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, September 15, 2009

Ethics 101: 24/7 city council member; Part-time accountability

"Blogs are like the brown stuff that you flush down"

---Councilman Steve Adams during a city council meeting last year. He led the vote to muzzle a recommendation proposed to the full city council by the Governmental Affairs Committee that it revoke language stating that complaints can only be filed against city officials while they are acting as city councilmen in public. The language was added not long after Kevin Dawson filed his complaint against Councilman Dom Betro who participated in the process of voting to approve the added language.

The Riverside City Council discussed whether or not to implement any changes to the ethics code and complaint process after receiving a report from the Governmental Affairs Committee meeting held last week.

Mayor Ron Loveridge who's been talking more at meetings during his reelection season than is usual introduced the item.

Governmental Affairs Committee Chair Andrew Melendrez said that some recommendations had come out of last week's committee meeting and that he hoped the city council would embrace and endorse them.

The list of recommendations were as followed:

1) Remove provision that code of ethics and conduct that it only applies to individuals in their official capacity and the discharge of their duties

2) Add aspiration that members of boards and commissions and committees make a diligent effort to attend all the meetings of their boards, commissions and committees.

3) Add provision when members of boards and commissions participate in a quasi judicial process can't contact mayor or city council members to influence their vote.

4) City should provide a written response to complaining party within 90 days.

5) Annual review take place as a notified public hearing in an evening session of regularly scheduled meeting.

An Also-Ran?

The committee also discussed the creation of an independent panel to review and decide on complaints as an alternative to the Mayor's Nomination and Screening Committee that could provide an objective and unbiased process. Melendrez recommended that it go back to the Governmental Affairs Committee for further discussion.

Melendrez said the city council needed to focus on bridging the relationship between the city council and the community. The reason for wanting to create an independent panel is because a breakdown already had taken place in the process, according to Melendrez.

Loveridge asked Melendrez to frame the motion for the city council and Melendrez said he wanted the city council to accept the recommendations and return the concept of substituting another committee for addressing complaints to Governmental Affairs. He also discussed the eight core values included in the ethics code as if he really believed in them. Here's one councilman that can convincingly convey their importance in a way that some of his dais mates cannot.

What he said made a lot of sense. You would think that the rest of the city council members would try to outdo each other endorsing his vision including his emphasis on the core values. But then you'd be wrong.

Public Comments

Community members showed up to speak on the issue during the public comment period, using their three-minutes in the most effective and economical manner. Kevin Dawson, from Save-Riverside, asked that the recommendations be accepted by the city council and he asked for consideration of there being a choice for complainants between having an independent panel of retired judges or the Mayor's Nomination and Screening Committee do it. He discussed the practice of city council members and mayors on the dais endorsing each other during the election and that hurt the trust in believing they could be objective in the process of deliberating and deciding on ethics complaints. He also said that the process should follow the resolution in that if complaints are supposed to go to the Mayor's Nomination and Screening Committee, they should go there and not the City Attorney's office which he believed was a violation of the code. The code of ethics should be the minimal standard of professional conduct and they should be ready to set the standard for ethical behavior.

"Let's strengthen the code of ethics for a time when the council might not be so good," Dawson said.

Linda Dunn, a member of the committee which developed the code of ethics after voters put it in the city charter in November 2004 by passing Measure DD. She praised the improvement in outreach including the production of a brochure in English and Spanish to give to the public. She said it wasn't clear that the Mayor's Nomination and Screening Committee will handle complaints and who served on it.

Loveridge interjected and said it consisted of the mayor and members of the Governmental Affairs Committee.

Dunn continued by saying that the turnout for the Governmental Affairs Committee meeting was very good and the members of the committee were receptive producing recommendations that people could support. More clarity was needed on the screening process especially since out of the five complaints actually filed, only one of them even was heard by the Mayor's Nomination and Screening Committee. She said that an explanation needed to be provided by the city council as to what happened with the process, but the answer is really quite simple. People in the city either don't have much information about the ethics code or complaint process or they have little faith in it given that only 20% of the ethical complaints filed have even made it where they were supposed to go according to the ordinance language pertaining to the code and complaint process.

