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

Friday, September 18, 2009

Personality conflict or the decline of financial accountability in this city?

Committee Musical Chairs

(River City)---An interesting posting here about allegations that Mayor Ron Loveridge denied incoming Councilman Paul Davis the chairmanship of the Finance Committee because of a personality clash between the two men, instead handing it off to Councilwoman Nancy Hart. I had asked Davis a while back after committee assignments were done why he wasn't given the assignment to chair the Finance Committee and had spoken at a meeting on the decline of the Finance Committee's role as a whole but at the time Davis said he didn't know why he wasn't appointed as chair. Which is surprising because it seemed fairly obvious to me and other people who regularly attended city council meetings and have noted an ongoing trend in this city that began not too long ago.

The thing is, that this issue has very little to do with any personality conflicts that may or may not exist among elected officials on the dais or whether or not Davis was asked to chair this committee or that one. It has everything to do with the direction of financial accountability in this city and the role (if a diminishing one) that the city government's legislative branch plays in ensuring that accountability and its role in the process. It has to do with the diminishing role that city council has played (and in fact, has willingly voted away) in the past five years, beginning when it hired its latest city manager. Not long after Brad Hudson switched addresses from Riverside County to the City of Riverside, the adoring city council handed him over the keys to the city's kingdom and then he turned around and expanded it.

The Decline of the Finance Committee

In recent years, the number of meetings held by the Finance Committee has declined sharply. Believe it or not, there was a time in Riverside's history when the Finance Committee met twice monthly, with the only exception being 2003 (though it met more that year than it has in the past three years combined). That lasted until about halfway through 2005 when about June, a very significant event took place. That was when Hudson began working for the city as its city manager. That's when there began a significant changing of the guard when it came to financial accountability in City Hall. That was the time when the Finance Department and CEO of the division came under the direction of the city manager's office and an assistant city manager position for finance was ultimately combined with the CEO position.

A former budget director had explained that the original structure of the process was intended to provide the finance department (which oversaw the city's budget) some degree of independence from the city manager's office (or any other department for that matter) in part because the city manager's budget came out of that same funding source that this department oversaw.

That was the beginning of the city manager's office's ability and power which later became a mandate to define the city's budget. And about at the time this came to be, the city council's Finance Committee began holding fewer meetings. The number of meetings further declined when the city council voted away some of its rights (and some say responsibilities) to oversee and approve by vote certain financial transactions including some of those between inter-city funding sources. More and more, the trend is to see the city council through majority vote hand off more and more financial accountability to the city manager's office which is interesting because legislative bodies by design are mainly set up to make decisions about how money is to be spent by the government's departments including regular votes to approve the annual operating and personnel budgets.

These votes haven't always been unanimous because after all, there's a couple elected officials who still believe the city council should play a larger role in financial accountability but there's always been a majority which votes to strip it just a little bit further away. And with each lessening of its own powers of financial accountability, the times one of the city council's mechanisms for doing so met fewer and fewer times.

You have to check out this basic link and then just go to the year in question and then click agendas to get the list of meetings held by the Finance Committee during that calendar year. I would encourage readers to see for themselves how strikingly different the number of meetings called each year has been and how steep the decline.

Now, the decline of these meetings has a lot to do with decisions made or not made by the chairs of the Finance Committee which in the past have included former council members, Art Gage, Frank Schiavone and Maureen Kane. After all, it's the chairs' responsibility to call for a meeting and to schedule it and these chairs did to varying degrees during the last decade. The last year's chair was Councilman Chris MacArthur and as you can see, there were only four meetings held that year. During this year when it's been chaired by MacArthur and Hart, it hasn't met once but has been tentatively scheduled to meet several times. And this reality is what's behind Loveridge's decision and ultimately the city council's by vote of who to pick to chair that committee.

First some statistics on how many times the Finance Committee has met from 2001-2009. They are very illuminating indeed.

