City Hall Blues: Decorum and diversions
"Matty told Hatty about a thing she saw.
Had two big horns and a wooly jaw."
---Domingo Samudio, "Wooly Bully"
Next week's city council could be one of the shortest ones in recent history. Why? Because there are no discussion items on the agenda. So maybe those antsy behavioral mannerisms that we've all become so familiar with from the elected officials forced to sit through meetings that can be as long as several hours will be absent and a spark in the eyes and a spring in the spirit of those on the dais will be seen instead. And out there, several restaurants will be singing.
Who will sit longest in their seats? Who will leave to conduct tete a tete with other dais mates during the meeting? Which elected official will accuse which audience member of flipping him the birdie? That of course remains to be seen as soon as the curtain rises at the next city council meeting.
Several city council members will also be attending their last meetings holding their current elected position. Perhaps that's why the meeting will probably be completed in record-setting times so that people can then go off and hold soirees for each other.
One consent calendar item is to issue a declaration of the recent city elections. It will be interesting to see how the vote will go on that item.
Oh wait, no, there's that public utilities discussion item being held at 3 p.m. on increases in electric rates. Why it's being held then, is not clear. But perhaps the mercurial city council's hoping the third time will be the charm on this issue.
Of course, the neighboring county has its own problem with its local governments.
Former Colton councilman, Donald Sanders owes $66,775 and the city's government wants him to pay up.
"The judgment is still owed to us, and we're going to try to collect on it," City Manager Daryl Parrish said of Wednesday's hearing in Riverside to sort out Donald Sanders' Chapter 13 bankruptcy obligations.
In 2004, a civil lawsuit filed by the city resulted in Sanders being ordered to pay Colton $66,775 for his role in a scheme to erect billboards during the late 1990s. In 2005, a federal judge sentenced Sanders to 17 days behind bars after Sanders admitted taking $40,000 in bribes.
Attorney David Lozano, who represents Sanders, did not return two calls seeking comment.
Since July 2006, the city has been garnishing 25 percent of Sanders' wages, resulting in payments of about $750 every two weeks, said Riverside-based attorney Franklin Adams, who represents Colton in the bankruptcy case.
In his proposed bankruptcy plan, Sanders would repay all of his creditors a total of $50,277.80 at the rate of $837.13 per month for five years.
The Press Enterprise Editorial Board had a lot to say about that.
And so the court should. Allowing an elected official who abused his office and the public's trust to escape punishment for his actions would be a gross miscarriage of justice. Sanders hung a "for sale" sign on his council office and left an indelible stain on the city's government. Even bankruptcy should not remove the public debt he owes for his corruption.
Yes, the city did decide last year not to collect the $95,770 owed by ex-Councilman James Grimsby, another player in the bribery scandal. Sanders argued last year the city should also give him leniency.
But going after Grimsby made no financial sense, as the effort would have cost the city more than it could have collected. Unlike Grimsby, Sanders has a steady income and other assets that give him the capacity and obligation to repay the city.
The court should not let Sanders evade his obligation to repay the city for his crime. Bankruptcy law's power to erase debt should not extend to canceling debts to society.
More letters about the nasty group of city residents who complain at city council meetings and the ongoing saga of DHL which has been the focus of discussion on several days in the Readers' Forum in the Press Enterprise. Oh those unpleasant rabble rousers. If you speak out, read the letter and decide what category you fit into. I can't make up my mind actually since I don't really yell and I'm poor at sarcasm, but I do have a confession to make. I did chastise a city councilman or two for leaving his seat while I was speaking for just before during the past meeting.
Actually, I believe I chided at several councilmen who left while I was speaking on two separate issues and neither of them were actually using the restroom. Public comment and the consent calendar had just started after a break in the meeting taken after the discussion calendar had been completed, which gave the elected officials plenty of time for bathroom breaks if they needed them.
One councilman left to have an impromptu discussion with another councilman and a city employee in the middle of the meeting while public comment was being taken and they all returned back to their seats at about the same time after they had finished their business whatever it was. People viewing the meetings on television may not be aware of this but it's not uncommon for two or three individuals on the dais to do so and most often, it's during public testimony rather than their own discussions. And if you have elected officials and/or city staff members have conferences outside of the dais during a meeting, it kind of defeats the purpose of having public meetings in the first place as meetings are a very important mechanism to receive public input. Though it's never been a favorite mechanism according to the BASS quartet which has kind of dissolved in the wake of Election 2007.
When it's your own elected official, it is offensive behavior in a different way. You get up there and speak to an individual who's paid a fairly good salary to be your elected representative. He or she leaves and the mayor's already started the time clock on your speaking so you don't have the luxury to wait until your own elected representative comes back. Why support that kind of behavior with an election year on the horizon filled with candidates who are more than willing to listen to what their constituents have to say at meetings and time their "bathroom" breaks accordingly. That's what happened this election cycle with the voters in four wards.
We kind of have had a lot of turnover this time around, haven't we?
