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

Monday, October 06, 2008

Is it "boys will be boys" at Riverside City Hall?

And now there are five.

That being the number of code compliance officers who are suing their employer, the city of Riverside for unfair treatment in the workplace. The allegations in the litigation filed have included sexism, sexual harassment and age discrimination against the plaintiffs.

Former employees Kathie White and Theresa Steffen have filed a lawsuit, joining earlier plaintiffs, Todd Solomon, Steve Livings and Mary Furfaro who filed on similar allegations including a failure to accommodate a disability in the workplace. Most of the complaints including discrimination and harassment have been aimed at former code compliance manager Mark Salazar, who has since left the city. It's not clear whether rumors that he was actually shown the door of City Hall are true but the code compliance division has clearly been in a state of turmoil for quite a while, finally spilling out in a series of lawsuits which will ultimately leave the city's residents with the bills. Still, it's difficult to believe that Salazar and the city parted on harsh terms given his extended contract unless it was merely one that was similar to others given to past management employees in exchange for their absolute silence on their departure. A gag order, is what contracts like these are often called in labor terms.

Here's some information about the latest round of complaints.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

Steffen started in Riverside in January 2007 as a probationary employee after 17 years as a code enforcement officer for the city of San Diego. White was her immediate supervisor.

The suit says after a seminar in fall 2005, Salazar lifted White's blouse and made an inappropriate remark about her body, which embarrassed her. The suit says that when Steffen first began working in Riverside, Salazar called her "cute" and said when she wore her hair down it was "pretty," remarks that embarrassed her.

In September 2007, Steffen received a warning in a meeting with Salazar and Gary Merk, who was then assistant division chief and is now the division's interim manager. She was criticized for taking too much time off, though she said the time off was all earned and preapproved by supervisors. She was fired on Oct. 15 though she never received any evaluations criticizing her work, the suit says.

White had advocated on Steffen's behalf with Salazar and Merk, and after that Salazar and Merk were critical of her work and told her she wasn't meeting standards, which she interpreted as retaliation, the suit says.

In November, her physician took White off work for job-related stress and in December the working conditions were so hostile she felt forced to resign, the suit says.

Both women are older than 40 years of age and the suit maintains they were treated differently than men and younger employees.

"This case is more evidence of a pattern and practice of discrimination in the code enforcement division," said Riverside attorney Janice Cleveland, who represents all five people suing the city.

City Attorney Gregory Priamos of course gave the customary party line in lawsuits filed against the city. No doubt, he's gotten used to it.


City Attorney Greg Priamos said the city would defend against the latest allegations.

"The city does not believe the complaint has merit," he said.

He might sound confident now, but Priamos gave similar responses to lawsuits filed against the city including the racial discrimination, harassment and retaliation lawsuit filed by Officer Roger Sutton several years ago. The city paid out a $1.64 million jury's verdict on that case. He also gave similar responses to every lawsuit filed alleging wrongful death by the police department and so far, the city has settled several cases for about $1.5 million in total. The longer a lawsuit plays itself out, the less confident Priamos appears and his sentiments are merely a barometer of those expressed by his employers, the city council who so far has pretty much ignored the turmoil going on in the city's workplace, at least publicly.

What's interesting is that the Human Resources Board met the first Monday in October as it usually does for each month and when its members have been asked about whether there are any problems with hostile environments including sexual harassment, they don't seem to think it exists unless the employees come to their meetings and talk about it. As if these individuals could do so without it threatening their jobs, something which it doesn't sound like the HR Board even thinks could happen. After all, one of the female code compliance employees stated in her lawsuit that when she complained about Salazar sexually harassing her, she was the one who received the warning and not only was Salazar not fired by the city (which boasts of its zero tolerance of a hostile working environment for its employees), he got a six month bonus contract to serve as a consultant.

If you ever needed any inkling that City Hall is a "boys will be boys" world, it doesn't get any better than that and if that's not what City Hall is really about, then those in positions to make decisions should work on sending different messages to the public through their actions. And the city council should of course look into the allegations involving misconduct in the code compliance division and any other city department with problems as well. It should go without saying that sexual harassment should be taken seriously and addressed with in a fashion that isn't retaliatory against the complainant and doesn't reward the employee involved in the behavior.

Did that happen here? Perhaps only a trial in a court can assert what did and didn't happen but it doesn't look promising so far.

To have an employer in a management position who suddenly has to "stop working" in the face of complaints by women and men who worked under him but gets paid an extra six months? But then it's common knowledge that when it comes to racial and/or sexual harassment in the workplace across the country, it seems too many times that the complainants face the negative response, despite posters placed in work facilities (or they should be under federal and/or state law) encouraging those who are being harassed to report it to their supervisors.

Riverside has those posters too hanging on its walls, along with an earnest one about whistle blower protection laws, but does it fall in the same pattern as what's going on in other places? Some of the lawsuits that it paid out on through settlements or juries' verdicts included retaliation claims. In fact, jurors in the case of the police officer who won the huge verdict in 2005 said that the retaliation claims were the strongest part of the case.

Several years, a female probational police officer who had filed a complaint alleging sexual harassment in the training academy lasted about two weeks in the police department before being led into a room and fired while reporting to her first day of work in the department's field training program. She filed a lawsuit which the city and her attorney settled within two months of the date the city was officially served, according to court records. It was settled long before anyone could ever ask Priamos what the city's position on the litigation would be and certainly long before he could issue his stock answer.

But these cases in code compliance and other places create questions that likely won't be answered unless these lawsuits shed some light on what's going on in Riverside's workplaces. But here's one question to start with.

