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.
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Location: RiverCity, Inland Empire

Thursday, June 04, 2009

A changing of the guard on Riverside's City Council?

"He has no enemies, but is intensely disliked by his friends."

---Oscar Wilde

Riverside Councilman-elect Paul Davis talks about his plans, once he is sworn into office at the city council meeting on June 23. The big question of course is the same one asked of any candidate turned elected official, and that is will he hold strong to his core principles or will he become part of the machine? If you look back at recent history, some city council members remain pretty much the same people they were when they ran like Mike Gardner and Andrew Melendrez. Others changed when they were elected like Dom Betro and ousted Councilman Frank Schiavone. Then you have those like Rusty Bailey who pulled 180 degree switches practically they were sworn in. Some of the civic leaders who first recruited and then backed Bailey's campaign were left scratching their heads after he got in and started showing more leanings towards his campaign contributors who were well-known developers including the now-vilified Doug Jacobs, than them.

It will be interesting to see what direction Bailey tilts now that Schiavone his leader has been given his pink slip or whether he'll remain a rudderless ship for a while until he figures out what his identity will be. Ironic, considering the considerable academic background he has in studying and teaching about government. Mayor Ron Loveridge taught about municipal government too, at the university level but unlike Bailey, he had a well-developed grasp of the reality of the background politics before he began applying his philosophy to the real world of Riverside.

The answer to this question will pretty much be provided by Ward Four voters and other constituents. Being involved in the issues impacting your area and the city as a whole and keeping a watchful eye and an active voice in city government is always very important.

But the reactions by Davis and his new dais mates after his surprise win were quite interesting.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

Although he won't be sworn in until June 23, Davis said Wednesday he already had contacted the city's chief financial officer for documents that will give him a picture of Riverside's fiscal health.

"I want to see everything in writing so I can analyze it," he said.

The City Council adopted the Renaissance plan in late 2006 to carry out civic improvements that had languished for years.

Davis said during his campaign that the plan should have gone to voters.

In an interview Wednesday, he said he won't necessarily oppose specific projects, if they don't waste money and they serve most residents. "We ought to build what's needed by the many, not what's wanted by the few," he said.

Although Schiavone and former council members Dom Betro and Ed Adkison, the Renaissance plan's major supporters, are no longer in office, current council members said Wednesday that they are behind the plan and don't expect that to change.

As of late February, more than two years into the Renaissance project, $972.5 million in projects had been finished or were under construction, out to bid or in design.

Council members said Davis, who has never run for public office before, is in for an education.

"Things ... look different when you get in here," Councilman Steve Adams said. Councilwoman Nancy Hart agreed.

"When he gets in here and understands the projects and how and why they are funded, I don't think he'll find issues," said Hart, who was re-elected Tuesday.

It's interesting that the Press Enterprise has noticed that most of the major supporters of Riverside Renaissance are no longer serving in their political offices with two of them being sent packing by the voters in their wards and replaced by candidates who were the focus of grass-roots campaigns. The city council touts how popular the banner program which was designed to complete 20 years worth of projects in five years in exchange for having the city's future generations of residents pay about five times what these projects would have cost. The $2.1 billion cited by the city council and its direct employee, City Manager Brad Hudson as its price tag doesn't even begin to cover it. It couldn't since much of it is financed through bonds and debt. But if you look at the last two election cycles including this one, you saw Betro, Councilman Art Gage and now Schiavone voted off the council, with two of them being replaced by rookie candidates that they outspent. The problem isn't that there's a lack of education about Riverside Renaissance among the public as the council members often claim but that enough of the public that votes understands that the true costs of this renaissance program will be paid later.

Press Enterprise Columnist Dan Bernstein offers his take on Davis' victory over Schiavone. He takes note of the Riverside Renaissance connection as well as points out that only two of the city council members who voted to hire Hudson only several years ago are still on office. Now, Hudson still has enough council members enamored of him to keep him employed and if they ever begin to doubt him, all he has to do is stoke some egos by putting another marquee sign or so advertising a Riverside Renaissance project around town.

