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

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Grounded: Riverside's Finance Committee and the RPD's next Strategic Plan

The Riverside City Council has called for another meeting to be held on Tuesday, Oct. 20 at both 3 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. at City Hall. Already discussed is the plethora of civil litigation which is set to be discussed behind closed doors in the conference room just off of the newly renovated city council chambers. No less than 12 agenda items are on the closed session docket and that is a bit unusual for the city council to be so lawsuit orientated but tis the season. Along with the increasing number of police lawsuits and the usual round of litigative jabs that Riverside's lobbing at a growing number of other cities in Southern California, there's some Redevelopment legal action as well.

This agenda also includes items that will be held in open session including this one discussion item on the construction of two energy resource centers that are set to be built for Riverside.

In addition to that one discussion item, there are eight consent calendar items which is a laundry list of items that can only be pulled by those on the dais for further discussion. As far as the consent calendars go, this one's rather paltry. Unless there's some major discussion during the discussion item or one of the consent calendar items get pulled or another crowd comes out for public comment (yay!) or Mayor Ron Loveridge starts talking about the League of Cities again, this week's evening meeting could clock in at a trim 90 minutes.

And what of the Finance Committee?

And then there will be time set aside at the end for mayor and city council comments although it is unclear whether or not there will be any status report on the latest chapter of the Mystery of the Disappearing Finance Committee. At the Friday Morning Club, former councilman and mayoral candidate Art Gage did ask the people sitting there when was the last time that a finance committee was held, one person thought that there might have been a meeting held this year. However, that hasn't been the case and the last meeting was actually held last year on Dec. 8. People at the meeting were kind of shocked at that news. Which makes sense because why does a committee exist even though it never meets? While it's true that Riverside's leadership often goes down its own beaten path, it's strange that there are individuals on the dais who are taken aback by city residents asking questions or expressing concern about meetings being scheduled and posted on the city's Web site even though these meetings never actually take place.

As we all know by now, this committee's been missing in action since it was apparently enclosed in mothballs and stashed inside some closet at City Hall somewhere, waiting for some enlightened city official to take notice and resurrect it. That day still hasn't come but it's interesting listening and reading comments about the plight of this standing committee from individuals who have read the postings on this site.

What's interesting is that the meeting that took place before that one on Sept. 8, 2008 had this agenda item on it. And what is this agenda item? It's a report being presented by Asst. City Manager Paul Sundeen on interfund loans. It isn't a very impressive report in terms of the quantity of trees killed to create it, checking in at only three slender little pages but it's full of implications for the future financial accountability of Riverside's City Hall.

And what of the recommendations?

(excerpt, report by Sundeen--red ink is my contribution)

Obtaining the approval of the City Council for the expenditure of funds and a related interfund borrowing if necessary, is very important. These approvals are now obtained. Staff recommends that the specific fund from which money is borrowed is incidental information and need only be disclosed once a year in connection with the preparation of the annual financial statements. Alternatively, any changes in the borrowing could be disclosed as part of the monthly summary currently provided to the City Council.

So being accountable to the city council on interfund borrowing involving specific funding sources such as the use of the city's sewer fund to buy up businesses in the downtown is seen as being "incidental information"? Perhaps it is to "staff" which is a rather generic and vague term for the city manager's office but it should not be viewed that way by the mayor and legislative body which oversee the city manager's office. Not that interfund borrowing is necessarily a bad thing. However, there needs to be an accountability mechanism in place to oversee it as well as the transparency of having this business transactions including borrowing from funding sources to use elsewhere be disclosed to the public. And it's interesting how the "advantages" of Sundeen's proposed changes are presented but the disadvantages such as reduced accountability and the limits of monies in the funds that can be spent on what the money in those funds is actually designated for were not mentioned.

That shows inherent bias by Sundeen and his department because when they listed their recommendations, they didn't provide a more objective perspective of advantages and disadvantages. In some circumstances, it could be seen as asking the fox for advice on how the hen house should be secured. Not that the finance division of the city manager's office is necessarily in the role of the fox, but the perception leans more in that direction when mechanisms of accountability and transparency are being stripped away, mostly by those the public has entrusted with fiscal responsibility and that is the city council.

According to these minutes, the Finance Committee without formal motion agreed to have Sundeen and the city manager's office disclose any changes in funding in the monthly reports provided to the city council. But by doing so, did the Finance Committee ensure its further decline to the point of near extinction? After all, the city council just appears to have kept giving away pieces of its control of the financial accountability of the city manager's office in this city.

