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

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

March 27, 2007: Epicenter of when micromanagement came to River City

There are several different stories about what led to the events on May 27, 2007 at City Hall and all of them are fascinating. Some say this was the date that the police chief of the Riverside Police Department lost his independence and his power to do his job, a problem that he apparently has faced since in the police department where it appears there are many cooks in the kitchen, all of them shrouded behind a curtain.

March 27, 2007 didn't really get exciting until about 6 p.m. when hundreds of police officers from two different labor associations and members of the public began gathering at City Hall just outside the city council chambers. This massive group was preparing to confront the city council on an agenda item which was no longer on the agenda. A fire storm of sorts which had brewed most of that week caused its removal in such a way that most of those living in the city would be none the wiser.

But the missing agenda item which was the focus of such controversy and crowds had left some tracks that couldn't be brushed away.

The item itself had actually been placed on the "tentative" meeting agenda nearly a week before the meeting by Administrative Analyst Jeremy Hammond upon instruction from the city manager's office. There were copies of this "tentative" meeting agenda circulated which showed that the city manager's office via Hammond was making a move towards changing the status of several high-ranking police management positions to being "at will" rather than contractually bound by the same rights and standards as captains. One of these copies ended up in the hands of this blogger. It was an item that stated that management positions in the police department would be "at will".

Not that assistant chiefs and deputy chiefs aren't in a sense "at will" employees already. They are picked by the chief to serve in those positions and when one chief is replaced by another, the newer chief can pick his own management team. So as a result, an assistant or deputy chief could be reduced back to being a captain. That happened to Mike Blakeley for example who lateraled in as a deputy chief to former Chief Ken Fortier and then when Fortier was run out and replaced by Chief Jerry Carroll, Carroll picked his own deputy chief and Blakely went back to being a captain. The difference is with these "at will" positions was that these management personnel in the police department might not just lose a nonclassified job title, but they could lose their jobs.

If you can recall what happened at that pivotal meeting, the city council fronted by about a half-dozen of its staff members backed down and almost pretended to act like they didn't know what the fuss was all about but rest assured, they did. Phone calls and emails had been sent to these elected representatives for nearly a week to complain about this action that was scheduled to take place.

March 27's meeting is seen by many as the day that the city manager's office tried to launch a coup detat of sorts against the police department's chief. But others say that what happened that day was merely a culmination of a series of actions taken by city management and counter actions taken by the police labor unions that began some time after that date in history.

Lt. Tim Bacon and Lt. Darryl Hurt state in their lawsuit, Hurt, Bacon v the City of Riverside that the ground work for this confrontation was actually laid much earlier in spring of 2006 when the city manager's office tried to change elements of classified positions within the sworn division of the police department. These positions were at its management level. This chain of incidents which led to the first confrontation in public on this issue was documented in their lawsuit.

On or around May 19, 2006, Bacon and Hurt learned that the city had placed an agenda item for a meeting to change the classification of certain RPAA employees without having a "meet and confer" with the RPAA leadership. The mission of the city's endeavor was to create "at will" positions within the RPAA's membership.

On May 23, 2006, Bacon and Hurt met with Chief Russ Leach, and Councilmen Art Gage and Frank Schiavone to discuss these issues that had arisen. A huge crowd of police officers and community leaders showed up at a council meeting to protest this proposed action.

Apparently this earlier protest spurred the city council or enough of its members to pull the reins on its direct employee, City Manager Brad Hudson to stop his attempts to make changes in the police department among its management level that could shape it into one more controllable by his department. But the problem is that once you pull the reins on Hudson to not engage in a questionable action, you have to keep those reins pulled in a firm grip. Because sometimes history repeats itself and this time it did.

And sure enough as already stated, the issue reared its head nearly a year later and hundreds of people appeared at the March 27 city council meeting to confront the city council, Hudson, DeSantis, City Attorney Gregory Priamos (who should have nipped the process in the bud in the beginning for legal reasons) and Chief Russ Leach. Presidents of the Riverside Police Officers' Association and Riverside Police Administrators' Association were there and spoke on the issue.

