David Valentin, a longtime Santa Ana police officer and manager who has served as interim chief for the past nine months, was appointed this week as the city’s permanent police chief.

After a closed session discussion Tuesday, City Manager Raul Godinez announced the City Council affirmed his appointment of Valentin as permanent chief.

“In the short time that I’ve been here, I’ve been witness to his leadership skills, and I’m very, very comfortable with [his] appointment,” Godinez said after announcing the decision at the City Council meeting.

The city has seen a reduction in crime, including shootings and homicides, under Valentin’s leadership, said Councilman Jose Solorio.

“I think the department has, now, a good stable leader that can continue to improve the department, grow the department, and make our community safer than it already is,” Solorio said.

Valentin didn’t speak at the public council meeting Tuesday. He wasn’t available for an interview Thursday, his assistant said in response to a Wednesday afternoon request for comment.

Valentin’s permanent appointment was one of several city job changes announced in the last two weeks, including a new human resources director and the hiring of a homeless services manager. They also announced Public Works Director Hassan Haghani is leaving for a job with the city of Los Angeles.

Valentin has served for 27 years with the Santa Ana Police Department at virtually all levels of the department, Godinez said Tuesday as he announced the appointment. Valentin’s experience includes 15 years in management at the department, as well as serving as police chief of the Santa Ana Unified School District, which has its own police department.

The new permanent chief was raised in Santa Ana, earned a master’s degree in public administration from Cal State Fullerton, and attended the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Virginia, Godinez said.

Valentin’s selection as interim chief in June was welcomed by the city police officers’ union, whose president said Valentin was the best candidate for the top job.

“I’m pleased the city, after a thorough vetting, background and selection process, chose the best qualified and experienced candidate for this critical position,” the police union’s president, Gerry Serrano, said in a June statement about Valentin’s interim appointment.

“A hometown proud product of Santa Ana schools, David Valentin was raised in this community and is a Hall of Fame Inductee at Santa Ana College,” Serrano added in the statement. “His leadership and executive management as a previous Chief of Police for 5 years at the Santa Ana Unified School Police Department and proven successes managing all the Bureaus of the SAPD make him the best qualified.”

Serrano didn’t return a phone message Wednesday seeking comment on Valentin’s appointment as permanent chief.

Valentin’s predecessor as permanent chief, Carlos Rojas, was opposed by the officers’ union and left for another police chief position after Santa Ana City Council candidates supported by the union gained seats in the 2016 election and succeeded in ousting Rojas’ boss, then-City Manager David Cavazos.

Rojas took a job as police chief of the BART transit system in the San Francisco Bay Area, and filed a lawsuit against Santa Ana, alleging he was forced to resign after whistleblowing and as part of a concerted effort by the mayor and police union president to push him out.

Rojas wrote in his lawsuit he “engendered the wrath” of Serrano and the police union because he started to “pursue police accountability measures and crack down on poor officer behavior.”

“[Rojas] attempted to steer the department away from corruption and disciplined (and even terminated) certain police officers who had violated the law while at work,” Rojas’ lawsuit states.

“However, some at [the city], especially long-tenured officers (including Serrano, a 20-year-plus veteran, who represented the ‘old-school’ faction of the department) bristled at [Rojas’] new approach and [Rojas] engendered the wrath of the Police Officers Association (‘POA’).”

Regarding Valentin’s appointment as acting chief last June, Rojas claimed in his suit that “Valentin was the ‘favored’ choice of Serrano and the POA.”

Both Serrano and Mayor Miguel Pulido denied Rojas’ allegations, with Serrano saying in a statement last year he was “shocked and dumbfounded that Rojas would make such false accusations and continue to damage our city and community.”

The lawsuit is ongoing, with a jury trial currently scheduled for March 2019.

Councilman David Benavides recognized Valentin after the appointment Tuesday for “working very diligently with our team” internally at the city as well as the overall community.

Benavides said he appreciates Valentin’s leadership, congratulates him on the appointment, and looks forward to seeing Valentin’s “innovative” ways to ensure the community’s safety and build on community-orienting policing.

Councilman Juan Villegas also congratulated Valentin, saying his appointment was “well-deserved.”

Godinez also announced Tuesday the city council had affirmed his appointment of a new director of city personnel services: Steven V. Pham, who currently serves as human resources director for the city of Orange. He succeeds Ed Raya, who retired as Santa Ana’s personnel director in December.

“I’m deeply honored that the city manager of the city of Santa Ana and the City Council there gave me this opportunity,” Pham said in a phone interview Wednesday. He described Santa Ana as a “great city,” adding, “hopefully I can make a difference in the city moving forward.”

Godinez, Santa Ana’s city manager, said Pham was “uniquely qualified” for the job, having navigated the upturns and downturns of city finances in his earlier roles.

There was no announcement at Tuesday’s meeting regarding how many of the council’s seven members supported the appointment of Valentin and Pham.

In response to questions Wednesday from Voice of OC, City Clerk Maria Huizar said the council affirmed both appointments unanimously on a 6-0, with Councilman Sal Tinajero absent.

Asked for copies of Valentin and Pham’s employment contracts, Huizar said her office did not have any on file as of Wednesday. It’s unclear when the contracts will be brought to the City Council for approval.

Asked what the city’s biggest challenges and opportunities are regarding personnel, Pham said Santa Ana faces similar challenges to other cities, including ever-shrinking resources for its budget as demands grow for public services.

The city “will have to be very creative and very proactive” in its thinking when it comes to serving citizens, Pham said.

A second challenge, he said, is “the significant cost of retirement” plans for current and former city employees, which are administered by the state agency known as CalPERS.

“I look forward to the opportunity to work with the city and the union organizations…to solve these big problems that we’re facing.”

In other personnel news, Santa Ana officials announced last week they’ve hired a homeless services manager.

Hafsa Kaka, a social worker, is moving into the job from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, where she coordinated the agency’s Coordinated Entry System.

“In this role, she provided oversight and guidance to various agencies in identifying and supporting system level gaps and barriers,” Santa Ana officials wrote in their announcement of Kaka’s hiring.

“She also coordinated community coalitions and networked with stakeholders to impact and facilitate policies and protocols within homeless services. In addition, Hafsa engaged in oversight and planning of permanent supportive housing projects integrated with [the Coordinated Entry System] throughout the County of Los Angeles.”

Nick Gerda covers county government and Santa Ana for Voice of OC. You can contact him at ngerda@voiceofoc.org.

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