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

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Riverside City discusses ethics; Riverside County discusses budget

"Drew thinks he's a celebrity. I think that justice is coming. . . . That's what's important."

---Sharon Bychowski, Drew Peterson's next-door neighbor

The Riverside City Council held another meeting and discussed the review of the city's ethics code and complaint system which was included on its discussion calendar.

Mayor Ron Loveridge announced the item and introduced Governmental Affairs Committee Chair Frank Schiavone who then introduced City Attorney Gregory Priamos. Priamos did most of the talking, outlining the city's compliance with state mandates directed towards similar codes when it comes to training. Priamos mentioned that the code had been amended twice since its inception and explained the training that's been received by those who are under the code including elected officials.

He talked further about the annual assessment by the Governmental Affairs Committee which sends its recommendation to the full city council for discussion and vote. Priamos white washed a bit the fact that two meetings were necessary in order for the Governmental Affairs Committee to be in compliance with the city resolution necessitating that the mayor and the chairs of all the city's boards and commissions be invited to participate in the annual review. At the Sept. 3 meeting of the committee, Loveridge didn't know that it had taken place until after it was over and some people told him in the hallway outside the Mayor's Ceremonial Room. The fact that a second meeting was held on Sept. 12 might have been related to his displeasure at being excluded from the proceedings.

Here is the report of recommendations sent to the city council that were ultimately approved by the governmental body.

Three city residents spoke on this issue. Jennifer Vaughn-Blakely, who chairs the Group (the community organization which was warned by City Hall to tone down its conversations about the city at its meetings) requested that the city council consider extra items and lamented the lack of minutes in the packet received by elected officials so they would be aware of the public's comments (which aren't usually even included in the minute record). Vaughn-Blakely has been a key part of this process of bringing an ethics code to this city since before it was passed by the voters in November 2004 and she's continued to speak out on the issue.

She advocated more public outreach including a brochure to educate the public on the code and complaint process. She was happy that a consistent date for annual review was set. She once again recommended that an independent panel of non-council members perhaps three retired judges to remove any perception or reality of bias.

"Council members judging council members can be likened to the fox guarding the hen house," Vaughn-Blakely said.

She brought up her concern that there were complaints that weren't properly handled by the city against elected officials and that this must also be addressed. Only one ethics complaint that was filed against an elected officials even made it to the Mayor's Nomination and Screening Committee for a hearing while several others instead were sent to Priamos who mailed out rejection letters to the complainants. The latter is not the process outlined in the resolution.

"Acts like this violate the public trust in the process," Vaughn-Blakely said.

She said that the process itself needs to be explained more thoroughly to the public.

Linda Dunn, another member of the original research committee praised Vaughn-Blakely's role in the process. The committee along with her have been following the process in the past four years. One concern was that the code of ethics be "known and understood by the public". Some language needs to be clear including the access of the public to the annual review process as there's nothing in the resolution that specifically states that.

Dunn said she supported the recommendations that Vaughn-Blakely provided.

Karen Wright thanked the two prior speakers for their statements. She was concerned about the conducting of the two meetings by Governmental Affairs Committee. One on Sept. 3 which was without proper notification and the second on Sept. 12 where very little notice was given the public. They shouldn't rush through a draft that few people have had a chance to review.
She supports further discussion of the process even if it's referred back to the Governmental Affairs Committee for more thoughtful discussion and possible renovations.

Barbara Purvis, who heads the League of Women's Voters sent a two-page letter with advice.

Schiavone jumped in and suggested that City Clerk Colleen Nichols is out researching other forms of ethics code practices and after that is done, the issue will go back to the Governmental Affairs Committee.

"It's a work in process", Schiavone said that, "we will continue to deal with."

Councilman Andrew Melendrez asked a question about the complaint process and some statements made in the resolution. Priamos said it's a general statement but the procedures differ based on who the complaint is against then outlined what was included in the city's resolution.

Priamos outlined the process for complaints against members of the city's boards and commissions as an example Complaints in this situation will be dealt with informally in terms of coming up to a resolution then it gets forwarded to the Governmental Affairs Committee (which is not the appropriate committee but is probably a slip on Priamos' part).

Melendrez wanted further clarification on the process suggesting that a line be removed Melendrez thought the suggestion that an independent panel review complaints against city council members "was a very good idea" worth considering at the future Governmental Affairs Committee in the next six months. Alas, it appears his suggestion which would have been backed by many city residents was ignored. That's not surprising. When Vaughn-Blakely had first brought up the suggestion at the Governmental Affairs Committee's first attempt at its annual review, Councilman Steve Adams had smirked and rolled his eyes.

Councilman Mike Gardner supported Melendrez' suggestion about the statements needing to be clarified about the process of filing complaints. He supported Pervin's expansion of the time line due to it being too confined in time structure.