She believed that an outside panel to hear complaints should be put into place, a recommendation supported by many people.

Barbara Purvis from the League of Women's Voters said that the city council needed to establish a committee of citizens as part of a blue-ribbon panel to review the code of ethics including a review of other cities and one produced by her organization years ago. She thought the code needed to be expanded to include city management and to go beyond what the citizens required as a minimum. She supported recommendations that Governmental Affairs Committee referred to the city council including returning the issue of the impartial panel to review complaints against elected officials back to the committee as long as they're asked to get a response back within three months.

She praised City Clerk Colleen Nicol's excellent efforts to publicize the meetings held involving the ethics code and process.

The Group Chair Jennifer Vaughn-Blakely who chaired the committee that created the code said that the recent Governmental Affairs Committee meeting was the most productive in the committee's history of performing annual reviews on the ethics code and complaint process.

"We've made more progress than we've ever made," Vaughn-Blakely said.

She said that the only recommendation that didn't get forwarded was the one involving the aforementioned creation of the independent panel.

Comments from the Dais

Loveridge said last year, action had been taken to eliminate the screening of complaints by the City Attorney's office and have them sent to the Mayor's Nomination and Screening Committee. He asked Priamos to talk about how Riverside wasn't just following the parade but was leading the parade in terms of the creation and implementation of ethic codes. He also said that apparently other cities were using Riverside as their models. But given that the history of complaints not being steered past Priamos' office is so paltry, is it a case of the image being much more stellar than the reality of the implementation?

Priamos discussed the ethics training that members of boards and commissions undergo. He finished by saying that they weren't "part of the mainstream but ahead of the pack".

Councilman Steve Adams said he missed the meeting as a member of the committee but discussed how the changes had actually taken place within the last year or so when of course, he was on the Governmental Affairs Committee doing the annual reviews of the ethics code and complaint process. Although he missed the earlier committee meeting due to surgery, he more than made up for lost time by seizing control of the direction that the discussion would go in during the city council discussion. Though several people on the dais tried to slow down the Adams train, ultimately it proved futile.

Priamos told the city council that there were no complaints filed in the past two years. Adams continued to give some of his speeches on how the voters kept the elected officials accountable through the election process.

"There have been some radical changes," Adams said.

What he didn't mention is that one of the "radical changes" which have led to an almost complete turnover on the dais in the past few elections almost happened to him in his last election cycle. Well, not counting his failed attempts to win a state office by not even getting out of the Republican Primary while still serving as a council member. But the lead he enjoyed in his first council election win in 2003 had shrunk considerably by four years later, so much so that there's already rumors that he's decided not to try for a third term and there are a handful of prospective candidates thinking about tossing their hats in the ring in 2011 regardless of whether he runs or not. Adams has his moments when he speaks out and does the right thing but his motion was all about protecting his own interests and trying to scare enough of his dais mates with worst-case scenarios to get them to fall into line behind him. What can you say about it because it worked.

Adams said that the massive changes have been made in part because voters didn't like the way they behaved and voted them off. He said that neither he nor the city council had endorsed those individuals but apparently he seems to believe that city residents only remember former Councilman Art Gage's lack of support on the dais while running for reelection in 2007 and while running for mayor against Loveridge this year. But city residents remember how either the majority or several city council members on the dais did support the losing reelection bids of former Councilman Frank Schiavone earlier this year and former Councilman Dom Betro in 2007. The city council has given blanket endorsements to enough losing city council members to lead people to think it's more of a statement of their closing ranks as a private club of sorts than at successfully picking the winner of an election race.

As Adams has done in the past, his comments provided some unintentional humor as his last bid to be reelected to his seat produced a squeaker of a run-off election which he won by barely more than a dozen votes despite outspending his rival by more than 20 to 1. So the number of constituents in his ward who support him isn't quite the 50,000+ he cited throughout the meeting. In actuality, only a few thousand registered voters cast votes in the 2007 election for Ward Seven, which has never had a history of high-voter turnout. Some of the statements that Adams put out as "factual" besides this one will be analyzed further in future blog postings as there are too many of them he made to be addressed in this posting.

