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, September 02, 2009

Discussion of Ethics Code changes to go to City Council

`The Discussion of Ethics and the Ethics of Discussion

[Councilman Andrew Melendrez who chairs Governmental Affairs, Councilman Rusty Bailey and City Attorney Gregory Priamos discuss the ethics code and complaint process.]

[Councilman Rusty Bailey (l) and City Attorney Gregory Priamos hear public comment at the annual review of the city's ethics code and complaint process held by the Governmental Affairs Committee]

[From left, Linda Dunn of the Group, Gladys Walker, Chair of the Human Relations Commission and Barbara Purvis from the League of Women Voters speak out at the Governmental Affairs Committee on their recommendations to improve the implementation of the ethics code and complaint process]

"A man is truly ethical only when he obeys the compulsion to help all life which he is able to assist, and shrinks from injuring anything that lives."

---Albert Schweitzer

"On the whole human beings want to be good, but not too good, and not quite all the time."

---George Orwell

"Action indeed is the sole medium of expression for ethics"

---Jane Addams

"Cowardice asks the question, 'Is it safe?' Expediency asks the question, 'Is it politic?' Vanity asks the question, 'Is it popular?' But, conscience asks the question, 'Is it right?' And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular but one must take it because one's conscience tells one that it is right."

---Martin Luther King, jr.

What: Governmental Affairs Committee's annual review of the ethics code and complaint process

Where: Mayor's Ceremonial Room, City Hall

When: Wed. Sept. 2 at 4 p.m.

The Governmental Affairs Committee met at City Hall to conduct its annual review of the ethics code and complaint process. Its task was to come up with any recommendations that it believed were needed to forward to the city council at a meeting in about two weeks.

Over a dozen concerned city residents attended the meeting held in the Mayor's Ceremonial Room. Many spoke giving their recommendations to improve a very problematic process and many of the ideas which were expressed were similar in nature.

At the helm, was new committee chair, Councilman Andrew Melendrez who took over from the recently ousted Frank Schiavone who had presided over many a whitewashed annual ethics review process. Councilman Rusty Bailey attended the meeting but his colleague Steve Adams took a bye after injuring his leg again yesterday.

Unlike last year's review, the chairs and vice-chairs of the city’s board and commissions were actually invited to the meeting and those who attended included those from the Board of Public Utilities, the Park and Recreation Commission, the Resources Board and the Human Relations Commission. Those not the meeting included Sheri Corral and Peter Hubbard from the Community Police Review Commission who probably felt that they had attended too many meetings at City Hall already. Still, since these board and commission officers were invited this year, this means that the Governmental Affairs Committee won't have to repeat this entire process within a week.

Melendrez opened the meeting by asking the officers from those boards and commissions which recommendations they had come up with during their own annual review of the ethics code and process. Only the chair of the Board of Public Utilities had any suggestions to make and that was the inclusion of language in the core values section of the ethics code which would encourage members to attend meetings regularly. Apparently his board had experienced difficulties meeting quorum levels at its regular meetings.

There was some interesting preamble though to liven things up and to try to paint Riverside as the forefront of the movement in this region and even the state, at developing an ethics code and complaint process. At one point, someone said that this city was the only one that conducted an annual review of its code which meant it was especially visionary and thus praiseworthy for its fortitude in moving forward in this way. Pity the same accolades weren't applied to the Community Police Review Commission several months ago when it allegedly was the only form of civilian oversight in the state that conducted independent and parallel investigations of officer-involved deaths. Instead, the CPRC was viewed as a deviant, engaging in destructive and disturbing practices that needed to be stopped even though the sky hadn't fallen. It's interesting how selective city officials can be with their choice of adjectives from one situation to the next and forget that what is good for the goose is also good for the gander.