Bernstein brings up some succinct points.


Schiavone said his supporters didn't vote because they figured he had the election sewn up. How could they have thought that (see June '08) unless they confused the election with a chili contest?

Schiavone had to know his seat was on the line. Why else did he take Davis to court over a ballot designation? (Voters didn't think much of that move, either.)

My hunch is that for all the good Schiavone did (I give him gold stars for, among other things, that Orange Terrace Library/Community Center), he never recovered from providing his constituents with those nightly 3 a.m. wake-up calls, compliments of the DHL cargo monsters he helped launch from March air base.

No amount of reversing -- on DHL and on a truly harmful utility rate increase -- could reverse voter attitudes.

The city paying nearly $133K to defend and settle a challenge to a Schiavone subdivision didn't help, either, although I've heard no developer gripe that Schiavone got special treatment.

Schiavone was the Big Man On Council. Forceful personality. Neither wishy, nor washy. His exit creates a void that will be filled. Question is, by whom?

With the ascension of Paul Davis, the number of council members who hired City Manager Brad Hudson in 2005 is down to two. And while council ardor for the high-octane manager seems as strong as ever -- especially when he coos the word "Renaissance" -- the council chemistry continues to change.

Council members predict the skeptical Davis will eventually drink the Renaissance Kool-Aid. We'll see. We'll also see whether this ex-cop/deputy sheriff treats the puppet-show police review commission any differently than the guy he just ousted. (Schiavone is just as "cozy" with the police chief as he's said to be with developers.)

And while they'd never admit it, some of the happiest people on Earth right now are Schiavone's soon-to-be-ex-council colleagues. One must never say never, but it's hard to see how Schiavone could become mayor.

In fact, one of the council members discovered what it was like to be shunned by Schiavone when they endorsed Bob Buster over Schiavone in the supervisor election last June. That council person was one of the first to endorse him for city council elections and also signed on to the opinion piece that Schiavone authored defending the decision of City Manager Brad Hudson and City Attorney Gregory Priamos to defang the Community Police Review Commission. A lesson learned in hopes of not repeating it clearly.

No question that the DHL episode played a huge role in the defeat of Schiavone, because no matter how many perks that Schiavone felt he brought to the neighborhoods most impacted by that nightmare (and he did help along with other council members with the community center for example), the bad taste left by DHL (which departed in January) and the scandal involving GlobalPort never disappeared. It didn't help that Schiavone maintained his close ties with partners in GlobalPort including Aaron Knox whose "mailing house" might have been involved in circulating the mailers put out in his campaign. The lawyer he hired to represent him when he challenged Davis' campaign statement happened to be Moreno Valley Mayor and current March Joint Powers Commission member, Richard Stewart. Schiavone had made a big point out of talking about how he'd been bamboozled by the GlobalPort people what with having been "misled" about a bogus night flight map but he still kept close ties with many of those people including several who donated to his campaign coffers in last year's election and this year's as well.

The decision of Schiavone to lead the charge on implementing a controversial multi-tier electrical rate increase that few city residents understood and then claim again that he'd been misled didn't win him many fans either. And then he lost some supporters who liked most of what he did just fine but resented his targeting the CPRC for a spay and neuter over how it conducts its officer-involved death investigations. Bernstein tap danced lightly on the "cozy" relationship between Schiavone and Chief Russ Leach as most people do. But when it comes to micromanagement of the police department and its chief, hopefully that's one "void" that won't be filled anytime soon. Will Leach reemerge as the department's leader at public events or will he remain on the missing list for the most part? One would think that his 16% raise he received last December during a fiscally tough budget year would serve as a means to return him into the public eye as a chief and not a puppet brought out to perform on special occasions like efforts to undermine the CPRC.

Bernstein also speculates about who is going to take advantage of Schiavone's departure and fill the so-called vacuum created where the body's alpha dog once stood. Most likely, Councilman Chris MacArthur dragged by his legislative aide will try to fill the spot but it's not as likely that the remaining city council members including the two incumbents who did get reelected are looking for another leader.