Schiavone responded by saying it had been reviewed in his committee already.

"I think we've made it as narrow as we can make it," Schiavone said.

Loveridge supported the idea of doing a "best practices" research project which would return to the Governmental Affairs Committee. After he spoke, the item went to a vote.

Schiavone made the motion, seconded by Adams and it passed 7-0 with only about three city councilmen expressing an opinion on this issue.

Priamos continued on with his reporting, by saying there were no reportable actions during the closed sessions that day.

There's been interesting reactions to a recent editorial published by the Press Enterprise about the micromanagement of the Community Police Review Commission by City Hall. Watch dog or lap dog, which will it be? I think the public knows by now which City Hall wants. The escapades of the past few months and certainly the past several weeks have made that abundantly clear.

Mary Humboldt talked during public comment about the first meeting of the Community Police Review Commission that she ever had attended. She said it was important to support the commission and it was a complicated process, much different than that of other boards and commissions in the city.

This commission deserves 100% of support for the city staff and city council. She noticed that some of the commissioners seem to be afraid to speak and that's troubling to her as it's a trend she's noticed in other meetings in the city that attempts are made to stifle public expression by city residents.

"They are words. They must not be taken as threats," Humboldt said.

To muzzle the commission is a big mistake, Humboldt said, referring to this Press Enterprise editorial on the commission and its micromanagement by City Hall. Living in Riverside, she had heard about the assault against Jose Martinez in 1997 by three police officers, an incident which stuck in her memory. She wanted to believe things were better than they were back then.

City Manager Brad Hudson dropped the shocker of all shockers after the public comment period near the end of the meeting. He announced that Paul Sundeen's retirement from his job as the chief financial officer of the city is just from the city employment roster. The city's hiring him to continue working part-time, most likely in a paid consulting capacity, to advise the city on its finances during these difficult times. Kudos to the dozen or so people who called this development correctly. It was hard not to see it coming.

More intrigue has emerged involving the beleaguered Parkview Hospital which was the beneficiary of a bailout of a different sort by the Riverside City Council only several years ago when it ran into extreme financial hardship due to horrific mismanagement by an administrator whose annual salary was around $300,000 a year at one point while the institution was going bankrupt. Now, it's back in trouble again, leaving one to ask were its considerable infrastructure problems ever addressed? Was the bailout a band aid and do serious problems remain that need to be addressed? How did it get itself back into trouble so quickly?

There's a lot of efforts by the city government to push itself into this situation, namely through an attempt to bring all the "parties" together in a Governmental Affairs Committee. To do what? If it's involving labor issues, then the authority of the Governmental Affairs Committee or the city for that matter is very limited. And while the city's in the mood to rescue hospitals, how about adding Riverside Community Hospital to the list? The abysmal stories that some of its employees related at a community meeting a year or so ago rival anything that's come out of Parkview Hospital. Bailing out one hospital won't help matters if the entire system is sickened.

Many hospitals, public and private, have hit some very hard times in recent years as part and parcel of a health system which is broken. Emergency rooms are crowded because there's a lack of clinics that can treat patients with less serious conditions including at night and weekends especially in Riverside. Doctors who are general practitioners, Ob/gyns and internists are in too short supply given how many medical students and residents are opting for higher-paying medical specialties. If the city wants to get involved, it should examine this issue from a much broader perspective than one hospital. Taking a more broader approach might actually allow it to do more that could have a positive impact.

Riverside County District Attorney Rod Pacheco will vacate about a dozen buildings after he moves his employees into the Regency Tower in downtown Riverside. That's the building that if you recall, was subsidized (at least the parking places were) by the city's Redevelopment Agency and then sold to the county.

But Riverside County's finances are experiencing a budget crisis with layoffs anticipated in its work force. Huge budget cuts in the major departments are already under consideration.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

A primary reason is that the total assessed value of residential properties in the county could decrease 5 percent next fiscal year -- a dismal figure unequaled even in 1990s recession times.

The year after, it is not expected to grow at all.

This is down from just a few months ago when staff predicted no growth in assessed values next year and a 2 percent growth in fiscal 2010, Luna said.

By comparison, values in fiscal 2006 during the housing boom grew by more than 20 percent.

"These are collapses in revenue, not just declines that we're seeing," Supervisor Bob Buster said after Luna presented the county's first-quarter budget report. "It's a very, very serious situation."

In what might be viewed as a shocker, a Lake Elsinore elected official turned down a campaign contribution from a developer. Sure it was only a few hundred dollars but still, that's major news in these parts.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

Magee, who set records when he amassed a near-$100,000 campaign chest this year, returned a $500 check to Joseph Huband, a real-estate investor from Yucaipa and one of the most vocal critics of the city's ongoing general plan update.