Many candidates decided they liked the incumbents fine, but in the case of two of them, more people decided they liked the challengers better so as a result, two out of the three city council members who ran for reelection are now out looking for other pursuits. Some say the newcomers sounded more passionate on the issues and their plans. Some said they were more attentive and not just those who were obvious supporters of them. Some voters were upset at the buffer put up between their city government and its constituents.
Whatever it was they did, several newer candidates got the lionshare of the votes in two races which sent a pretty potent message through the electorate.
If city council members are going to pull items off the consent calendar for further discussion, then they should remain in their seats to listen to the public. If they need to consult with each other or a city staff member during the meeting, then the mayor should call for a break in the meeting for them to do so or they should have done it outside the meeting to clarify the pertinant issues awaiting them before they sit down and discuss them in a meeting.
The city councilman who had left had sponsored the item at Governmental Affairs Committee which he also chairs and he sponsored the report that came back to the city council meeting. He also jointly pulled the item that was before him and chose to leave only while the public was commenting on it. That's not appropriate behavior, especially considering the special responsibility he holds by both sponsoring the item in two layers of government then pulling it for discussion.
Councilman Andrew Melendrez who also pulled the same item remained in his seat and was attentive at all times during its discussion. Apparently, he wasn't invited to the meeting off the dais but he's good at listening to the public. It's too bad Charter Communications viewers can't see how good he's at doing so. Frankly, I spend more time talking issues over with him than any other councilman. It's too bad several others on the dais can't look to him as an example of how to act while sitting on it.
Then when I spoke on another consent calendar item ironically addressing meeting decorum, Councilman Dom Betro rolled his eyes about 30 seconds into my speech, stood up and stomped out of the building in a huff for parts unknown. But then he's done that quite a bit lately in different venues so it wasn't me. It was him and his decision to behave this way once again.
He certainly wasn't going to the bathroom unless it was in a different building some place else because it was kind of hard for anyone actually attending the meeting in person to miss his stormy exit. His behavior was curt and rude but since the camera doesn't show the dais and the activities going on there while city residents are speaking, most of the people watching the meeting from home do not have any idea how elected officials behave on the dais until they attend a meeting. I've seen his supporters back him or pretend they don't know what's going on when he's much more abusive and rude than that, so I'm not really fazed to see a letter writer back a councilman only knowing part of the story of what happened. But supporting that behavior is what probably proved most detrimental to Betro's chances of victory in this past election cycle.
The irony is that my own councilman has praised my demeanor at the dais while I speak, but even so, those at the dais don't really treat you respectfully unless you agree with them. What I've learned to do is when I address them to either look at Melendrez or the mayor, because they are the ones who do pay attention to what people are saying.
Leaving the room while the public was speaking on an item that concerns them which he himself sponsored is very disrespectful to those individuals. It isn't going to change my mind on the fact that if a city council member or members is going to sponsor an item that comes up for discussion, they should be able to sit and listen to public comment on that item even with people who disagree with them. That's part and parcel of what leadership is all about, listening to things that you often would rather not hear. Who said that being an elected official was easy?
The lone exceptions who don't exhibit this behavior are Mayor Ron Loveridge and Melendrez who have yet to make facial expressions, sigh, groan, grunt, flip through papers, read reports, play with the palm pilot or leave to take phone calls while people are speaking. They manage to sit, pay attention to speakers and I have yet to see them call a speaker a "liar", air a city resident's personal business or any other such behavior. Neither have ordered the city attorney to write "civility" letters, neither have ordered police officers to expel elderly women.
Though the mayor did prohibit Riverside Police Administrators Association president, Lt. Darryl Hurt from speaking on an issue during public comment at a meeting in the summer of 2006 which was inappropriate on Loveridge's part.
Here's another thing to remember. When your elected official asks you to write letters to the newspaper on his or her behalf, it would be more effective and more accurate if those who agree to do so would research these incidents first and Charter Communications only shows you one side of the dais at a time. As listed below, there is a way to remedy that.
As for the behavior on the dais, it might be an interesting study in contrasts if individuals videotaped the city council members at city council meetings rather than the public speakers during discussion of items on the agenda or during public comment time and then included these videos on an internet site so that visitors could check out for themselves the behaviors of those on the dais alongside the behavior of city residents that is shown on Charter Communications broadcasts.
A couple meetings posted online which present a picture of what's going on the dais and it's pretty assured that the eyerolling, muttering, side conversations, paper flipping, groaning and all assorted behaviors would probably be greatly reduced during a relatively short period of time.
I did receive a couple of phone calls for clarification after this past meeting that the next time I mention that a city council member had left the dais while someone is speaking, I should name that councilman in the future because as has already been pointed out, there's no view of the dais while a city resident is speaking from your television set at home. More people have asked me to explain what's been going on the dais, because occasionally there's glimpses of sour expressions and rolling eyes that do travel across the air waves.