After he was done speaking, Melendrez began taking comments from the public. His style of conducting meetings was to give people their allotted three minutes to speak but allow them to answer questions asked by council members serving on the committee. The previous day, Melendrez said he was prepared to chair his first Governmental Affairs Committee meeting even while discussing such a contentious issue and he clearly was up to the task even as Bailey tried to dictate the direction that the meeting was headed. Part of this was because only two out of the three members were in attendance leaving Bailey in the position of having to propose any motion for action taken by the committee since committee chairs can't make motions. Yet, even if Adams had attended, it's likely that Bailey would have headed off on the same course.

The Group’s Chair Vaughn-Blakely has her recommendations that were compiled by her organization which had been at the forefront of the struggle to bring an ethics code and complaint process to Riverside. It had made a presentation to the Charter Review Committee on the process during its meetings in 2004. It pushed the charter committee and later the city council, to produce what would be called, Measure DD which would allow the voters to decide whether or not Riverside’s City Hall needed an ethics code and complaint process. Over 70% of the city’s voters decided that the city did need these things and so the ethics code was added to the city’s charter.

A research committee was selected by the mayor and city council to research how to put together and implement an ethics code for the city's charter and how to develop a complaint process which promoted accountability and transparency, two qualities which were universally sought but sorely lacking in the final product.

That was only the beginning of the battle to ensure that any ethics code and complaint process would include teeth and actually promote accountability and transparency in City Hall. Until then and some say after, only the public was expected to be ethical and professional at City Council meetings, not the city council members and this was backed by the quantity of letters being sent out by the City Attorney’s office to city residents compared to those being sent out for etiquette violations to elected officials. The threatening letters which were CCed to Police Chief Russ Leach were viewed as intimidating by those who received them and yet, members of the city council, albeit mostly ones who no longer sit on the dais would call city residents liars and say they had no ethics or class. With the change in composition in the last two city elections, this kind of acting out by elected officials has faded somewhat.

People polled during the election said that one major reason for voting against incumbents was that they felt that these individuals were rude at public meetings that they either attended or watched at home on cable television. Not to mention the city's decision to lease out office space at City Hall to a private company, the arrest and conviction of a development employee who once worked for Riverside County under now-City Manager Brad Hudson for embezzlement, the Bradley Estates debacle and grand theft and a certain 911 phone call that was made against an assistant city manager, all of which have made Riverside if not as scandal-ridden as its sibling on the northern part of the Inland Empire, worthy of further examination and scrutiny.

Vaughn-Blakely told the committee that the Group continues to monitor the implementation of the ethics code and complaints even four years after that took place. She mentioned that other cities including Grand Terrace, Temecula and San Bernardino County were researching the issue of whether or not they needed to adopt codes of ethics. She added that there needed to be more outreach by City Hall about the adopted code and the process of filing complaints.

"It needs to get outside of the walls and the TV station,” she said and out into the communities

The strongest and likely most controversial recommendation that came down from the Group not to mention nearly everyone else in attendance was the need for a committee of people who could independently deliberate and decide on complaints involving elected officials. Vaughn-Blakely suggested a panel of retired judges to do the job. Having a city council manned body like the Mayor’s Nomination and Screening Committee continue to do that task would be a huge mistake.

"We feel that is tantamount to the fox guarding the hen house", Vaughn Blakely said.

Barbara Purvis who’s a member of the Group and the League of Women Voters recommended that the city use the city clerk's survey and get copies of them circulated out to the public. She added her voice to the choir regarding the necessity of an independent and unbiased review panel.

"Even the perception of bias is not something that the city should continue to have," Purvis said.

Becky Diaz from the Community Settlement spoke next from a “community perspective” in support of the Group’s recommendations. She said that an independent or ad hoc committee to do a review of the complaints would promote transparency. She wanted to send the message that government promotes transparency which she believed would increase community engagement.

“People are intimidated to go to CC meetings because they are afraid they will be ganged up on,” she said, and added that the process of city council would be too large for them.

Ken Stansbury, formerly of the Riversiders for Property Rights told the committee he was so moved by Diaz' words that he had to speak. He told everyone there how he had tried to exercise his right to process and transparency but was sued for his effort by the city through a SLAPP suit. He and other members of the organization (which tried to circulate a petition to put an initiative on the city's ballot against Eminent Domain which benefited private developers) were threatened by the city with paying its attorneys' fees which is the very definition of a SLAPP suit (even though the city's attorneys denied this was what they were doing).