"We don't arbitrarily endorse our colleagues," Adams said, then went to say that several people who they didn't endorse in recent elections "were no longer here" and they didn't endorse them because of their conduct.

One candidate who wasn't endorsed by the majority of the city council didn't win reelection but two others who did enjoy these types of endorsements were actually voted out.

Adams strongly vetoed the striking of the provision on elected officials maintaining a standard of behavior at all times. He said that it sets up the city council officials to be harassed and targeted by "special interest" groups during election cycles and essentially in a back-handed way accused city residents of harassing elected officials by filing complaints against them. Perhaps that's because he has received two of the five complaints filed against him, neither of which made it past the City Attorney's office. Both complaints were filed against him for statements he made from the dais insulting city residents who criticized him at the dais including calling them liars or saying they had "no class".

"There is no bridge to gap," Adams said, "There are always people who are going to disagree as a whole of what we do."

Apparently, Adams hasn't been in his ward lately if he believes that. Most candidates who win elections by such narrow margins as he did in 2007 would fully understand that at least in their own district, there may be a few bridges that needed to be gapped. But Adams keeps acting as if he won his last election by a landslide and it's interesting to watch him try to sell his vision of the election which differs so much from the results provided by the Riverside County Registrar of Voters. Below are links which will take you to the election results for the Ward Seven contests held in 2003-04 and 2007.

Some interesting election statistics

Ward Seven City Council results for 2003, first round are here. According to these results, Adams loses to Terry Frizzel by 21 votes.

Ward Seven City Council results for the runoff election in 2004 are here and show Adams beating Frizzel by 161 votes.

Ward Seven City Council first round election results are here and show Adams beating Frizzel by nearly 300 votes.

Ward Seven City Council final results for 2007 are here and they show Adams narrowly defeating Frizzel by only 13 votes.

What's different between the two elections is Adams' failure to build on his first round election, the second time around because the "anybody but Adams" vote was strong enough to nearly knock him out of contention. Why did that "anything but..." sentiment grow so much during the four year period between his election bids? Why was it nearly successful at pitching him out along with Betro and Gage?

Adams said that striking the provision encourages the harassment of city council members and that it required city officials to be under the code and subject to discipline 24/7. City Council members are only part-time according to the city charter so that this language in the charter that was passed by the Governmental Affairs Committee in July 2007 should remain in the code.

"The main censure of my conduct is those who vote in my ward," Adams said, again not adding that he only won his reelection bid in 2007 by 13 votes.

Adams provided a substitute motion to accept the recommendations except the one stripping the "professional capacity" language.

Councilman Mike Gardner said that elected officials should know that if they're at grocery stores or the movies, people who recognize them will come up to them, causing him to feel like he's "on-duty" a lot of the time.

He knew that elected officials are held to a higher standard by the public and he knew that going in and he believed that elected officials need to hold those higher standards.

He spoke of changing the guidelines of allowing three unexcused absences being grounds for leaving the boards or commissions and believed that the rules needed to be changed to be stricter because if board and commission members miss too many meetings, they can't do the work. Well, that might be true for most board and commissions but for the Community Police Review Commission, they can miss more than three meetings and be elected as chair and vice-chair of the commission. But he did raise a critical point, that hopefully will be addressed but it wasn't part of the substitute motion suggested by Adams.

Gardner said he didn't necessary oppose the independent panel but that it needed to move beyond a concept with further addressing of questions including how people would be appointed and also added that the only body that could discipline an elected official is the city council. So any finding that a city council member misbehaved, would go back to the city council for action.

Councilman Chris MacArthur asked Priamos about the "professional capacity" provision and he said that city council members who ran for office didn't always act in that capacity as a city council member. Whether or not he was aware that he had brought up the complaint that Dawson filed against Betro as an example, wasn't clear. The same complaint that Priamos played a role in burying as directed by one or more elected officials.

MacArthur said he agreed with Gardner that they were onduty 24 hours a day, seven days a week but agreed with Adams about the provision which would strike the provision about "professional capacity" which he believed could be misused. He believed that the language needed to stay in to produce a "level playing field" so a council member who's a candidate can fully get his message out. His comments were pretty disturbing.