At that point, the city had pretty much backed down as it often does when greeted with crowds at City Hall. When that happens, someone like a former Councilman Frank Schiavone or a Mayor Ron Loveridge is already looking for an escape plan to turn the meeting around and make it appear that it was all much ado about nothing. Either that or "miscommunication" or "crossed wires" or some other catch phrases that get tossed about by elected officials when these major issues come to a head.

Before the meeting, the item had been removed from consideration and a statement appeared on the final meeting agenda that an unspecified item had been pulled. That of course, matched up numerically with the agenda item that had been included on the earlier tentative agenda describing the intent to reclassify the captain's positions through the nonclassified deputy and assistant chief ranks to being "at will". The day before the contentious meeting, members of the RPOA's leadership had met with former Councilman Frank Schiavone who was alerted to the situation the day before after having just returned from a trip to Mexico to messages on his answering machine. The RPAA had also expressed its grave concern.

According to Schiavone, he contracted Priamos about the situation late that Sunday night and that he had also received a phone call on the issue from Councilman Steve Adams.

I had contacted Hudson about the situation and received an email back from him saying that there was nothing unusual about what was being proposed for those police police positions. He said he offered the same option to other managers working under him in the city's ranks and that most or all of them accepted the offer willingly. Of course, the response to this by people in the city's employee ranks was that most of them feared the "at will" offer like they feared few other things. In fact, of the three police positions which were to be changed, one was a deputy chief position held by Dave Dominguez (who later retired and went to be police chief in Palm Springs). He flat out refused to change his status and he had good reason because allegedly Dominguez was included on a short list of management or supervisory employees, all Black or Latino that the city manager's office was trying to push out.

The List

Of that list, one employee, Tranda Drumwright, was fired and at least three others, Art Alcaraz, Jim Smith and Pedro Payne "resigned". When I first heard about this list from an anonymous source inside City Hall, most of these employees still had their jobs. If I was a bit skeptical at first, that soon went away when one by one these employees left the city during a relatively brief time span of about 18 months or so.

Today only one or two of them does and his or her name will remain anonymous to ensure that he doesn't suddenly "resign".

But anyway, Hudson's email had assured me that there was nothing out of the ordinary or extraordinary about the proposal to turn the assistant and deputy chief positions (which are essentially classified captain positions with a 2.5-5% pay increase) to being "at will". However, when I showed up at the city council chambers the evening of March 27, 2008 which by then was packed with lots of people, he came up to me and told me to ignore what he had written in the email and that Priamos' office had told him that public safety management positions could not be treated in a fashion similar to management positions in other city departments. The one question I had for Hudson was why if there was some legal issue complicating his plan to create "at will" management positions in the police department, why didn't he consult with the city's legal counsel before directing Hammond to put it on the tentative agenda in the first place?

After all it would have been made more sense to do that. Maybe the thought just never occurred to him in his drive to get this proposal passed and implemented. Even with this last-minute change of plans, the meeting still proved to be quite eventful.

When everyone sat down or stood up in the aisles and in the back of the chambers to the point where they spilled out the doors, the city council began to line up its employees like Hudson, Priamos and Leach to head everyone off at the pass by assuring them that nothing sinister was taking place and that the proposal to turn three of the police department's highest level positions to being "at will" was off the table. No one seemed very impressed by the series of rehabilitative and somewhat revisionist speeches being given them and people went to the podium and spoke on the issue anyway.

They didn't speak against the two management employees who had accepted their appointments into the "at will" positions or the one management employee who refused to go along with it. They didn't feel at that time that the appointments of "Johnny D.", "Pete" or "Diamond Dave" were bad choices or criticize their qualifications, in fact many approved of them. What bothered them was the process and the changing of the status of the management positions filled by these men to being "at will".

