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 29, 2006

What would Lockyer think?

There is a saying among many Christians, that when they decide whether or not to do something, they ask a higher power for advice. First, they ask themselves, "What would Jesus do," and then they respond accordingly to how they read that answer.

Adopting a similar philosophy, the question to be asked here will be, what would Lockyer think? Bill Lockyer is the state attorney general, for California although he is currently seeking a different political office in the upcoming elections.

Lockyer spoke of and finally wrote about the partnership that he hoped to see exist between the city government, the police department and the city's residents. These are the three stakeholders in the rather expensive and extensive reform process that took place the previous five years. Different people will have different opinions about who the most responsible party was, but the one thing that is very clear is that unless all three partners are engaged, there will not be any lasting reforms.

Several recent developments among the partners brought this issue back to light and served as a reminder of exactly what Lockyer meant when he made those statements and the main reason why he chose to place the city under a stipulated judgment in the first place.

Apparently, the city government believes it has no role to play, nor holds any responsibility involved in this ongoing process. Even while it so far has failed to deliver on promises made earlier this year and there have been hundreds of police officers and earlier, dispatchers and other employees congregating at city council meetings arguing for due process in their labor negotiations, the city government still spends much of its time patting itself on the back for the great job it has done. That most definitely is not what Lockyer would want to see.

Let's start with Monday.

The city of Riverside has finally decreed that it will present the first quarterly report of the police department's progress in terms of its implementation of the Strategic Plan. On Monday, City Manager Brad Hudson told Councilman Frank Schiavone that it would be presented before the city council meeting, in two weeks, after Schiavone spoke with him after the Governmental Affairs Committee meeting. It is not clear whether or not the city has agreed to a contract with former AG consultant Joe Brann as was promised last March.

The department's Audit and Compliance Panel, headed by Lt. Brian Baitx also presented its first progress report, in front of Hudson and the command staff this week. Apparently, its six month "reorganization" process has been completed.

Still, all this interest in issuing the "quarterly" public report on the police department developed quite recently. Last week, the city council appeared to have no idea when or if a "quarterly" report would be presented to it, six months after it had promised to do so regularly. Councilman Frank Schiavone did express some concern and took some initiative to look into the matter, but even he took a more reactionary position, so reminiscent of the past city councils, in that if there are no major problems, then what needs to be looked at?

Well, what needs to be shown is that the city government is engaged in its police department and is abreast of what is going on. And that when problems exist and do arise, and they will, that these problems are addressed before they become larger. That is a lesson that the stipulated judgment should have taught but apparently the city council did not understand it, which is very unfortunate.

Then there was Tuesday.

At City Hall, on Tuesday evening, over 250 members of the Riverside Police Officers Association, the Riverside Police Administrators Association and the Brotherhood of Electrical Workers appeared to protest against the unfair labor practices that nearly every bargaining unit has alleged against the city management team. In addition, the heads of several unions have also alleged that the city has engaged in retaliatory practices against either them or their members this summer including this week.

Hudson sat and watched, his jaw set in a firm line and the fingers of one of his hands clicking his pen many times, while a dozen speakers spoke against the labor practices and in favor of a fair and competitive contracts for the city's police officers and electrical workers. The mass gathering of city employees mirrored earlier rallies held by the SEIU's General Unit this summer. The city council sat and watched in silence as usual, jaws also set and eyes blinking on occasion. The mayor was perusal, a stickler to the three-minute rule for those people who do not praise him.

The leaders of nearly every bargaining unit in the city have said that these negotiations involving their units have been the worst in recent memory and all of them lay the blame squarely at the door of Hudson and his team. However, the blame truly lies at the door of his employers, the members of the city council, who no doubt will give him high marks at his upcoming six-month performance evaluation despite the reality that with one year on the job, he has left a frightened and miserable work force in his wake.

The problems have extended beyond that work force.

Gloria Lopez, who served as the chair of the Human Resources Board, announced her resignation at a city council meeting several weeks ago. She cited continuing problems with communicating with the city's management team and of tension existing between the city and the board. At a meeting several months ago, City Attorney Gregory Priamos appeared to present a lecture and power point presentation on the Brown Act but members of the board were too frustrated with being stonewalled by the city government in their attempts to obtain information on its labor practices, to be in any mood to listen to it.

