Five before Midnight

This site is dedicated to the continuous oversight of the Riverside(CA)Police Department, which was formerly overseen by the state attorney general. This blog will hopefully play that role being free of City Hall's micromanagement.
"The horror of that moment," the King went on, "I shall never, never forget." "You will though," the Queen said, "if you don't make a memorandum of it." --Lewis Carroll


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Location: RiverCity, Inland Empire

Friday, September 08, 2006

Black city employee watch

Periodically, there will be special bulletins posted on the status of the employment of African-Americans at City Hall and in other city departments. This is one of them.

The city has lost another African-American who held a management position.

Former Interim Asst. City Manager Jim Smith has resigned from the city of Riverside and is currently working as budget director for the city of Oakland.

Smith had worked as budget director at Riverside's City Hall until then City Manager George Carvalho was fired by the city council in 2004. During a closed session, the city council decided that Smith would be placed in the interim #2 position, under interim city manager, Tom Evans. He supervised then interim budget director Paul Sundeen, who is White. Smith was not just a very productive employee, who was well educated and intelligent, he served a dual purpose.

Whenever criticism was raised about the city's hiring and employment practices towards men and women of color, the city government would point to Smith as an example of how committed the city was to racial diversity in even its highest ranks. On one occasion, Smith was asked to stand up in front of the city council, while one council member cited Smith as proof that a person of color could succeed at City Hall. Many African-Americans including members of the Group were insulted and offended by that action. No one in city government really understood why.

So this is what it means to be a person of color in a position of management at City Hall? To be at the city government's beck and call, to be put on display as proof positive of its moral enlightenment on race? Unfortunately, these employees are not allowed to be upset about this and other practices because the climate at City Hall to even discuss racial issues let alone racism is very risky in terms of long-term job security.

It was up to the community leaders to be upset for them and they were, hence the vigils and the speeches given at city council meetings.

What followed Smith's "coronation" as the model of racial diversity in city government, would upset even more people and for most, put away any claim that an African-American person could be treated fairly at City Hall.

After the city council hired ex-county employee, Brad Hudson to be its current city manager, Smith was demoted back to being budget director. Sundeen was placed into a permanent position as an assistant manager in charge of finance and Hudson hired another White man, Tom DeSantis, to fill Smith's position. What was interesting to many people is that Smith was one of the few people placed in interim positions who were not eventually assigned permanent status when Hudson came on board.

With these changes, Sundeen suddenly became the supervisor of the man who had once supervised him. Community leaders began to sit up and take notice of this chain of events. Smith was removed from City Hall and relegated to "Siberia" otherwise known as the old utilities building on Orange St. to work on "special projects" with other employees until he left the city.

DeSantis and Hudson would obtain gun permits so they could navigate through the really "dangerous" neighborhoods(read those populated by people of color)in Riverside. DeSantis would also have enough time to allegedly get involved in incidents like this:

Women calls 911 on DeSantis

The community leaders have taken their concerns to higher places, including the state's Fair Employment and Housing Commission.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise article cited below)

Jennifer Vaughn-Blakely, speaking last week on behalf of The Group, said she was troubled by the recent dismissals and demotions of minority upper-level managers such as Smith. The Group is a local public-policy advocacy organization that focuses on issues affecting the black community.

Staffing changes under Hudson, she said, appear to have harmed blacks and Latinos disproportionately.

Other changes at issue are the forced retirement of Human Resources Director Art Alcaraz announced in November 2005 and the firing of Housing and Community Development Director Tranda Drumwright in March. Alcaraz is Latino, and Drumwright and Smith are black.

Strout has denied the allegations of discrimination, saying that she, personally, and city management as a whole, are committed to "equal employment opportunities for all."

The Group has appealed to the California Fair Employment and Housing Commission to investigate what it contends are discriminatory hiring practices by city management.

In March, about 25 minority community leaders held a candlelight vigil in protest of the personnel changes at City Hall.

There have been a lot of candle light vigils held for what has happened to African-Americans and Latinos who had held upper management positions at City Hall. There have been vigils and rallies held in support of Black employees who had filed racial discrimination, harassment and retaliation law suits against the city in 1997. These employees had worked in a variety of city departments including public works, public utilities, human resources, parks and recreation and street maintenance. By summer, all of the remaining plaintiffs had received financial settlements from the city after nine years litigating their case in U.S. District Court and another eight years spent trying to make changes in the city's practices. Changes which still have to be put into place.

Members of the Group also asked the Fair Employment and Housing Commission to investigate patterns and practices of racism in the public works division. That is something that should have been done years ago.

Speaking of racial discrimination law suits, RPD Officer Roger Sutton's case is back at City Hall again. On Sept. 12, the city council will meet in closed session to be advised by legal counsel on how it will proceed. Last autumn, Sutton took his case to trial in Riverside County Superior Court. At its end, the jury awarded him a $1.64 million verdict. The city of course immediately decided to appeal that verdict as being too excessive and appealed to presiding Judge Joan Burgess to void the jury's decision and order a new trial. Burgess denied the city's motion and the city then ran to look for redress at the court of appeals.

When it comes to reducing the dollars and cents it will likely expend on this case, the city could have always accepted the $200,000 arbiters award in 2004, but back then opted instead to take the case to trial. Sutton's attorney said then that the case would do better at trial and he was right.

How the city addresses racial discrimination law suits filed by its Black employees is far different than how it has handled the reverse racial discrimination claims filed by its White employees. In comparison, the city more quickly settled a case filed by five White male sergeants in 2000. It promoted two of those sergeants retroactively to two years before their actual promotional dates and financially compensated the remainder of them.

Not surprising in a city where just like in Alice's Wonderland, Black is White and White is Black.

Another Black manager gone


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