“A Renaissance has to have the reality of transparency and you can't sue people for trying to use the process of putting something on the ballot,” he said.

He added that he had spent a couple of years on the bad end of a stick. Ethics is necessary to have a place to discuss issues.

"It has to be real," Stansbury said.

Linda Dunn, of the Group asked about the time frame of complaints, including when they will be heard and a ruling issued by the deciding body. What's the time line and will the person be told about it? What's the role of the city attorney in the process? These were her questions that she and everyone else waited to see who would provide answers.

Melendrez tackled the last one first.

"The role of the city attorney is advisory," Melendrez said, “We look at the complaint and speak to the attorney."

But part of the problem has been that even though the ordinance states that Priamos' role is to be "advisory" in nature, it's clear that some current and/or former elected officials wanted him to do more than that. In fact, even though the Mayor's Nomination and Screening Committee as a venue for hearing complaints has been criticized, only one of the handful of ethics code complaints filed against elected officials actually made it that far. In at least two other cases, the complainants were shocked to receive letters of closure from Priamos regarding their complaints.

One complaint was dismissed because the city government apparently through direction to Priamos had decided that third-party complaints against elected officials would not be allowed, despite no language at the time in the process forbidding those complaints from moving forward. The second complaint, was also disqualified on the basis of language that didn't exist in the defining least not at the time the complaint was initially filed.

Kevin Dawson, Save-Riverside talked to the committee about his experience with filing a complaint against former Ward One Councilman Dom Betro and how instead of receiving a letter that it was going to be reviewed by the Mayor’s Nomination and Screening Committee, he received a letter from Priamos disqualifying his complaint. Later on, Betro who was running for reelection and Schiavone who had endorsed him had convened a Governmental Affairs Committee meeting with the intent of inserting language stating that an elected official had to be acting within his official capacity to be subject to complaint in the ordinance.

"After the fact, they fixed the code so that a complaint like mine could never be filed again,” Dawson said.

He said that the two men had carried out the action for a "self-serving" purpose and Dawson wanted the language revoked because it was added inappropriately by individuals who have a conflict of interest in the situation.

Jim Martin spoke up saying that he had received a letter from the city from CA for absolutely nothing.

“I felt at the time I was being attacked by a gang of seven who had a private attorney,” Martin said.

"My attorney"

Martin touches on another problem with some of the city's elected officials and that is that they tend to view and even on occasion (i.e. Councilwoman Nancy Hart) call Priamos "my attorney", meaning that he represents them as individuals rather than as a governmental body. That might be one belief system that caused problems for Schiavone when he became involved in what became the Bradley Estates episode. And Priamos has told people on occasion that his number one responsibility is to protect the city council and mayor. When he was allegedly asked "from what", apparently Priamos wasn't able to provide an answer.

The complaints of ethics need to be handled by someone outside the city government, Martin added.

After public comment was taken, the committee members spoke on the changes they wished to recommend for implementation by the full city council in several weeks.

Bailey said he already had a motion in mind. He agreed with the Groups recommendation and that the complainant should receive a notice in writing within 60-90 days of lodging the complaint.

He agreed with several speakers’ contention that the city council annual review of the code and complaint process should be held as a public hearing held at night rather than being included on the consent calendar.

Priamos piped up and said that it's never been on the consent calendar. But Vaughn-Blakely and Purvis disagreed with his recollection and said that it has been on consent calendar at least once and that they had complained to Schiavone who had finally changed it and put it in its appropriate place. Priamos agreed that it should never have been on the consent calendar.

"Last year, it was on the discussion calendar," Priamos said, "I do know that."

Bailey wanted to codify that recommendation seeming a bit perturbed by it. However, Melendrez said, it should be kept as a public hearing.