Human Resources Board Chair steps down


Lopez said the city's human resources department has failed to provide the staffing support the board needs to function properly. Likewise, Lopez said, the board never received a response from city management, the mayor or City Council to a letter sent last spring that laid out numerous instances of "communication problems" with city management.

Among their complaints was the city's failure to notify them that the human resources director had been dismissed, that the new director had ignored their requests, that their agenda had been changed without telling them, and that they were required to conduct their meetings under the Brown Act without receiving any training.

Lopez said the lack of response sent a clear message to board members that they were not wanted.

"It's just a lack of respect from the HR staff," Lopez said. "It's just very rude."

It's not just rude. It's also the city's way of telling her and the others that the all-volunteer board simply exists for appearance's sake, to make it appear as if they were performing a task, but not really honoring it. Of making it appear that its recommendations would carry some weight with the city government that it reported to, when in reality, they were not treated as being worth more than the paper they were printed on.

The city's Web site defines the role of the Human Resource Board as follows,

Nine members act in an advisory capacity to the City Council on matters related to personnel such as employment opportunities, equal employment opportunity and policies and procedures impacting Human Resources among other issues. The Board meeting with different department heads each month to receive department profiles related to activities and staffing.
Meets at 4:30 p.m. the first Monday of each month in the Main Library Board Room.

If anyone is willing to fill in the shoes of yet another frustrated person who has served on the board, here is some information also from the city site.

Time commitment may include 2-3 hours per month. For further information or to leave messages for Board members call Janis Leonard at 826-5162.

The response from the city council on this development apparently has not been very friendly either. At least one of them did not even have a clue why this board existed.

(excerpt from article)

Council member Ed Adkison said he did not recall receiving a letter from the Human Resources Board. In fact, he said, he isn't even sure what they do.

It is too bad that he did not take the initiative to find out for himself, which he would have done if it was as much a priority for him to address what goes on in the city's labor force as it is to address issues with economic development in the downtown area. Do any of the city council members have any idea what this board's purpose is?

The Human Resources Board is not alone in experiencing frustrations when attempting to address the labor issues of this city.

The Human Relations Commission earlier this year sent a letter to the City Manager's office expressing concerns about the recent demotion and firings of several key Black and Latino employees at City Hall. Actions that were begun not too long after the hiring of Hudson by the city council.

The commission did receive a response of sorts.

Soon after that letter was sent, Hudson decided to reorganize that department and their two full-time staff analyists were reduced to one of them working two days a week in that department(after at least 10 years working in that position) and the other who was already assigned to oversee a new commission, left to fill the gap. This employee resigned from the city not long after these changes were implemented.

You have to wonder, what Lockyer would think of all this, if he knew what was going on. If he learned that the city council through its city manager has broken its agreement to address issues involving the police department that concern both it and the communities of this city on a regular basis. If he discovered that the city council was not fairly addressing issues involving labor contracts with the police department's employees which impact both them and the communities of this city. If he knew that the city's employees including hundreds who work for the police department have spent this past summer going through the worst labor negotiations in years.

People have said that the stipulated agreement was against the police department, but actually it was for that agency and against the city which had neglected it for decades. I gather that many police employees may not have liked its imposition, but others probably felt in a sense relieved that it came.

For one thing, the judgment included text that stated that their employment unions would have bargaining rights during the reform process. This helped them raise their salaries and benefits during a period of time when an already understaffed(according to Lockyer's writ of mandamus) department was losing even more officers. However, now they have lost that advantage and are being treated accordingly.

For another, it provided a mechanism for reforming the department that the city could not ignore or walk away from, while pushing the department to change its patterns and practices that led to numerous alleged violations of the state's constitution and legal codes. It's too bad it had to nearly come down to a law suit to jump start it but there you go and welcome to Riverside.

That mandate needs to continue, and the city needs to honor its commitments to both of its partners in a process that really began nearly seven years ago.


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