[source: City of Riverside Web site]

2001: 19

2002: 17

2003: 8

2004: 21

2005: 12 (about three-fourths of the meetings were held up to about June)

2006: 7

2007: 3

2008: 4

2009: Zero

Pretty interesting downward trend isn't it and how interesting is it that there's a very noticeable dip that begins almost as soon as Hudson takes over city management and then begins to create a system where he takes over the financial management as well, with help from the city council of course. And why did Hudson want to do this? The answer is two words, Riverside Renaissance.

After all, if you're trying to do 20 years of civic projects including many capital projects in a mere five years to the tune of $700 million, how much red tape do you want to leave to the city's legislative body to cut through? Red tape is a hassle and it extends the time needed to approve projects and amid the afterglow of the Riverside Renaissance party thrown at one of the few city council meetings ever to be hosted at the Riverside Municipal Auditorium, it appeared that the city council certainly back then just didn't want the hassle. Of course, the budget ballooned up past $2.1 billion soon enough as more and more projects were added and more and more double and even triple billing took place. One engineer who worked on a project for the city a few years ago said he didn't even know where the money was coming from as there was no information on the work order. And then of course, there was the use of city funding sources as ATM machines or more accurately, credit cards including the much ballyhooed sewer fund, which was at one point drained to buy up commercial properties as part of an Eminent Domain sweep in downtown. That situation came officially to light when the city was ruminating on whether or not it wanted to replace portions of the city's aging and some say ancient, sewer system.

It's not that people don't necessarily support the projects that are under the Riverside Renaissance banner but there's been questions asked about the financial accountability surrounding this blueprint of the city's present and future. And it's only the city that views the expressed concern about the latter as an indictment against the former. It's much more effective to deflect your critics that way than to listen to what's being said and to address issues of financial accountability that are always going to surround a project of such scope.

The Finance Committee like all the city council's standing committees (as defined by the Brown Act) provided some degree of transparency to the public on how the city council reached its decision making and fact finding process on how it spent the city's (and thus the taxpayers') money. Of course, like all committees its role is advisory in terms of passing recommendations to forward to the complete city council for another public vote. Attending these committee meetings makes you realize how much work and decision making goes on before many important agenda items (under the jurisdiction of committees) is done before those weekly city council meetings. But the decline of these meetings with the Finance Committee being the most obvious example, makes it clear that this step of the process is being cast aside or lost and instead, it seems that more and more of the critical decision making about financial expenditures isn't occurring in a public forum where discussion, deliberation and just as importantly, public comment take place, but behind closed doors at City Hall (or perhaps a neighboring restaurant).

Many people who regularly follow what happens at city council meetings often feel like it's a waste of time to watch, let alone speak during public comment. They feel that the city council pretty much has its mind made up on items before they get there. After all, the majority of the high-ticket items still wind up on the consent calendar which is a system where only the vote on those items is conducted in public. And since 2005, the public has been forbidden from pulling the items from the consent calendar for further discussion and public disclosure. Interestingly enough, this vote took place less than a month after Hudson became city manager.

The decline of the finance committee has only fed those feelings that it's not even worth speaking on an item at public meetings because the city council's mind is made up. With most discussion items being "receive, review and recycle" reports, the public often feels like it's excluded from its own city government. But then that's been the trend at City Hall since the city council hired Hudson in 2005. It's well-discussed in many circles that Hudson dislikes public participation in civic government and what needs to be discussed is why there's a city council in place that has decided to employ a city manager who's not friendly to public expression. And all the ways in which Hudson (and his minions in his over-staffed division) are not friendly to public participation will be addressed in an upcoming series titled, The War against Public Comment which will be coming soon.

Though you have to give the public a lot of credit because at the voting polls, it has shown exactly what it thinks about this disturbing and still ongoing trend. Just ask former Councilmen Dom Betro, Gage and Schiavone. Something for some of those running for office in 2011 to keep in mind.

Why Councilman Davis?