Vaughn-Blakely wants to know what's the resistance to it being a public hearing. Priamos said that the concern is to have it at night so it's a maximum attendance and that most public hearings are held during the day sessions of city council meetings. Which is an odd thing to be concerned about considering that public hearings are often heard during the evening sessions pf city council meetings including the one held the previous night and they are often scheduled to take place at 7 p.m.

Vaughn-Blakely argued that the difference between putting it on the discussion calendar versus conducting it as a public hearing was the process in terms of gathering opinions for and against and then giving both sides the opportunity to present their cases to the city council. .

Let the public know that you want input and to come down and provide it, Purvis added.

Do Politicians have their own Code of Silence?

Bailey resisted a bit at addressing the recommendation which he called the most controversial on the list which was to have an independent body of retired judges handle the complaints, otherwise known as the most popular suggestion posed at the meeting by those who attended. Bailey threw up the flag right away, citing his military background beginning as a graduate of West Point Academy. It's interesting that he objected to retired judges considering his own father, William Bailey, Sr. is one. And Bailey's father hadn't been completely uncontroversial while he was on the bench.

At a criminal trial in 2001, he allegedly got in an argument during a motion to dismiss with Riverside County District Attorney's office prosecutor John Aki over the veracity of the testimony of a Riverside Police Department officer (now retired) and essentially called Aki's only witness in this particular case, the officer, a liar by saying he wouldn't believe anything he said. Within three months of the trial, the officer retired from the department with eight excessive force allegations coming out of the Pitchess motion (which covers a five-year period and was the subject of several motions even after the judge conducted an en camera hearing), a domestic violence investigation and about 11 years in the agency, according to court records submitted in relation to this trial that led to the acquittals of two women and the dismissal of charges against one man by Bailey, Sr. The city later settled litigation in federal court with the city tying into this case.

Still, Bailey, Jr. seemed tempered somewhat by the whole idea of retired judges deciding whether the behavior of elected officials including presumably his was an ethics violation. So what was his argument? One that if you consider where you've seen or heard it before, should seem very, very familiar.

"I believe in policing your own ranks," Bailey said. "You would be giving up responsibility that we ultimately have away."

The city council would be giving that responsibility to a group of whoever to censure other elected officials, Bailey lamented. Yet what he doesn't appear to realize is that the city council has a poor history of policing itself. Council members have called members of the public liars and classless even while other city council members laugh at what they've said. Some of them appear appalled but sit there quietly as if politicians have their own code of silence similar to that which pervades many law enforcement agencies. And unlike law enforcement officers, politicians have much more power in their grasp so they have no excuse for a failure to report or to act due to concern about retaliation by management or by peers. Unlike police officers, they won't be retaliated and run out of their agencies and any code of silence they have isn't tied into survival as it might be in law enforcement. They don't have their decision on whether to act or not based on how safe they will be in the field when they need other officers to back them up in dangerous situations. So what is the purpose of any Code that they have, if Bailey's comments hint that there is one at least from his perspective?

Still, Bailey pressed forward with his contention that no one need to look at elected officials' behavior except themselves.

"It's our responsibility to do that," said Bailey.

Melendrez, disagreed with Bailey’s contention saying that the view of the community as a whole doesn't think the council is doing that to itself regarding its own behavior. Distrust of community members towards professions which believe they can self-investigate or self-police has always been a factor in relations between law enforcement and community members and as Melendrez pointed out, between elected officials and community members as well.

But Bailey does put an interesting spin on his argument. One that does have some merit.

"And you've seen the community's response to that," Bailey said, implying about the recent role of municipal elections of kicking incumbents out of office.

Not that Melendrez appeared to be moved by his words. In his political career so far, they haven't had much application.

The community wants the ability to trust the code and because of what's happened in the past they have lost that trust, Melendrez said.

Bailey reiterated that voters have taken care of that.

"Are those people here anymore," Bailey asked.

He's probably referring mostly to the incumbent he ousted in his election in 2007, former Councilman Art Gage who's running for mayor this time around but quite a few faces have disappeared alongside that of Gage from the legislative side of the dais anyway.