Huband gave the check to Magee's campaign a day after Magee voted for a change Huband was in favor of to the proposed long-term development plan.

"The committee ... holds just one fundraising event each year to avoid the perception that contributions are in someway tied to actions before the City Council," Magee's campaign treasurer Mark Carlston wrote in a letter to Huband.

Magee was one of three Lake Elsinore officials who over the past two years accepted contributions from developers within months or weeks of voting on their projects. Magee's campaign accepted one developer's contribution the day of a vote. While not illegal, political reform experts say these type of contributions raise ethical questions.

Magee said campaign contributions do not sway his vote. In the past he said he has returned contributions he considered suspect.

Hemet's city council candidates are disclosing their campaign contributions.

Redlands might be getting its new police station.

The controversies over various campaign fliers has been prevalent in elections in the Inland Empire's cities and now, more criticism of fliers in Colton with one of the critics being Mayor Kelly Chastain. They were circulated by Citizens for Colton First.

A police officer in Anaheim accidentally shot a man on his front lawn while they were chasing after other burglary suspects. Investigators believe that Julian Alexander who was shot twice had exited his house to see what was going on.

(excerpt, Los Angeles Times)

"This is a very tragic situation," Anaheim Police Chief John Welter said at a news conference. "Julian Alexander was innocent of anything that was going on in the neighborhood at that time."

Paramedics treated Alexander at the scene in the 300 block of North Muller Street before taking him to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Alexander's wife and mother-in-law said he went outside, believing that he heard possible intruders. The women heard two gunshots and tried to run outside but were stopped by an officer. From their window, they saw Alexander on the ground, handcuffed and bleeding.

"He was a good kid, trying to protect his house," said Michelle Mooney, his mother-in-law. "And the police, instead of asking questions, they just shot first. Somebody has to be held responsible for this."

The jury was finally selected in the federal corruption trial of former Orange County Sheriff Mike Carona.

The disappearance of Stacy Peterson, one year later is being marked by vigils held by her family members and those of Kathleen Savio's who was killed several years ago. Former Bolingbrook Police Department Sgt. Drew Peterson protests his innocence in both cases involving his current and former wives.

(excerpt, Chicago Tribune)

On Tuesday, the anniversary of Peterson's disappearance will be marked much the same way it began: Her family members will hold a candlelight vigil and her husband will be in New York -- again -- telling a national television audience he had nothing to do with her disappearance.

"I've been always trying to get my story out," Drew Peterson said in a telephone interview from his New York hotel, where he and his attorney, Joel Brodsky, were staying before his appearance on the "Today" show.

But investigators are still looking into Stacy Peterson's disappearance and Savio's killing.

(excerpt, Chicago Tribune)

"As long as it takes, we said we'd keep the faith, and we still have that and it keeps us going," said Pam Bosco, a family friend who will pass the day in private with Stacy's sister, Cassandra Cales. "That's still what we hope for to get us past this one-year anniversary."

They were encouraged last week when Will County State's Atty. James Glasgow released a statement saying, "I fully expect there to be a resolution in at least one of these investigations in the near future."

Through a spokesman, Glasgow declined to comment further. But in his statement, he said that the investigations into their cases, which include a special grand jury, have been "highly productive."

If that's what is happening, then most likely he's talking about the Savio murder case. Her death was initially ruled as an accidental drowning in her own bathtub by a coroner jury but after Stacy's disappearance, the case was reopened, Savio's body was exhumed and a second autopsy reclassified her death as a homicide.

Nevertheless, Peterson is back on the talk show circuit.

(excerpt, Chicago Sun-Times)

Appearing on NBC’s Today Show, Peterson also stuck by his contention that he had nothing to do with his wife’s disappearance.

Drew Peterson also released a statement that said, “There is not a single day that goes by that I don’t think about Stacy, so to me Tuesday is just another day of her being away.”

“ I realize this may be a significant event for the media, but it is not for me or my family. I won’t be participating in any vigils. Instead, I am giving one interview and then I will be far from the media spotlight spending quality time with my kids who need their dad now more than ever.”

He said in the statement that there is “no need to worry” about his kids.

“I am taking good care of them though I have to admit acting as both dad and mom takes a lot of work and patience,’’ Peterson said in the statement. “My son Thomas is first in his class at one of the largest and finest high schools in Illinois. His brother Chris is also doing exceptionally well in school and is involved in wrestling and other activities. My youngest kids, Anthony and Lacy are too young to be in school but both are happy and healthy and adjusting normally.”

He called on his wife to "show yourself".

Chapel Hill, North Carolina has some recent developments involving its foray into civilian oversight. The city government is considering the issue.

Not surprisingly, the city's police department including its labor union aren't too happy about this.

The Halloween the space ships were coming!

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