Does Loveridge like Davis? Maybe, or maybe not and as long as the two men respect each other, it doesn't really matter whether or not they like each other. Loveridge tends to gravitate towards people who hold advanced degrees like he does and those who don't make waves. You make a wave or even ask too many questions on a board or commission that he is involved in (such as the Mayor's Commission on Aging) and he'll never forget it But this isn't really so much about a personality conflict. No, this is about the background that a particular councilman elect brought to the dais, one that he had included as a prominent part of his campaign. It won the support of voters who put Davis into office but it probably only served to increase the apprehension level at City Hall.

Davis' work experience doesn't just include a short stint in law enforcement (which was the part of his career in the spotlight during his election campaign), he has a background in finance. And believe it or not, that's probably the last thing that Loveridge would want a chair to possess while serving on the Finance Committee. To most people, it would make sense to have a councilman chair the committee who has experience in the area that's the purview of that committee and sometimes that's how it works. After all, Loveridge and then mayor pro-tem, Schiavone touted just-sworn-in-five-minutes-ago Councilman Rusty Bailey as a member of the Governmental Affairs Committee (which traditionally has included the three most senior city council members) because he taught Government at Poly High School. That selection was controversial because it was well-known that Councilman Andrew Melendrez wanted in on the Governmental Affairs Committee but although he had two years on Bailey, he was overlooked.

When I blogged on that curious chain of events here in early 2008, Schiavone was apparently furious and said in a public meeting that I had no ethics and...I was racist. At any rate publicly aired piques aside, Melendrez was appointed as chair of the Governmental Affairs Committee when the committees were reconfigured after Davis was elected in June. In all likelihood, he made chair this time around because at the time of reconfiguration, he was the mayor pro tem and that person along with the mayor comes up with the list of committee chairs for the city council to approve (or amend) through vote.

It's also well known that Loveridge himself is not overly fond of this process. Remember back in 2004 when there was a charter ballot initiative to hand off the responsibility of picking chairs solely to the mayor? Every time that issue came up for discussion including during meetings of the Charter Review Committee, Loveridge attended and either lobbied or had one of his key people on the committee do it for him.

Voters rejected this initiative during the charter election in November 2004 and that was that. Perhaps they recognize as a whole the city's council-management political system and that the mayor's role isn't meant to be really more than an nicely paid figurehead.

But back to Davis.

Even before Davis had been elected, he had spoken out on restoring financial accountability to the city's budget, a catchy topic for sure during this ongoing period of recession and budget cuts. He also conducted an audit for the Riverside Police Officers' Association in the spring of 2008 to help them make an informed decision on whether to push for salary and/or benefits increases during their labor negotiations which took place about a year later. At the time, he had told them that there would be a $14 million decline (beyond what was forecast) in the city's revenues by November 2008 and he was correct. So Davis came into office with a reputation built of being concerned about financial accountability.

So is this an individual that you would want to serve on the Finance Committee? Well, it depends on who you ask, doesn't it?

If you ask city residents, they might be inclined to say, yes because financial accountability certainly during these difficult budget times (which will be extended in the Inland Empire until at least 2013). It makes sense to have someone advocating for financial accountability and responsibility at the helm of the Finance Committee.

But the public doesn't choose committee chairs, the city council does and anyone who influences the city council in any meaningful way is going to have an edge over the city residents whose money is being spent. Some might argue that Hart was given the top spot by Loveridge and Melendrez because she had been the committee's vice-chair the previous cycle. However, that's rarely a guarantee that someone will be promoted to the top spot and it's more likely that Loveridge put her there because it's a good way to keep the Finance Committee from meeting. Some might say that Hart took over the committee during the summer break and that's a point to keep in mind but as far as most of us know, summer officially ends before November (which is the next tentative date for a meeting), even if the summer heat might not.

