Retiring Police Chief Balkcom says city manager has created "hostile work environment"

In late November, Page Police Chief Frank Balkcom, Sr., announced he was retiring.

Before leaving Chief Balkcom sent a letter addressed to Page city attorney Joshua Smith, with a copy sent to Mayor Levi Tappan,  telling them that Page city manager Mike Celaya had created a “hostile work environment.”

Balkcom also sent a copy of that letter to the Lake Powell Chronicle, which it received Monday, Dec. 3.
The letter is reprinted in its entirety below:

Joshua, I am informing you as the city attorney that the city manager has created a hostile work environment towards me as the chief of police and has consistently displayed a bias attidtude toward public safety. Mike [Celaya] has been less than candid when speaking with him about city-related affairs including statements, he has made of other city employees and council members.

I find his comments, “this is between me and you brother to be offensive and racist.” After I submitted my letter of resignation, I told Mike that we needed to start on an exit strategy. Mike has previously told me that he did not want Tim [Lange] or Larry [Jones] as chiefs and I advised that they should be given the opportunity to test, which he did not reply.

I told Mike that there is a company that provides interim police chiefs and that it was the same company that the previous interim city manager had worked for. Mike sternly replied, “No, you need to contact some people that could be interested in coming down for a couple of months and being an interim chief.”  Mike also said he would pay them per diem their flights and get them a hotel room.

I told Mike that my retirement dates are flexible and that I could help with the transition especially since we had the budget process coming up. Mike replied, “No, you need to transition.”

It was quite obvious to me that Mike wanted me gone as soon as possible and did not want my assistance in the transition. I do not feel comfortable contacting friends or associates for an interim chief of police position as it will be perceived as favoritism.  I also told Mike that we need to advertise via AACOP and IACP. He stared at me and did not respond to my question. I felt this discussion was a moot point and that based on his lack of dialogue, he had no intention on listening to my advice.

On Nov. 19, 2018, 11:10 hours, I met with Mike Celaya to discuss my retirement date. I submitted my letter of retirement with a date of Jan. 4, 2019, requesting the use [of] some of my accrued vacation time until that date. At that time, he agreed, however after I left the meeting he sent an email instructing me that my last day of employment would be Dec. 10, 2018. I’ve been in the process of a work-related injury and was instructed today that due to the change of retirement date, they will not be reimbursng me for any missed on-duty time after Dec. 10, 2018. It is my belief that Mike intentionally changed my retirement date in an attempt to avoid payment on my worker’s comp claim.

I then advised Mike that I was upset that he had sent me an email while I was on vacation out of the country on a cruise that cost me over $10,000 knowing that my email out of office stated I would be out of the country and unable to respond to emails.

Mike energized and stood up straight, glaring at me and said that he had been contacted by three council members referencing rumors that I was leaving the police department and he needed to get an answer. It was obvious by his facial expressions that he was upset because I did not promptly return his message and the intent of this meeting which he had requested was because of my failure to respond to his email and text message. I had been previously informed by Lieutenants Lange and Jones that he asked them both if they had heard from me.

I told Mike that I had sensed tension between me and him and that we needed to discuss our concerns.

Mike replied, “Come on brother, I don’t have any problems with you.” I also told him that it was also obvious to me that he did not like Sandi [Klain] and that Sandi was an excellent employee that had done many great things for the police department.

Mike then said, “You know what she said to me at the cookout?”

I replied, “Yes, she told you that the food was not ready, or something to that effect.”

I can also surmise that his hostile attitude towards Sandi was created as a result of these comments. I informed him that I had counseled Sandi about her comments and that he needed to move on from there. Mike again, was obviously upset by my comments.

Sandi has spoken to me about Mike Celaya and I have written to you and Mike regarding her complaint and concerns that Mike has created a hostile work environment towards her. I am in total agreement of her allegation and was a witness to this incident, as were you.

I am concerned of the consistent toxic, disrespectful and hostile comments Mike has continued to make towards me and my staff and submitted my letter of resignation based on the hostile environment that city manager Mike Celaya has created. I am uncomfortable meeting with the city manager alone as he had proven to me by his statements written and oral that he has been less than truthful in our discussions.

After further discussion with my family and considering the hostile work environment as well as my stress-related health concerns, such as lack of sleep, headaches and stomach aches, I will be retiring effective immediately.

I appreciate the opportunity to serve the community and the citizens of Page. It is unfortunate that after 40 years of police service, it has come to this conclusion.
That is the end of Chief Balkcom’s letter.

Page city manager Mike Celaya said he was surprised to hear that Balkcom felt he had created a hostile work environment.

“I don’t think there’s a hostile work environment here,” Celaya told the Chronicle Tuesday. “Interview any city staff member or any lieutenants or pollice officers and I’m sure they’d tell you the same.”

Celaya told the Chronicle that he believes Balkcom’s grievance with him goes back to November when Balkcom requested time off and Celaya denied his request.

Celaya received a letter from Chief Balkcom on Nov. 19 which stated that he planned on retiring on Jan. 4, 2019 and planned to take a total of 16 days of accrued vacation time spanning from Dec. 10 to Jan. 3.  The letter further said that if the requested time-off was denied that Balcom would move his retirement date up to  Dec. 10.
Celaya said he couldn’t in good conscience approve that much time off.

“I just couldn’t do it financially,” said Celaya. “That much time off would cost the city $8,500. I’m a stickler for accountability.

“I didn’t know he was upset about it until I got the letter.”

Newly elected mayor, Levi Tappan, said he has never witnessed the hostile work environment spoken of in Balkcom’s letter.

“I have never seen a hostile environment myself nor have any police department or staff said anything to me about a hostile environment,” said mayor Tappan.

Mayor Tappan was not surprised to hear of Balkcom’s retirement.

“I had heard rumors that he was thinking of retiring,” said mayor Tappan. “I was surprised that he made it effective immediately. I wanted to sit down with the chief and the city manager and talk about crime, drugs and traffic control. Unfortunately, this all happend before l took office.”

Chief Balkcom brought a lot of good things with him when he was hired, said mayor Tappan.

“There was much improvement in the police force morale after Chief Balkcom came on-board,” said mayor Tappan. “He did some reorganization within the department. He worked  hard on getting MOU from several of our partners including the Navajo Nation and other safety agencies.  A new car design using a local artist was also implemented. The list could go on and on.”

Balkcom was hired as Page Police Chief in Nov. 2014. Lieutenant Tim Lange is serving as interim Police Chief until a permanent one can be hired.

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