Is it that the best way in the city of Riverside to address sexual harassment is just to keep your mouth shut?

Press Enterprise Columnist Dan Bernstein writes about Riverside city employee morale including that in its libraries.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

But employee morale seems dismal. I get calls from a lot of distressed and fearful people. Nothing tops the frequency of calls I've received from Riverside library employees/boosters since Brad Hudson became city manager and appointed his sidekick, Tom DeSantis, shadow librarian-in-chief.

Most callers are terrified of having their names in the paper (see gag order). Some won't even give their names. Complaints often fall under "personnel matters" (see: punitive, vindictive) and are nearly impossible to check out. Maybe they wouldn't check out. But the drumbeat of calls stands out.

Hard to see how library morale improves any time soon. Corona just announced layoffs. Hemet has had two. Riverside touts itself as largely immune, but the library recently canned 30 part-time pages and has since been scrambling for volunteer replacements. Though the library has the equivalent of 104 full-time positions on the books, City Hall says actual number of warm bodies right now is 77. (Actually, 76.96.)

This deserves its own posting or two and will get them in the near future. Stay tuned.

LA Observed, a blog which has been covering the downturn in journalism addressed the most recent layoffs at the Los Angeles Times. As you know, the Times once had declared it was going to make its stake in the Inland Empire even establishing a bureau office in downtown Riverside and creating special Metro sections tailored with news for this region. However, it appeared that in most "Inland Empire" editions, there was more coverage of Orange County (which is where many of the Inland Empire reporters were focusing then and now) and even Los Angeles County.

Now if you look in downtown Riverside where the office of the Times used to be, you'll find nothing except for a "For Lease" sign in the window.

Anyway, many of the layoffs were "voluntary" meaning that they were what's called "buyouts".

(excerpt, LA Observed)

This is a breaking situation this afternoon. Editors met over the weekend to get the word and to refine their lists. Newsroom staffers are being told today individually and in department meetings that as many as 75 editorial positions are being cut through voluntary departures and layoffs. Some staffers were approached last week about volunteering, "enticed" with the threat that this will be the absolute final time that editorial employees will receive two weeks severance pay for each year of service when they leave.

The Press Enterprise has done its own major downsizing with the latest rounds of buyouts taking place last month which still left 30 positions for the folks at Texas-based Belo Enterprises to eliminate.

State Budget cuts are being felt in the Inland Empire counties and as usual, those feeling it the most will be children, seniors, the mentally ill and/or poor people.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

"When the state makes cuts or the state doesn't reimburse us, they are leaving it to us to clean it up," said Riverside County Executive Officer Bill Luna. "Anything they don't do is left on our doorstep."

Luna said county agencies are still determining how they will absorb the governor's cuts, which come in a budget passed later than any other in California history.

The Riverside County Board of Supervisors will consider options and could move funding and staff and make other adjustments when they review the first-quarter budget report at the end of this month, Luna said. San Bernardino County supervisors will review their financial situation and the effect of the governor's cuts in November, said county spokesman David Wert. San Bernardino County officials said they have ruled out layoffs but are seeking to cut staff by attrition.

"The reductions were unanticipated, so counties haven't had time to plan," said Jean Ross, executive director of the nonpartisan California Budget Project, which gauges the state budget's effects on low- and middle-income Californians. "They are going to affect the core health and human services programs at precisely the time when the economic downturn is increasing the demand on those programs."

The Orange County Sheriff's Department: The first 100 days of Sheriff Sandra Hutchens

(excerpt, Los Angeles Times)

Hutchens did not mention Michael S. Carona by name in a meeting with reporters Monday, but a department spokesman said she had the former sheriff in mind when she said accountability starts at the top. She blamed him for a culture that allowed top-ranking managers to sidestep accountability.

"There was a lack of leadership from what I saw," Hutchens said. "There was turmoil at the top of the organization and a lack of focus. There were individuals not doing their jobs and who felt they could not be held accountable."

The department was in disarray, policies and procedures ignored, she said. Employees "felt beat up" by the unceasing news coverage of Carona's legal troubles, grand jury investigations of the department-run jails and probes by other law enforcement agencies, Hutchens said.

A New York City Police Department sergeant has been charged after he shot at an ATM machine while drunk.

(excerpt, New York Daily News)

Hynes stopped at two taverns before showing up at Brady's on Second Ave., staggering around the bar, clearly aware a gun stuffed in his waistband was visible to everyone, witnesses told cops.

"He just walked around to the tables but didn't say anything to anyone," bartender Peter Carew, 31, said Friday night. "Then he went to the men's room, came out, staggered around some more, then left."

"I was freaking out. I wasn't going to serve the guy, but I didn't want to have to say no to a drunk with a gun," Carew said. "Thank God nobody tried to take the gun from him and nobody got hurt."

Carew said he called 911 when he heard a gunshot about a minute after Hynes left.

Police sources it was sometime after 2a.m., when Hynes walked up Second Ave. to 83rd St., drew his weapon and fired at a building, hitting an ATM chained to a storefront, sources.

He was nabbed half a block away. Cops found him sitting on a stoop and seized his 9-mm., which held 13 live rounds. They found a spent 9-mm. shell casing on the ground near the ATM.

"It's scary," said Eric Sais, 38, manager of Copyland Center, the store next to the freestanding ATM, which has a bullet hole in front.

"It still works," Sais marveled.

Hundreds watched as NYPD Lt. Michael Pigott was laid to rest after he committed suicide in the wake of his involvement in the controversial fatal tasing of a mentally ill man.

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