It's clear that someone wants to be able to take the gloves off when he runs for reelection without worrying about the ethics process and considering the mudslinging and racism that took place in the Ward Five race mostly by the MacArthur campaign including the labeling of one of his challengers Harry Karuni as of Middle-Eastern descent in a negative and stereotypical way and false statements made about candidate, Donna Doty-Michalka that led to protests by the Riverside Police Officers' Association which in 2007 endorsed her over MacArthur and didn't endorse Adams.

He also wanted an online reference to conflict of interest statements and Adams eventually added that language to his substitute motion.

Melendrez spoke up again and said that he believed that the online issue MacArthur raised was a separate matter. He said that the city council needed to go back and focus on the eight core values. As long as the city council complies with them, there should be no fear about the "professional capacity" language being taken out.

Adams beat the gavel some more by saying that what if Bailey flunked a student as a teacher and then someone files a complaint against him as a councilman, it will go forward if the language is removed. He says they've opened the door for the filing of more complaints by anyone who wants to file against them.

"I'll defy anyone who says they put more hours here than I do," Adams said, but added he wanted his own private time.

He talked about council members being intimidated by people who could file complaints against them for everything and then said that there's been no complaints filed by a rush of his constituents and that it's inappropriate to put that kind of power in the hands of those who would abuse it because they don't need it. Which is ironic because person after person has said that they're either too afraid or intimidated to attend and speak out at city council meetings because of abusive comments made by essentially one current and several former city councilmen.

Councilwoman Nancy Hart asked Priamos about the outside committee and wants him to tell the community about what he said to her. Priamos went forward to explain that any decision an outside body makes is strictly advisory. The only body that can take action against a colleague who violates the code is the city council and the only action that can be taken by the city council is a public censure.

The issue to be decided is whether or not the city council wants to provide an advisory body but they'll have to decide the scope of their duties and responsibilities. It's too bad that discussion's going to have to wait.

"It sounds like an abdication of our own ability to do what we're encharged to do," Hart said.

She said she didn't recall any complaints being filed involving a council member's outside employee and then Priamos said that only one was filed.

Councilman Paul Davis said that he realizes that he's a 24/7 council member and has to be accountable as a council member and a political candidate if that's the case.

"That puts us on notice," Davis said, "We need to check our facts."

He didn't seem sure about whether or not he agreed with the creation of an independent review body but that it should be done on a case by case basis.

Loveridge called the motion by Melendrez which he supported as well as Adams' substitute motion to a vote. He said that a person can come up with a lot of "what ifs" but he considers himself an elected official beginning when he wakes up in the morning.

"Rather than having too many complaints," Loveridge said, "There have been zero in the past two years."

Being judged as a city official at all times "comes with the territory," Loveridge said.

Melendrez praised the mayor as being an appropriate example of someone behaving professional as a professor and as an elected official. He stayed with his initial motion adding the portion to evaluate the attendance provisions of boards and commissions, on Gardner's recommendation.

Adams said that they serve as 24/7 city council members but they have times when they're not city council members. He seems awfully worried about being subjected to complaints for outside activities, more so than someone like Melendrez.

"I take the voice of my 50,000 plus constituents over something like this," Adams said.

Adams' motion passes by a 4-3 vote, with Gardner, Melendrez and Davis voting against it and Hart, MacArthur and Bailey joining Adams in passing it. Even though Loveridge said he supported Melendrez' motion, he didn't veto the vote to even let Melendrez' come to a vote but then Loveridge has never exercised his veto power only threatening to use it once in 2004 involving the CPRC.

So Adams' ranting about being persecuted over his off-duty behavior was successful but talk about drawing attention to it which is exactly what he did whether he intended to do so or not. The vote left some with the feeling that it clearly delineated who's concerned that their "non-24/7 behavior" will be judged and who frankly doesn't give a damn because they don't feel like there's reason to do so.