The RPOA: No "yes men"

One of those speaking was then RPOA President Ken Tutwiler who had this to say:

"At-will employees fear losing their jobs so they often become 'yes men'. "

And it's nearly impossible for management people in this position of being "at will" to be anything but, especially in Riverside at this point in time. Some of those people who "resigned" on that above list did so precisely because they weren't or didn't want to be "yes people". They wanted to be management employees with the freedom and the room to run their respective divisions or departments, not to be held on leashes and pulled back and/or threatened with termination or punishment if they didn't do or say "yes" quickly enough.

If you want to see what happens to an "at will" employee in a very short period of time, all you have to do is attend meetings of the Community Police Review Commission and sit there for about 30 minutes. The single most asked question by community members who attend these meetings (and there have been more of them lately) is who does the manager of the CPRC work for, the commission or City Hall (i.e. city manager)? And all it takes to answer it is simply sitting in a meeting and observing the chaos that erupts nearly without fail within the first 20 minutes. It's pretty clear that the manager works for DeSantis who on at least one occasion called a CPRC manager into his office complaining that the manager was doing a poor job of controlling the commissioners.

But then these days the second most commonly asked question by many of these same people is who do the commissioners work for.

Still, Tutwiler wasn't the only officer or individual in general to express the concern that if members of the police department management were to become "at will", then they would be "yes men" to someone or else they would no longer be employed.

Because one question remained unanswered in that episode involving the "at will" positions and that was who actually made the promotions into those positions? Was it Leach, the chief who's supposed to be the one who promotes or was it the city manager's office?

One account about this chain of events that was provided stated that Hudson himself made the decision to promote two of the individuals who were to be given the option of being "at will" employees at the time of promotions. In fact, this account alleged that Leach wasn't even in town at the time when Hudson appointed two sworn employees in the police department to fill the positions of assistant and deputy chief and that Leach knew nothing about it until he got back to Riverside. And when he did find out that these pivotal promotions had been made allegedly behind his back, he was very upset but ultimately bowed to the will of the city manager's wishes, being an "at will" employee of sorts himself. Because after all, if you're an "at will" employee in River City what else can you do but what the boss tells you?

Members of the RPOA had allegedly hoped that at the March 27, 2008 Leach would confront his boss about what he had done without him knowing a damn thing about it but of course, as hundreds of people in the audience saw, nothing like that happened. Leach gave the perfect performance of an "at will" employee and said exactly what Hudson wanted him to say. Just as he would several years later when he was used to help his boss change the investigative protocol involving how the CPRC handled its officer-involved deaths.

The person who provided the account stated that this pivotal moment in the city and police department's history was the beginning of the end of Leach's independence as a police chief. After that, it didn't take him long to become the micromanaged employee that he is today given scripts of words that he's required to say at public events including his most recent performance giving accounts of CPRC investigators trampling crime scenes after officer-involved deaths.

And that's fundamentally wrong. The police department is Leach's whether he's a good chief or a bad one. He is the one to be accountable for its accomplishments, mistakes and bad deeds. But it hasn't been his department in a while in the same way that it's been Hudson's or DeSantis' with a bit of Priamos and perhaps even several city officials put in the mix. A bunch of chefs in a kitchen hiding behind a curtain, shielded from accountability.

Riverside's Metropolitan Museum Board is pushing for smaller budget cuts for the museum in the city's annual budget.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

The city's museum department is devoted to preserving, arts, culture and history, said Norton Younglove, a former Riverside councilman and a former Riverside County supervisor.

"It just doesn't make sense," Younglove said.

So at Younglove's request, the advisory board voted to ask the City Council to restore some funding so the museum cut would be 17 percent, which would put the cuts near the same levels as those faced by the city library and park systems.

The 27 percent cut to the museum left just more than $1 million for the new fiscal year, which starts today. It was approved by the City Council last week as part of the city's $197.8 million general fund for most basic city services.