Melendrez said that anytime it's taken outside the group, that it's only recommendations not binding decisions.

"It's up to the council to set up the parameters of what's going to happen to the individual after an independent review,” Melendrez said to soften Bailey up regarding his concerns about being reviewed by an independent body.

Bailey said, I am ready to make a motion. But resisted the idea of independent review of city council conduct a bit longer.

“It might help with perception but it's not going to happen with reality,” he said, “With accountability comes to responsibility."

He seemed to believe that others outside their ranks were in no position to judge so he said he wanted elected officials to be added to any review panel that would include retired judges.

"People who walk in our shoes have experiences and have the abilities to police our own ranks,” he said.

Of course, that's a very select club of individuals indeed even if you threw in some retired elected officials.

Melendrez wanted to add two more things including a recommendation to adopt Dawson’s suggestion about removing the language amended at the 2007 Governmental Affairs Committee meeting.

"I believe as public officials we need to be on our best behavior at all times," he said.

That shocked some people and it will be interesting how the full city council handles that move by Melendrez, along with the call for the creation of the independent panel of retired judges or as Bailey would have it, political officials with maybe some retired judges. And it might be entertaining to watch as well.

The recommendations head now to be heard and decided upon by the full city council in about two weeks.

The controversy over the use of tasers by police comes to Riverside County with three deaths recorded by the Riverside County Sheriff's Department.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

Extreme agitation, whether from drugs or mental illness, is a common factor in deaths during encounters with police, studies show. As more police departments use Tasers, more deaths in custody are accompanied by Taser shocks. It's not clear what role, if any, Tasers play in these deaths. But some worry the electric shocks from Tasers can cause potentially fatal cardiac problems.

"These are supposed to be nonlethal weapons, and yet we're seeing increasing numbers of deaths," said Hector Villagra, director of the Orange County office of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California. "The risks are not completely understood."

TASER International, the company that manufactures Taser stun guns, says the vast majority of Taser deployments have resulted in minor or no injuries. The company says stun guns can help save lives by allowing officers to quickly subdue suspects without more violence. Police, too, defend stun guns as a tool to avoid more serious injuries to suspects, as well as officers.

Groups such as the ACLU and Amnesty International have urged police to use greater caution with stun guns, pointing out that research is inadequate and that hundreds of people have died after receiving shocks from Tasers.

Villagra's office in January issued a letter to the Orange County Sheriff's Department requesting that officials revisit their policy regarding the use of Tasers after two deaths last year. The ACLU cited a 2006 study of deaths following Taser shocks that showed more than 75 percent of the cases involved illegal substance abuse, and a 2002 Seattle Police Department study that showed 60 percent of those shocked with Tasers were "impaired, often severely, by alcohol, drugs, or a mental illness or delusion."

"Perversely, what happens is that the population the Taser gets used against most often is the population that is most at risk," Villagra said.

The whistleblower who allegedly told on two high-ranking San Bernardino County Fire Department employees now under investigation alleged she is facing retaliation for her efforts. Never a dull moment in the corrupt county.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

In a claim filed Monday, Tina Sutera, an administrative supervisor for the San Bernardino County Fire Department, contends the county is actively working to terminate her and to make her job unnecessary.

The county locked Sutera out of her office, went through her files and computer and transferred her assistant to create increased workload, according a copy of the claim provided by her attorney.

"An atmosphere of fear and paranoia has been instilled at the Fire Department due to the witch hunt perpetrated against Sutera," the claim reads.

Furlough days are coming to Riverside County's workforce.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

"This has been a tough process as we talked early on through these negotiations. The relationship, as you know, has not been that great with SEIU, but I think we have started a new day here," Supervisor John Tavaglione told union members at the board meeting. "The need for us to work together in the coming years is critical."

The board also reviewed the county's challenging budget situation and honored former Supervisor Roy Wilson. Tuesday was the first regular meeting since Wilson's death last week of unspecified health problems.