Consequently, chances are as it turns out, Davis would be the last person that someone like Loveridge and Hudson for that matter would want. It's much safer to go with someone like Hart who will in all likelihood never schedule a meeting of the Finance Committee while she's at the helm. She's one of the city officials who identifies direct employees of the city council such as the city manager and city attorney as my employees. She's made those kind of references in public meetings several times. Loveridge in all likelihood knows that as long as someone like Hart chairs the Finance Committee, it will rarely if ever meet and that's pretty much the way City Hall wants it to be for obvious reasons. And since they don't have to reconfigure the committees including the Finance Committee again until after the 2011 election (which might not end until November), there's plenty of time to conduct few or no Finance Committee meetings.

On the other hand, if Davis were to chair the meeting, he might deliver on those campaign pledges he made to examine the city's budget, a job he could do much more effectively if he did chair the Finance Committee. It's a given that the Finance Committee would probably meet monthly and a tug of war would begin between that committee and the City Manager's office over bringing items to the committee for discussion. It would be a bit tougher (though not a whole lot so) for Hudson to resist directives by his employers rather than a panel of city residents volunteering their time and unlike with entities like the Community Police Review Commission, he's got no micromanaged middlemen to do it for him. And any tensions between any elected officials and the administration might come to light.

City Hall doesn't want a proactive Finance Committee. In fact, it doesn't really want a proactive anything so any attempts by Davis to become chair of this committee were going to be rebuffed during the selection process. And it's not really personal, it's in line with everything that's been happening in recent years regarding the decline of financial accountability with the city council. Unless a majority emerges to also pick up the mantle of keeping closer tabs of what's going on with Riverside Renaissance (rather than getting defensive from the dais at those awful city residents who bring it up), this trend will unfortunately continue.

The reduction of committee (and board and commission meetings too) will be discussed through the construct of serving as a means to control or limit the amount of business pertaining to accountability and transparency that these bodies perform as part of the War against Public Comment series.

Speaking of the barely-there Finance Committee, it's next meeting is tentatively scheduled for Monday, Nov. 9 at 2:30 p.m. If this meeting takes place, it will be the first one held this year, according to records on the city's Web site.

Finance Committee, we barely knew you.

Riverside celebrates its second annual Park(ing) day by building a golf course at the Mission Inn Hotel.

Riverside County settled a lawsuit filed by a former sergeant with the Sheriff's Department for $125,000. The incident that cost the county that sum of money to pay to make it go away almost ended up aired on an episode of the television show, Cops.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

Riverside County sheriff's deputies held Piña for more than seven hours during a homicide investigation, even after former colleagues recognized him, and a sheriff's technician indicated it was the wrong address, the lawsuit said.

Piña was never charged in the case, and several months later, authorities arrested a suspect who had fled to Mexico, records show.

In court documents, the county denied virtually all of the lawsuit's allegations. Officers had probable cause to detain Piña, did not use excessive force and did not in any way violate his rights, the county's response said.

The county's lawyer, Bruce Disenhouse, confirmed that the Board of Supervisors OK'd a settlement of the lawsuit on Tuesday. Disenhouse, Undersheriff Valerie Hill and other county officials declined to comment further, saying some paperwork still remains before the settlement is official.

Piña and his family did not respond to a request for comment. But Singleton said they have approved the settlement, which he called a "vindication."

"This will give them closure," he said. "I don't want to say the incident shattered their world view, but it was not something they ever thought could happen to them."

Inside Riverside writes about the validity of the late former Riverside County Supervisor Roy Wilson's resignation letter that he submitted not long before he died.

Press Enterprise
Columnist Cassie MacDuff takes on the ACORN scandal.

The police chief in San Bernardino who took the position among a lot of turmoil is is trying to reach out even as the legal statutory limit in relation to the investigation of a controversial incident has run out.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

"We need to be, as an organization, receptive to information that comes our way, including information that's negative or critical or whatever, and be able to respond to that in a non-emotional, factual way," Kilmer said.