In a crowded meeting room in Metropolitan Museum, the museum director, Ennette Morton, quelled rumors that museum staff layoffs are eminent.

She said the museum budget has $844,820 to pay the salaries and benefits of the nine full-time workers and two part-timers. She added, though, she could not guarantee there would not be layoffs during the fiscal year.

Most of the museum budget cuts will be achieved by eliminating funds for at least seven vacant positions, Morton said. The last budget had 18 authorized positions, though actual staffing started drop below that level three years ago.

She added that City Manager Bradley Hudson directed her to keep the same level of programs, public hours and other public services.

"All the things we are doing, we will continue to do," she said.

The San Bernardino city manager said it's okay to borrow money from "special purpose" accounts to reduce its deficit.

(Excerpt, Press Enterprise)

In a memo distributed to city leaders Monday, City Manager Charles McNeely concurs with a finding by the city attorney's office arguing that such loans are permissible as long as they don't violate state restrictions.

That's a sharp departure from the position taken by McNeely's predecessor, former Interim City Manager Mark Weinberg. He argued that such borrowing would be likely to trigger a lawsuit under California's Prop. 218.

The 1996 measure amended the state constitution to prohibit the use of special-purpose assessments to pay for general governmental service.

In February, Councilwoman Wendy McCammack urged officials to consider borrowing from a $20 million reserve in a city refuse fund to plug a $9 million shortfall on San Bernardino's general fund. Weinberg strongly opposed the idea.

Still, in his recent memo McNeely points out that officials have approved such borrowing in the past, including a project to lower City Hall's energy costs with more efficient lighting and one to upgrade computers.

McCammack welcomed the changed perspective.

"There are certain funds that you can borrow from short term in order to get over some hurdles," she said. "If we had investigated that back in February, we wouldn't have lost so many city services."

No Los Angeles Police Department officers will be fired for actions taken in the 2007 May Day incident.

(excerpt, Los Angeles Times)

Bratton refused to criticize the decisions of the panels, which comprise various commanders and a civilian. Each officer is judged by a different panel.

"I never comment on board decisions because it might have a chilling effect on my command staff personnel who sit on those boards," he said.

Bratton cautioned that the board "has the clearest look at all the various sides of the issue. They hear from the officer."

Of the four officers Bratton sent to the boards, one received an official reprimand for being guilty of unauthorized force but was found not guilty of misleading statements.

A second officer charged with seven incidents of unauthorized force was found guilty of two of them and given a 12-day suspension.

A third officer was found guilty of unauthorized force, conduct unbecoming an officer and misleading statements and given a 20-day suspension.

A fourth officer was found guilty of two of seven counts of unauthorized force and received an official reprimand.

A civil rights group in Columbus, Ohio took complaints of police abuse and misconduct from city residents.

(excerpt, WBNS 10 TV)

The Columbus NAACP heard a variety of complaints from the roughly 35 people attending the meeting, 10TV's Glenn McEntyre reported.

The complaints ranged from intimidation to racial profiling. But Columbus NAACP President Noel Williams told 10TV News her group is particularly concerned over officer-involved shootings.

"There are a couple of cases that have come to our attention that we're going to focus on because there's a possibility - we're not sure, because we're not done with our investigation - that there may have been some unjust action by the officers involved," Williams said.

Two cases under scrutiny occurred in June of last year.

In one case, a Columbus police officer shot and killed Edward Hayes, 31, when the officer said Hayes refused to drop a gun he was carrying. Family members dispute the officer's account.

"He had his hands up (saying), 'Please don't shoot,' " Laura Valentine, Hayes' cousin, told the hearing. "And he was shot in the back."

Both a grand jury and an internal police investigation cleared the officer of any wrongdoing.

In another officer-involved shooting, 16-year-old Regina Jennings was injured in both arms after police said she refused to drop a weapon that, according to police, turned out to be an air rifle.

The officers' actions in the Jennings case are still under review.

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