CLEARLAKE, California. - On Monday afternoon, as Clearlake Police Chief Andrew White prepared to depart for the next stop in an already successful run, he received praise and affection from officers, colleagues and community members, and a key to the city.
White is the first person in Clearlake's 42 years as a city to receive such an honor, City Manager Alan Flora said during White's emotional farewell reception at City Hall.
Flora explained that the key is part of a tradition that dates back to the Middle Ages, when the gates of walled cities were guarded during the day and locked at night.
"The key symbolizes the recipient's freedom to enter and leave the city at will, and is meant to bring trust and honor to a friend of the townspeople," Flora said.
White, 38, has been a delegate since July 2018. In early November, he announced that he had accepted the post of delegate in the city of Martínez. Its first day is January 3rd.
While White's departure is a blow to the city, there is hope for the future. He was praised for raising the bar for leadership and building a better, stronger department that will continue to evolve and, White hopes, do even better in the days to come.
Flora said it was White's example of leadership that brought about the dramatic change for the city.
In her four-and-a-half years in the city, "every moment you were exhausted trying to improve the city," Flora said.
White has been instrumental in the city's response to the wildfires and the COVID-19 pandemic, and has worked to enhance the city's image, outlook, and effective service to residents.
He also forged important relationships with groups such as the NAACP, whose members, including Rick Mayo, chapter president and founder, were present to honor him and thank him for his service by presenting him with a plaque.
Before delivering a proclamation praising White by the Board of Directors, District 2 Supervisor Bruno Sabatier, who was still on Clearlake City Council when White was hired, praised him for the way he approached his job .
"They treated every day like day one where we always show our best on day one," said Sabatier, noting that White's enthusiasm for constant improvement has never wavered.
Sabatier said White helped raise the level of leadership in Lake County, which will have a lasting impact on his work. "I think we've all been changed, touched and inspired by the leadership he's shown in our community," Sabatier said, adding that it has implications for the entire county.
"Even though he's gone, we all have a new standard to live up to now and I can't thank you enough for that," Sabatier said.
Prosecutor Ryan Jones said White had the ability to play any role and do it well, and joked that he could even be a city attorney if he wanted to.
During Monday's reception, White not only received tributes from colleagues in the city, led by Flora, but also from other leaders and members of the community.
In addition to Mayo, Jones and Sabatier, Lake County Sheriff Brian Martin, who will retire at the end of the month, also appeared in White's honor Monday; Brad Rasmussen, Lakeport Police Chief; Lake County Fire Chief Willie Sapeta; and members of the Clearlake City Council.
Congressman Mike Thompson also introduced a resolution honoring White that he read in the Congressional Record.
Clearlake Police Chaplaincy Elizabeth Kelly highlighted the difference between where the city is today and when they arrived, and how White is leading by example. He described how one day he was directing traffic and not expecting anyone to do anything he wouldn't do himself.
On Monday, during his farewell reception at Clearlake City Hall, White officially handed over the baton to the city's new interim chief, Tim Hobbs.
Hobbs, 41, has been with the Clearlake Police Department for 20 years, his entire career, most recently with the rank of second lieutenant. Flora appointed him effective interim boss on Monday.
Flora said the city has seen Hobbs grow and develop as a leader. "I have every confidence that he is ready to take on the role of interim chief and lead the department through this transition."
White administered the oath to Hobbs, then removed the badge and gave it to Hobbs' girlfriend, who stepped forward to pin it to Hobbs' uniform.
a troubled tenure
White first came to Lake County when the Mendocino Complex caused the evacuation of thousands of Kelseyville residents to the North Shore.
He spent his early days in Lake County helping the town of Lakeport, which had been completely evacuated due to the Monster Complex, one of the largest wildfires in California history. Rasmussen said White was his partner for two days during that incident before he even had a chance to work in his own department.
He later became the focus of the city's response to the August 2021 cache fire that burned down dozens of homes.
He also oversaw the construction of a new animal shelter when the city opened a chapter to offer expanded animal control services, and hired North Bay Animal Services to handle that function. Despite this, White remained active and even bred dogs at home.
His tenure has been characterized by both collaboration and innovation. White demonstrated a wide range of skills, helping the city modernize its IT infrastructure and also serving at times as the city's Treasurer.
Flora recalls White's first meeting in the parking lot of the town's Tractor Supply Store with then-town manager Greg Folsom.
Flora said it was an odd meeting because at the time Folsom was considering taking the job of Suisun City Administrator, which he later did, and White, who worked for the Suisun Police Department, was interested in the position. . . This was tantamount to what Flora called a “personnel exchange”.
He said Folsom stayed about eight months before leaving, and Flora was grateful that White was "determined to take the big risk at Clearlake."
Flora joked that hiring White was the second best thing Folsom did as city manager after hiring Flora himself.
White developed deep connections with her peers and other local leaders during her time in Lake County. The reception was emotional for Flora and White themselves as they recounted their time together and the enduring friendship that resulted.
Flora said she's had the opportunity to work with many great people over the years and couldn't be prouder of the Clearlake City team.
He told White, "I put you in a group of less than a handful of people that I've worked with who are really exceptional."
He added, "A lot of people have the talent and habit of paying attention to detail, but few people I know have a clear understanding of the big picture."
Flora said that White refused to take no for an answer when necessary and had no limits on solving difficult problems.
He said he trusts White's judgment 100% and believes in his integrity. Flora said White is also prepared to hold him accountable if necessary. He is a valued leader and mentor, not only to the entire police department, but to the entire organization in the city.
The city will deeply feel White's departure as an organization, and Flora said she will do it personally, calling White her confidant. He said he will miss presenting ideas, discussing ideas and sharing news about crazier things happening in Clearlake.
In addition to her professional praise, Flora said that White is "one of the nicest people I know." He and his wife Charlotte opened their home for 18 foster children, who Flora called "nothing short of extraordinary".
With all of these accomplishments, Flora decided it was Key to the City that would best symbolize White's impact on Clearlake.
Tips for the future
Prior to Hobbs' inauguration, when it was White's turn to speak about his time at Clearlake, as Flora had predicted, White returned the topic to his staff, saying that the accomplishments of his tenure required teamwork.
"We're trying to make this place better and safer," White said, noting that more needs to be done.
White said he could be very proud that police department staff are now proud of where they work, something he wasn't told when he spoke one-to-one on arrival in Clearlake.
Based on his knowledge of the department, he said he has never been more prepared to be successful in the future than he is now.
"My challenge for the department is not to continue what we've been doing, but to take it to the next level," White said. "And I know they will. Things will be different. It's okay to be different. This is how the department develops. But I know you will do better.
The community will not, and should not, settle for less, he said.
He praised Hobbs, who said he was ready to get the job done, and said he couldn't be more happy for him.
White told Hobbs that taking over as police chief was the pinnacle of his career. "But I would also tell you that this is the moment when your entire career focuses on the whole world," whereupon White waved both hands at the audience, "and not at you."
He urged Hobbs to support the people in his department. White also told Hobbs to think of his family and work closely with the city manager in meeting the demands of the job.
White praised Flora, saying she works tirelessly to care for the city and thanked everyone for believing in the department.
He also gave Flora a final signal as the meeting drew to a close.
White said she often kept her uniforms from previous jobs.
Then he took from his pocket a patch he had cut from one of his police uniforms in Clearlake.
"This patch has been through a lot," he said, noting that it's been through some uncomfortable places and fights, but it's worn and battle-hardened.
Both men were excited when White presented this patch to Flora and they hugged.