What were some of the things the currently defunct standing city council committee has done? It's done budget reviews of city departments, addressed community block grant funding, evaluated various interfund transfers and tackled other financial issues that arose from the perspective of a portion of the legislative body set up in part to address issues involving the city's finances. And the Finance Committee is apparently the latest casualty because after all, people walked away from Chair Nancy Hart's comments believing that she was essentially waiting until the city manager's office notified her it was okay to meet. And if she's waiting for those instructions, the day for the next time the Finance Committee meets could be a long time coming.

This once critical committee also received annual budget reports and annual audit reports done on the city by different independent firms including in those years listed below. Of course, given that there hasn't been any finance committee meetings this year, there of course hasn't been a meeting of the finance committee to receive this report.

2007 annual audit presented in January 2008

2006 annual audit not presented to Finance Committee in 2007

2005 annual audit presented in January 2006

2004 annual audit presented in February 2005

However, the Finance Committee has not met once this year to discuss any of the above issues or any issues at all for that matter. But then that's possibly because the issues that it used to discuss in the open so that the public could attend the meetings are now being discussed by the city staff behind closed doors with limited opportunities for public comment before these issues get to the city council and wind up on the consent calendar because the city council's made up its mind on most of the issues which come before it by the time they get there.

The next Finance Committee meeting is tentatively scheduled on Monday, Nov. 9 at 2:30 p.m. but it's unlikely that it will actually take place given the track record of this committee this year under both the chairmanship of Councilman Chris MacArthur and current chair, Councilwoman Nancy Hart who along with Sundeen issued a public service announcement at a recent city council meeting as to why there had been no meetings this year. But it's really confusing to follow because for some reason, City Hall schedules meetings that might never actually be held. Makes a whole lot of sense to most people outside of City Hall. Well, not really but there definitely seems to be people inside City Hall who think it should make perfect sense.

But Las Vegas currently places the odds of the Finance Committee meeting as follows:

The Finance Committee will meet on Nov. 9 40:1

The Finance Committee will meet in 2009: 15:1

The Finance Committee will meet ever again: 9:1

So if you're feeling lucky in city futures, go and make your bet.

Other Committee News

There will be no meeting in October for the Public Safety Committee. The tentative date for the next meeting is here. I'm a bit hesitant to actually post it because it might not actually meet on that date. The public safety committee has actually met five times this year.

Here are the number of meetings scheduled for the other standing committees this year so far.

Community Services and Youth: 9

Development Committee: 6

Governmental Affairs Committee: 7

Mayor's Nomination and Screening Committee: 6

Transportation Committee: 5

Utility Services, Land Use, Energy Development: 11

This is assuming that these committees actually met on all the more than tentatively scheduled (but apparently not quite set in stone) dates.

No new Strategic Plan for the Riverside Police Department

As you know, the city of Riverside was forced to enter into a stipulated judgment with the State Attorney General's office in March 2001 after a year-long investigation by that office discovered violations of state laws and a pattern and practice of serious problems within the department in different areas of operation. One of the reforms mandated by former State Attorney General Bill Lockyer was the creation of the five-year Strategic Plan which the department did, putting it into place by late 2004.

The 2004-2009 Strategic Plan mandated by the state is here.

As you can see, it's a comprehensive set of guidelines and objectives that the department had hoped to achieve during the five-year period in several different subject areas. It's a critical tool as it would be in any law enforcement agency to be able to strategize and plan ahead when it's in a period of intense change and growth and it's important to have that blueprint for change, development and reform in writing so that all the involved parties and stake holders understand what is going on and what the future will hold. Most people accept this as simply common sense. However, certain individuals in City Hall do not and that is to the detriment of everyone because a police department without a strategic plan especially in fiscally tight times is not heading in the right direction. And there doesn't seem to be much interest at City Hall in getting it back on track by creating and implementing along with the community and department a new strategic plan.

Now, Lockyer always said that there had to be a three-way partnership in the reforming of the police department and that it had to involve the city, the communities and the department. But there are certain entities that have no concept and certainly no care of what that really means and unfortunately, those people hold positions of tremendous power over the department's future and the process (whether for good or bad) used to get there. And so it goes...

There is no controversy there, that's just fact as unfortunately some of us found out within several months of the dissolution of the stipulated judgment in March 2006 when a certain entity at City Hall was told by a legislative entity above it to carry out simple instructions to ensure the continuation of the successful implementation of the Strategic Plan. Instead, these individuals tried to change the instructions they were given by their bosses and even derail the process completely. Whether that was willful behavior or simply because they didn't know any better, what the city manager's office pushed during the summer of 2006 wasn't exactly what the city council had ordered.

