion to Sergeant, Ian Parkinson moved quickly through the ranks climbing to the department’s second-in-command captain’s position. In March, Ian Parkinson announced his plans to make a run for the county’s top law enforcement position; San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Coroner. Last month, Ian Parkinson took on the added duties of the department’s public information officer.
Ian Parkinson’s answers:
Question 1 – What is your assessment of the relationship of the department management and the SLO Police Office Association?
“Overall, I would describe the relationship between management and the Association as “stable.” However, there have been occasions that the relationship has become volatile, which have, in turn, sometimes had a detrimental effect on the smooth operation of the department. In my estimation (and this is no secret), the most frequently cause of disruptions stems from the collective bargaining impasses experienced in the past.
“However, I believe that leadership in the department will continue to manage affairs in a manner that best suits the interest of the department as a whole. Unfortunately, for some members of the Association at least, there seems to be little empathy for the precarious position management is in and the balance of competing interests that they are attempting to achieve. As in a department, there are a few individuals in the Association that are on a “personal crusade,” so to speak, to disrupt because of what they may have perceived to be “injustices” perpetrated by management. I am not one of those individuals. I am sensitive to the difficult position management is in, and I choose to focus more on the “forest” than on the “trees” when assessing management’s decisions.”
Question 2 – What should be done to improve this relationship?
“I believe that promoting me to sergeant will be a very helpful first step to solving the problems between management and the Association. It will be difficult to put an end to the individual personal vendettas of some, but I believe that I can have a measurable effect in stopping much of it. I have established credibility and respect among line personnel, even though I have had public disagreements with some of their ideas and methods, and I have my “hand” on the “pulse” of the line personnel in the department. I believe it is important for me to maintain this credibility and respect for the benefit of the entire department. I believe that you would gain a new and higher credibility with me as your new sergeant.
“It is essential that I maintain open lines of communication with line personnel, fellow sergeants, lieutenants, captains and the chief of police. I must quickly address issues as they arise by paying close attention to the operations of the department and the effect of those operations on both past and future areas of concern. By doing this I believe I can prevent many problems before they occur, or at least before they fester and grow into a bigger problem or issue that then require resolution only by the chief.”