The Rev. Bronica Martindale, president of the president of the of the California Gardens Neighborhood Cluster Association, said she's recruiting people for the first meeting of an African-American advisory group that will hold its first meeting by the end of the month.

Kilmer said he plans similar groups for other groups and neighborhoods, as well as a citywide clergy advisory body.

He stopped short at calls by some activists for a citizens' review panel separate from the city's existing police commission, a body similar to Riverside's nine-member Community Police Review Commission. "I think if we establish and maintain good relations with all parts of the community, I think something like that will be less on the minds of people," Kilmer said. "I think (oversight boards) are one of those things that happen when there's no other resort."

Westside activists first called for such a body after an August 2007 police raid on the Dorjils apartment complex.

Residents claimed that, without provocation, police attacked people who had gathered for a candlelight vigil after the shooting death of a neighbor. The officers struck people, used pepper spray indiscriminately and verbally abused neighborhood children, witnesses said.

A Police Department investigation has never been concluded. If investigators find wrongdoing, they may not be able to discipline erring officers because the state Public Safety Officers Procedural Bill of Rights Act generally sets a one-year statute of limitations on misconduct inquiries.

Kilmer noted that the statute can sometimes be extended if there's a pending criminal charge.

"I think there has to be a report," Kilmer said. "I think I'll have to take a stronger look at exactly what that report is, what the investigation was and what some of the other issues are."

The Press Enterprise Editorial Board spanks the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors once again.


An earlier start would have allowed the county to put the contract up for competitive bids -- a process that exists to ensure that the public gets the best possible deal on projects. And a public bidding process would have helped insulate the county against the appearance of favoritism, by ensuring that whoever won the contract did so on the strength of company qualifications, and not political connections.

As for the state of the county: Housing values have cratered while unemployment has skyrocketed, so property and sales tax revenue are shrinking. And county government is once more mired in a high-level corruption scandal.

Those facts mean the county should manage public money carefully and avoid unnecessary expenses. Officials should also shun any action that raises even the appearance of questionable ethics.

And county government should know that already -- without expensive expert research for a ceremonial speech.

Press Enterprise columnist Cassie MacDuff chimes in saying the county has got to have that ethics panel.

But then after seeing how Riverside has handled its own ethics code and complaint process watering it down and turning it into a mechanism of self-protection and interest (while touting itself as having the best in the state), it makes one wonder.

Riverside's City Council did show some growth and maturity in approving some much needed changes in the process of review last week but a lot of that was undone by Councilman Steve Adams' complete exercise in self-interest through his substitute motion at the meeting on Sept. 15.

MacDuff explains in her column how the promotion of self-interest and given the county's more recent shameful history perhaps self-protection has already undermined the process of getting an ethics process put in place before it's even really gotten started.


The Aug. 25 workshop was a disappointment because it appeared to be aimed at torpedoing the ethics commission proposed by Supervisor Neil Derry.

Basically, it was a rundown of steps the county has enacted to instill honesty in its officials:

Ethics and conflict-of-interest codes;

Ethics training for new employees;

A hot line to report wrongdoing anonymously;

A Grand Jury empowered to conduct secret investigations of suspected malfeasance;

Online disclosure of top officials' economic interests.

The list goes on. Yet, as supervisors and staff point out, none of it has prevented ethical lapses and abuse of public resources.

Human Resource Director Andrew Lamberto told the supervisors that the ethical lines that have been crossed haven't even been close calls. The public officials knew, or should have known, what they were doing was wrong.

It's going to have to go to the vote of county residents to get anywhere. Just like it had to do in Riverside.

The city of Chicago is settling more lawsuits alleging misconduct by its police officers.

(excerpt, The Beachwood Reporter)

For one. the policy helped city lawyers manage their caseloads, which improved the quality of their advocacy. In this way the settlement policy operated like a triage system, allowing lawyers to dispose of strike suits while directing time and resources toward big budget cases.