The county's new labor agreement with the 6,000-member service workers union is retroactive. It takes effect as of Aug. 1 and lasts until the end of this fiscal year, June 30, 2010.

The union agreed to unpaid furloughs equivalent to two days a month, which the county says will amount to a 10 percent reduction in salary costs. Human Resources Director Ron Komers estimates the savings at about $48.4 million.

The county agreed to some union demands including undoing recent changes to overtime policies that had reclassified certain union employees as no longer eligible for overtime.

Union members voted Monday to ratify the contract with more than 90 percent in favor, according to SEIU.

Supervisors voted 3-1 Tuesday to approve it.

Supervisor Bob Buster voted no, saying he was concerned about the overtime changes. More employees will now be eligible to claim overtime, and staff expects that will cost the county at least $4.6 million more this year, he said.

The Orange County Register files for bankruptcy. Hardly shocking, given the state of print journalism in this country.

Beaumont, Texas city residents want a civilian review board.

(excerpt, KFDM)

"I'd like to challenge city council to select a person from each of their wards and that way citizens can feel involved and not shut out. Right now they feel shut out of the process," said Vernon Durden.

"I think the council always considers what citizens bring to us," said Mayor Becky Ames.

The requests before council come one day after the Jefferson County District Attorney's Office released dashboard video of a Beaumont traffic stop.

The meeting was calm and the speakers level headed. They asked council to re-visit and long-time issue that's been raised in Beaumont over and over again. A citizen review committee.

"This is just a committee to review information. Not to try to administer the law or understand the law. We understand the situation that happened and see them in an objective way," said Paul Brown.

Brown suggests the committee would review and advise on internal affairs department's handling of complaints and hear appeals from officers and complaintants and publicly reports its findings.

"It's all about transparency in government and that's the best thing it puts citizens at ease. It's an option. We'll weigh that option," said Councilman Jamie Smith.

The tasing of a 76-year-old man in a Wyoming town creates an uproar among the residents.

(excerpt, Associated Press)

"To me it doesn't matter if this was a town of Glenrock's size or New York City. This kind of stuff can't go on," said Grose's son, Mike. "It doesn't matter if there's 10 officers or a thousand, this is just totally unacceptable. We're taught to respect the law, not fear it."

The fracas at the annual Deer Creek Days arose from confusion over whether members of the tractor club could deviate from the parade route shortly before it ended.

Grose wanted to head directly to the town park for a tractor pull like in previous years. But the police department had a different plan, which apparently was not communicated to the tractor drivers.

As a result, Grose encountered a Glenrock officer attempting to direct the tractors along the regular parade route. Grose said he drove around the officer. The officer said he was struck by the tractor and injured his wrist, according to a state review of the incident.

"He, for some reason, said no, and I, for some reason, thought to myself yes," Grose recounted.

The police chief said the officer then chased Grose on foot until a fellow officer joined the pursuit in a police SUV and caught up to Grose's tractor. The police pulled in front of the tractor, and the tractor came to a stop as it bumped the SUV.

That is when the officer shocked Grose with the Taser. Grose eventually managed to pull the tractor around the police SUV and to a parking area down the road. An angry crowd formed as police kept ordering Grose off the tractor. Police did not arrest Bud Grose because of the tension at the scene, Sweet said.

"At the time, it was very close to having a riot right there, and that probably would have created a full-scale riot," Sweet said.

Grose's son, Mike, agreed. "There was some very good people there ready to make some bad choices that would have affected them for the rest of their lives," he said. "That's the point it had gotten to."

Sept. 8-14 Racial Equality Week

Oh, I went and did it. I started playing Sim Horseracing. Proud Sheila, my virtual three-year-old roan filly by Blaze the Green walked the shed row today, will jog a lap tomorrow and will be be taken to the track the day after in a 2 f blowout (aiming for around : 48) tomorrow to prepare for her racing debut at 7 1/2 fur on the dirt in a MSW this Sunday afternoon up in Canada.

I think I should have started with an Appy.

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