What Riverside County Supervisor Bob Buster has to say about Riverside County's budget woes.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

Recently, District Attorney Rod Pacheco has praised his own efforts to control costs and for refusing money to buy furniture for his new building. But that came only after he fought needlessly for his preferred building design, which would have cost the county tens of millions more than the project the board had the good sense to approve over his repeated objections.

In the past five years, staffing in the prosecutor's office has increased dramatically. Recently, unfilled positions have been frozen. But that situation is the same in every other county department, where innovative managers already are finding ways to deal with exactly the same challenge.

Empty Criticism

It's not surprising that the district attorney advocates strongly for his own agenda, but his criticism about budget cuts rings empty. Public safety has long been the board's top priority. But unconditional support for any segment of county government not only can damage the county financially, it can threaten the community in ways that have nothing to do with crime.

The potential health threat from the county's recent bout with swine flu is an example of why, in the worst of economic times, we cannot gut some departments simply to float public-safety departments at boom-era levels.

There are other examples. During budget hearings, parents with children so disabled that they cannot sit on their own, speak or feed themselves begged board members not to cut specialized rehabilitation services that offer their children the best chance at meaningful lives. These are the difficult budget issues we must balance.

The San Bernardino City Council was warned more budget woes lie ahead.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

According to a city report, San Bernardino's $143 million general fund budget continues to be hit by dwindling tax revenue. The report forecasts a $918,000 decrease in property tax receipts next year. Likewise, it projects $17.8 million in sales tax revenue next year. That's about $10 million less than San Bernardino received four years ago.

Adding to the budget woes, state legislators may borrow up to $3 million of the city's property tax revenue, McNeely said.

"We need, in my opinion, to begin on a short-term basis, to be able look at how we get through this upcoming year," he said, adding later that "the alligators are snapping at our heels."

Councilwoman Esther Estrada balked.

"At what point are we risking future development on the back of the agency that's supposed to create the development?" she asked.

But Councilwoman Wendy McCammack said development won't take off anyway until business owners know San Bernardino to be clean and safe -- and she can accept a Redevelopment Agency loan to preserve essential city services.

More delaysin setting Riverside County's annual budget, not surprising given the drama that's taken place so far.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

Also on Tuesday, supervisors Marion Ashley and Roy Wilson each plan to volunteer for two-day-a-month furloughs and a 10 percent pay cut to their roughly $143,000 annual salaries. They say they are doing it to set an example and drive home to unions and elected officials the seriousness of the county's budget situation.

The county is seeking to close a $130 million budget gap for next fiscal year.

In the executive office's request to the board, county Finance Director Paul McDonnell warned that without layoffs or union concessions, the county would become insolvent. He said the office recommends that the final budget incorporate needed reductions in staff costs, and they can either be met with employee concessions or with hundreds of layoffs.

As initially written, the request to the board also criticized safety employee unions for not showing interest in working out a solution.

Some union representatives and sheriff's leadership said Friday they have been cooperating with the county and presenting possible solutions.

Late Friday, the county executive office reissued the document acknowledging that some union groups have been participating and removing comments that criticized the district attorney and sheriff's budget plans as unrealistic.

Michael Hestrin, president of the Deputy District Attorneys Association and Undersheriff Valerie Hill said they were offended by the executive office's earlier statements.

"We did as instructed. We built our budget around a 10 percent cut. We handed it in at the due date. ... They didn't like what it said," Hill said. "We aren't trying to do scare tactics or anything else. With so much money, this is what it would mean."

People in Norco are up in arms about plans to cut the city's fire department.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

The six firefighter layoffs are not yet certain. The city issued tentative pink slips last week, council members said, because they were unable to get the firefighters' union to agree to other concessions.

Council members said they were forced to consider the cuts to address dire budget projections, which forecast a continuing drop in sales and property taxes, a projected deficit of $1.8 million, and the possible state seizure of about $400,000 of city tax dollars.