Melendrez is to be commended for the leadership he showed at the Governmental Affairs Committee when really, the first genuine annual review of the ethics code and complaint process took place. Even though part of his success came about because Adams pulled a no-show, he really brought integrity to a process, far more than his predecessor and former councilman, Frank Schiavone. But what the vote proved is that the city council as a whole with several exceptions hasn't progressed as far as he has done. Alas, they tout the greatness of the image of the ethics code and complaint process but are decisively clueless about its application. His career as the Governmental Affairs Committee chair has gotten off to a promising start but he won't face his toughest test until he has to chair a committee meeting with Adams in attendance because the other committee member, Rusty Bailey just showed how quickly he'll cleave to Adams.

Gardner and Davis also took principled votes while it's likely that Adams' scenario of the massive harassment of elected officials got Bailey (who's been searching for direction since Schiavone's ouster) and MacArthur (or more likely, his legislative aide) scared for some reason and Hart? Well, she goes along with the crowd which is unfortunate because occasionally she steps away and takes intelligent and principled votes on different issues. But Adams had tried to frighten his dais mates with scenarios which reeked of an "us vs them" mentality to vote alongside him and what the final count showed is which council members feel they need a reason to feel vulnerable about their being held accountable as elected officials 24/7 rather than simply being allowed to say they are council members 24/7 and which ones don't.

There will be further analysis of what took place on this issue in future blog postings because it was quite interesting.

Upcoming Candidate Forums

Last week, there were blog postings on forums that will take place involving the mayoral candidates. Now, it's been announced that the League of Women's Voters will hold candidates forums including in the mayor's race fairly soon.

Mayoral race:

Thursday, Sept. 24 at 7-8:30 p.m.
at All Saints Episcopal Church, 3847 Terracina Drive

Riverside Unified School Board:

Chuck Beaty, Kathy Allavie, incumbents and Christopher Lorenz and Mark Schwartz, challengers

Wednesday, Sept. 30 at 7-8:30 p.m. at Gage Middle School, 6400 Lincoln Avenue

Be there to check out what the candidates participating in the local elections in November have to say on the issues to help get a better sense of which one deserves your vote.

Two different county court systems. Two different strategies for dealing with the impact of budget cuts on availability.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

Each Inland court system will take a different approach to the day. San Bernardino County courts will be empty of personnel, while Riverside County courts will be doing paperwork and filing.

"With the empty buildings, we have turned it into a true furlough," said San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge Presiding Judge James McGuire. Savings for the system are estimated at $2.5 million.

Court Executive Officer Tressa Kentner said of the approximately 1,000 court workers, only about 20 would be working today, most of them assigned to meet anyone who mistakenly comes to court. While court personnel cannot accept paperwork, they can direct people to drop boxes, she said.

Under an agreement reached with the San Bernardino County Public Employees Association, court workers will get four hours of unpaid leave per pay period, spread over 10 months --approximately a 4 percent pay cut, Kentner said.

In Riverside County, the state's most congested court system, officials decided losing one day a month in handling stacked-up paperwork would only set the system farther behind, and clerks will be at their desks to work through waiting files.

"To take away 5 percent of our time each month makes our job more difficult," said Riverside County Presiding Judge Thomas Cahraman, who had opposed the one-day monthly shutdown when it was proposed.

"Statewide closure may provide overall benefits for the judicial branch, but it is not the most effective approach for Riverside County," Cahraman said.

Amid all the turmoil it's been facing in the past year, the Mount San Jacinto College District now says it's short on police officers.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

The tentative budget for the college's Police Department is $1.062 million, but officials are assessing the fallout from the state budget crunch and possible future cuts in state revenue, according to MSJC Superintendent/President Roger Schultz.

College trustees are expected to consider approval of a final budget next month. As part of that holistic approach, the college must look at its mission and how best to provide safety and security services, he said.

"I want to make it emphatically clear that it is a board decision, and a board discussion that has not taken place," Schultz said by phone. "We're in the middle of a year of assessment."

Police staffing has been depleted since last year.

Two probationary officers were terminated, one officer resigned and a volunteer reserve officer resigned.

Later in the year, those four filed a wrongful-termination lawsuit in Riverside County Superior Court against the college, and characterized themselves as whistleblowers pointing to alleged wrongdoing by others in the department. Their lawsuit was dismissed, but they are filing an appeal.