I've received much support from city residents for going to the meetings and speaking out even when I haven't felt like it. When I miss a week, I definitely hear about it! I've had women embrace me in stores and people stop me all the time to discuss concerns and issues. Going to city council meetings is a great ice breaker to discuss the issues which impact this city, its infrastructure, its future. It's also a way to encourage city residents to get more involved with what's going on in Riverside in general and City Hall in particular. People really should get more involved even if it's in small ways or by testing the waters with their toes a little bit at a time.
Speaking of law suits associated with fatal officer-involved shootings in the wake of the $395,000 settlement in the Summer Lane case, the law suit filed in U.S. District Court by the family of Lee Deante Brown is on the agenda of next week's city council meeting under closed session items.
"I know she was in there."
That is what former Bolingbrook Police Department Sgt. Drew Peterson's step-brother allegedly told his neighbor according to the Chicago Tribune.
Walter Martineck told him that the unidentified relative of Peterson who had helped him transport a blue plastic barrel to his SUV had been paid to do so and was trying to get rid of the money.
In an interview, Martineck expanded on a prior Tribune report detailing the relative's alleged activities the night Stacy Peterson disappeared. Martineck said he was at home Oct. 28 watching the World Series. "He called me and said, 'I gotta talk to you,'" Martineck said. "It was late, around 10 o'clock. I remember it was the 7th inning. I told him, 'OK, come to the garage door.'"
Moments later, the relative walked up the driveway and into the garage, he said.
"He was real frantic," Martineck said. "I could tell he'd been drinking a little. He put his hands on my shoulders and says, 'You can't tell no one. I know she was in there,'" Martineck said.
When Martineck asked his friend what he was talking about, the relative said he had met Drew Peterson at a local coffee shop, he said. Then Drew Peterson said he had to go, but before leaving, Peterson allegedly told the relative to wait there and gave him a cell phone with instructions not to answer it, he said. The relative waited for some time, and when the phone rang, it showed the name "Stacy" on the caller ID, Martineck said the relative told him.
The relative said when Drew Peterson returned, the two men went to the Petersons' home and removed a large plastic tote that was covered and sealed, Martineck said.
As he spoke, the relative became more and more distraught, Martineck said.
"He goes, 'I know she was in there,'" Martineck said. "I asked him how he knew that, and he said, 'Because it was warm,'" Martineck said.
Take a lie detector test, is what the family of Stacey Peterson are asking her husband, Drew, to do in the wake of revelations about the blue plastic barrel, according to Fox News.
Cassandra Cales, Stacy Peterson's sister, wants Drew to take a lie detector test about his knowledge of a blue barrel or container that she said she saw in their garage two days before Stacy disappeared.
"He says there was no barrel," Cales said. "There was a barrel; I saw it with my own eyes. I'll take a lie detector test. I feel Drew should take a lie detector test also."
"There never was a drum," said Joel Brodsky, Drew Peterson's attorney. "The whole thing seems like a never-ending rumor that started with comments that Stacy's sister made."
However, so far a neighbor witnessed Peterson and another man carry and place a blue plastic barrel in his SUV. The person who allegedly assisted him was apparently his step-brother who two days later tried to kill himself.
Also, there were traces of blue plastic found in Peterson's SUV.
Peterson called in sick the day Peterson was allegedly last seen. In August, Stacey Peterson had allegedly told a minister that her husband told her he had killed his third wife, Kathleen Savio, and made it look like an accident. The minister withheld the information in part because of concerns Peterson had expressed about going to the police.
Apparently, Stacey never shared her concerns with her family according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
For Savio's family, Stacy Peterson's reported conversation with a clergyman was nothing short of astounding.
"Wow, what a bombshell," said Anna Doman, one of Savio's sisters.
In March 2004, Savio, 40, was found dead in an empty bathtub in her Bolingbrook home. The death was initially ruled an accidental drowning. But now that Stacy Peterson has gone missing for a month, investigators are taking another look at Savio's death.
For Savio's family, desperate to know the truth about Kathleen, Stacy's reported words to the clergyman are both uplifting and troubling. Marcia Savio, Kathleen's stepmother, wonders how long Stacy Peterson might have lived with her secret.
"I don't like the fact that she knew something and didn't come forward, but I also feel sorry for her because she was in fear," Savio said Thursday.
"Every kit in the freezer represents a woman or child who has been raped and put their faith in the system."
--- Gail Abarbanel, founder of the Rape Treatment Center at Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center.
The Los Angeles Police Department needs $9.3 million to test DNA evidence in hundreds of rape cases, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The problem is not unique to Los Angeles. Forensic DNA testing facilities nationwide have been swamped by demands, not only from regular investigators but also from "cold hit" squads seeking breaks in long-dormant cases and from convicts with innocence claims. According to U.S. Justice Department statistics, more than 500,000 unsolved crimes, including 169,000 rapes, have DNA evidence that has gone untested.
In Los Angeles County, the backlog has occasionally caused trial dates to be canceled, frustrated detectives and delayed justice for victims and their families. More seriously, an evidence kit that went untested for months left a rapist free to assault another woman and a teenager.
Of the nearly $10 million that is needed for the testing, the department has received a little bit more than $500,000 according to the news article.