"It is absolutely clear that the city has a financial emergency," Finance Director Andy Okoro said. "If the city cannot meet cash flow needs, it will not be in a position to pay employees and vendors. ...If you don't have enough cash in the bank to pay your bills, you're basically bankrupt at that point."

The council voted unanimously to declare financial hardship. Though the council was not scheduled to vote on the layoffs, firefighters and supporters wearing shirts that read "Save the Norco Fire Department" attended the meeting in force to oppose them.

The city shouldn't balance its budget on the backs of the firefighters, resident Rob Blake said, adding that the council should have gotten the budget under control sooner.

"If they didn't see this budget crunch coming, we shouldn't be looking at the Fire Department," he said. "We should be looking at (the council)."

Both the city council and the fire fighters of Norco had disagreed about the impacts of those layoffs.

Now amid all this conflict, Norco's fire chief is retiring.

In Atlantic City, the mayor is clamoring for a civilian review board.

(excerpt, Press of Atlantic City)

Langford said in a news release Tuesday that the board could help reduce incidents of inappropriate behavior by police officers. The board would have seven members, Langford said. Those members have not yet been chosen.

"In light of the many citizen complaints lodged during City Council meetings and in other forums concerning police brutality, we want to ensure that there is proper oversight and review of these matters," the mayor said in the release. "We have a duty to restore public confidence in our city's Police Department."

The department now forwards residents' complaints about police conduct to its Internal Affairs Division. Officials in the Mayor's Office said the board would not disrupt that process but would provide an added voice for residents. The news release pointed out that the board's recommendations would be "advisory and nonbinding."

A lot going on in Baltimore involving that city's police department. Internal Affairs charges have been dropped in 12 misconduct cases involving police officers.

(excerpt, Baltimore Sun)

The department halted all trial boards as the chief legal counsel, Mark Grimes, reviewed cases to determine the extent of the problem and whether cases could be salvaged. Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi confirmed Tuesday that the agency has issued 12 "letters of declination" informing officers that their cases have been dropped, but he did not provide additional details about the charges.

"The commissioner is committed to an efficacious process, and part of that process includes a proper handling of cases," Guglielmi said. "In these cases, the process was violated."

Because the review continues, more cases could be dropped, and those that aren't thrown out could become the subject of lawsuits. The union estimates as many as 40 officers could be affected.

"We believe a number of cases, on their face, will have to be dismissed, and we'll wind up in court [to challenge] others," Davey said.

Marvin L. "Doc" Cheatham, president of the Baltimore chapter of the NAACP, said he received a call late last week from Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III in which Bealefeld informed him of the impending move. Cheatham said Bealefeld sounded "irritated and regretful."

"This is scary," Cheatham said of the prospect of misconduct charges being thrown out in bulk. "There's too many things going on here, and if we don't get clear transparency, the only thing to do is call for an [outside review]."

Who's policing the police?

(excerpt, Baltimore Sun)

She's not the only person in that division to face questions about her conduct. The head of internal investigations resigned under pressure in the fall, and the attorney who handles race discrimination complaints for the department has, The Baltimore Sun's Justin Fenton reported, been engaged in an active private law practice, including at least one Baltimore criminal case.

Mayor Sheila Dixon called internal affairs a "weak link." Apparently she has a gift for understatement.

The police department's action this week is at least an improvement over its initial statements about Ms. Woodson-Branche. At first they claimed that because she was not actually an investigator on any of the cases, they wouldn't be compromised by any of her alleged misconduct. It's good to see they're taking the matter seriously. But what we need to know is this: Who's been watching over this division as it has slid into dysfunction? Is somebody at police headquarters responsible? How do we know this isn't going to happen again?

Trust between the police and the community is a precious commodity, one that has been strained over the years but one Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III has been trying to rebuild. For that to happen, we need to know that charges of police misconduct are being investigated thoroughly, fairly and professionally. Mr. Bealefeld should use this crisis as an opportunity not only to clean house but also to demonstrate to the community that the department has in place robust and transparent procedures to keep police in line.

The BART Police Department officer who shot and killed Oscar Grant on New Year's Day has been ordered by a judge to stand trial.

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