The suit alleged that another sworn officer was put on leave last year, but the college has declined to comment, citing personnel reasons.

The college now has five campus safety officers on duty. Schultz said there is at least one sworn officer in the field.

Civilian oversight mechanisms in this country have been in the news a lot lately.

Does the civilian review board in Minneapolis even work at all? Some people who used to belong to it say it doesn't.

(excerpt, The Minnesota Daily)

About halfway through, then-Assistant City Attorney Lisa Needham explained the contents of an inter-office memo she sent out earlier that day: Her office had reinterpreted state data laws. As of that day the Authority could no longer release to the public that they sustained a complaint, meaning they sent it off to the police chief with a recommendation for discipline.

Some Authority members protested the ruling, alleging that it was made under pressure from the Minneapolis Police Federation.

Current and former members say the inability to release this information to the public severely cripples the Authority’s ability to perform effective civilian oversight of Minneapolis police.

Twenty-one months after the meeting , a community watchdog group led by a University of Minnesota employee sued the city for violating state data laws . A Hennepin County judge ruled on the case earlier this month, siding mostly with the city, and an appeal is in the works.

The case — which is at its core a simple semantics debate — will determine if the Authority unknowingly violated Minnesota data practice laws for 16 years and, according to experts, could hold the key to interpreting data laws for city employees across the state.

It also begs a question that has been heatedly disputed since 1991: Does the Minneapolis Civilian Police Review Authority work?

Studies done by Jacksonville Police Department and other agencies give mixed reviews to the effectiveness of tasers, according to the


The Taser might not fire, the probes might not stick or the suspect might shrug off the shock, DiFranza said. Certification courses teach officers not to get flustered if a Taser fails to work properly as the result of mechanical or human error.

“You just kind of point it out there, aim for their center and hope it catches them right,” he said.

The Sheriff’s Office doesn’t record statistics tracking Taser failures, but officers are trained to switch to another weapon in the eventuality of a Taser failure, a spokesman said. An interview request with a Taser instructor from the police academy wasn’t granted after multiple requests. No reason was given.

Calls placed to Taser International, the company that manufactures the X26 model used by the Sheriff’s Office, weren’t returned. But a three-year-old study of the Green Bay, Wis., police department’s Taser use, hosted on the company’s own Web site, reports a failure rate of 12 percent, most of that from weapon malfunction or missed probes.

Another factor is the intended target’s mental state, which can sometimes push them to overcome the shocking force.

A mentally ill man who lunged at Jacksonville officers while wielding a pair of knives was Tasered repeatedly before he was shot to death in March 2008. The 30-year-old man, Sierra White, became combative with police and a mental-health counselor and pulled out a pair of knives when they tried to administer his medication. Sgt. Rob Beers and two other officers urged White to drop his knives and repeatedly jolted him with their Tasers. But the blade-wielding man kept coming and swiped at Beers, who shot him multiple times.

Beers was cleared in the shooting. He declined to comment.

A delay in developing civilian oversight for the BART police department in the wake of a controversial shooting of a young man on New Years Day this year.

(excerpt, San Francisco Chronicle)

The BART board voted last month to hire an independent auditor to investigate allegations of police misconduct and to set up a civilian police review board. However, lawmakers must approve that change.

BART did not get enough legislative support to pass the plan before the session ended Friday.

The question has been asked in Columbia, Missouri which just created a new civilian review board What qualities should its members have?

(excerpt, Columbia Missourian)

Forty-nine Columbia residents submitted applications by the Sept. 4 deadline to serve on the nine-person board. The council will choose eight members, while the Columbia Commission on Human Rights will appoint a ninth.

Applicants included professors, teachers, attorneys, retired military and law enforcement officials, health care workers, business owners and more. Most applicants expressed a desire to improve relations between the community and the Police Department.

Those applicants eventually selected to serve on the board will be responsible for examining cases of alleged police misconduct where the internal affairs unit's decision has been appealed. The board’s decisions can then be appealed to the city manager by residents and police officers involved.

An op-ed article on "Excited Delirium".

Deaf Awareness Week Sept. 20-26, 2009

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