More significantly, the policy helped protect police officers from punitive damage awards. The city doesn't reimburse punitive payouts, which can only be imposed by a court, so each time the Law Department takes a misconduct case to trial it exposes the defendant officer to significant out-of-pocket expenses. To prevent this City lawyers have made a practice of settling high-risk punitive claims before they get to trial.

Set aside the more freighted question whether Chicago law enforcement might serve to benefit from greater exposure to punitive damages. Of more immediate concern for the city are the ethical issues raised by a policy that restricts city lawyers in their ability to represent their clients' best interests.

The state's professional conduct rules prohibit lawyers from representing a client when that representation will be "materially limited" by representation of another client. Without discretion to settle high-risk punitive claims, conflicts of this sort will emerge in police misconduct cases with increasing regularity.

As I understand, the city has an answer for those who would question its institutional ethics. To avoid conflicts, the city plans to encourage officers facing punitive damages to seek outside representation. Instead of defending officers in punitive cases and then limiting the City's reimbursement to compensatory damages, city lawyers will push punitive damage claims outside the Law Department, where officers will be left to pay the costs of their defense along with any punitive damages awarded at trial. Under this logic, the city would address the limits of its representation in punitive cases by ending its representation altogether. That seems backwards even by Chicago standards.

The Hampton Police Department in Virginia was sued for allegedly conducting improper searches.

(excerpt, Daily Press)

In August, Askew filed a second suit on behalf of Amy Williamson and Mark Kendall, asking for $8.75 million. The couple alleges their rights were violated in a December 2008 traffic stop in which they said police searched the woman's undergarments and ordered the man to take off his shoes and spread his legs.

They assert there was no legal basis for officers to search their car with a K-9. The suit says that when a man asked why they were being searched, a female officer replied, "Because I can."

In an interview Wednesday, Askew said she still stands by both cases.

"The city doesn't want to acknowledge this is happening," she said. "But I get calls every week from people saying the same kinds of things are happening to them. The city has an obligation to protect the people from (police) misconduct, and they're not doing that."

Askew, who said she's had to fight all along for information from the city, said she was notified Wednesday that Moffat was not the officer on the scene. "I didn't make that up," she said. "A police officer gave me the name. I am writing them back to say, 'Thank you, and would you please tell me who the right officer is, so that I can amend the complaint.' "


* "We will absolutely defend these cases vigorously. We have no reason to believe there's any merit to them."

- Hampton City Attorney

Cynthia Hudson

* "The city doesn't want to acknowledge this is happening. But I get calls every week from people saying the same kinds of things are happening to them. - Hampton attorney

Upcoming Events and Meetings

Monday, Sept. 21 at 10 a.m. Public Safety Committee meeting receives presentation on the Cops and Parks program. City Hall, Seventh Floor.

Tuesday, Sept. 22 at 3 and 6:30 p.m. City Council meeting in chambers adjacent to City Hall. The agenda includes all the items to be addressed during the meeting in closed and open sessions.

Wednesday, Sept. 23 at 5:30 p.m. Community Police Review Commission general meeting at City Hall, Fifth Floor conference room.

The agenda is here. Public comment is on the agenda again so look for more restrictions by the public-unfriendly CPRC. But otherwise, it's the best puppet show in town and it's free. Also on the agenda for discussion are what actions if any, to be taken for complaint investigations that take longer than the recommended guidelines. A problem with both the police department and CPRC that's been blogged about here for quite a while but it's not likely that the commission will do anything even on its own end because they really don't like to do much these days. In fact, it's difficult to get anything on the agenda, what with agendas having to be vetted by CPRC manager Kevin Rogan, Asst. City Manager Tom DeSantis and City Attorney Gregory Priamos.

Thursday, Sept. 24 at 7-8:30 p.m. Mayor's candidate forum sponsored by League of Women Voters at All Saints Episcopal Church on 3847 Terracina Drive (across from RCC)

Deaf Awareness Week Sept. 20-27

Here is a list of activities and events.

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