Fortunately, enough city council members, okay two of them, later began paying attention and they managed to stir the S.S. Hudson on the right path. That might have been before Gage had his alleged conversation with Hudson who had promised then to stop micromanaging the police department. But two years after that alleged conversation, his office appears to be doing exactly that with questions raised about whether any allocated money can be requested and/or spent by the department without having to be approved by Asst. City Manager Tom DeSantis first instead of the police chief. And as most people know, the police chief is the person usually responsible for the budget including allocations and expenditures and it's the chief who usually holds the purse strings.

But apparently not in Riverside. Gage also made the comment that Riverside might be the only city in the country where the police department is run by a city manager. People at the Friday Morning Club meeting were more than a little taken aback by that revelation.

But once again, another strategic plan is endangered and that was to be Strategic Plan part 2 which was proposed by Chief Russ Leach as an objective of the police department at public forums earlier this year. He told city residents at these forums that he was going to get public input on what should be included in the next five-year plan as he had with the previous one. But there will be no plan because apparently, City Hall said no and vetoed it.

Just another way that City Manager Brad Hudson has shown his lack of interest in the forward progression of the police department just 3 1/2 years after the dissolution of the judgment against the city. That's unfortunate but after all, Hudson arrived late on the scene of the police department's reform process and perhaps is unaware of how important it is to avoid making the mistakes of the 1990s now in the 21st Century.

The police department has seen difficult times in the past several years with vacant positions not being filled due to budget cuts including more than a dozen supervisory positions and the department having to shuffle the remaining supervisors around in the different divisions. And now not only is it losing staffing but it has no forward plan that was created through discussion and input by all the involved stake holders. That is what you get when you put the city manager's office in charge of the police department.

A third man has died after being tased by police officers from agencies in the Inland Empire.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

The man was taken to a St. Bernardine Medical Center where he was pronounced dead, according to the San Bernardino County coroner's office. An autopsy is pending to determine the cause of death.

Friday's fatality occurred at a residential mental health center listed as one of the partners of the county's Office of Behavioral Health. Orchid Court is a state-licensed assisted living facility.

The incident marks the third time in less than three months that a suspect has died shortly after being stunned with a Taser by police in the Inland area. Jonathan Nelson, 27, of Rancho Cucamonga was stunned twice on July 30, once by deputies in Hemet and again in a Riverside County jail cell.

Terrace Clifton Smith, 52, of Moreno Valley was Tasered by police and suffered a fatal seizure on Aug. 9.

Civilian oversight and review is a very rare thing in Iowa.

(excerpt, Des Moines Register)

Iowa City's Police Citizen's Review Board is the only such body in Iowa and one of about 60 nationwide. The group fields complaints about police directly from the public. Though they have the power to subpoena records and documents, the board primarily reviews the findings of internal police investigations of incidents.

"We provide another check in the system," said Donald King, a former security guard who is vice chairman of the board. "We're another set of eyes for the public."

Though advocacy groups occasionally call for a similar board in Des Moines, home to Iowa's largest police force, the idea has never taken root. The most recent cry for police review came after Octavius Bonds and Erin Evans, a Des Moines couple, said they were victims of police brutality after a 2008 traffic stop.

The officers involved, Mersed Dautovic and John Mailander, both rookies, resigned under threat of termination. The attorney for Bonds and Evans, Peter Berger, called for civilian review of police after a jury acquitted his clients of interference with police and assault charges in March. The couple has also filed a civil suit that alleges the officers violated their constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment, unlawful search and seizure and infringements on their due process rights.

Des Moines Police Chief Judy Bradshaw believes police face strong internal and external scrutiny and a civilian review board would strip the department's managers of authority when governing officers.

"I believe if the public trusts us to investigate murders, the most immoral crime, they should be able to trust us to hold ourselves accountable," Bradshaw said.

Miami-Dade County in Florida kills civilian review.

(excerpt, Miami Herald)

Funding for the Independent Review Panel ended Oct. 1. It's the only county office to be eliminated in the mayor's budget.

In a last hour attempt to keep the panel operating, a resolution sponsored by Commissioner Barbara Jordan passed 11-1 on Tuesday asking the mayor and county manager's office to report back to the commission in 30 days with possible sources to fund the IRP with a reduced $450,000 operating budget.

While the commissioners wait for the county's findings, layoff and reassignment letters are being handed out to IRP's four-member staff.

``I received mine,'' said Eduardo Diaz, IRP executive director. ``It says to report to the Water and Sewer Department.''

Diaz expects the office to be open until Oct. 27, but ``technically as of the first we no longer exist,'' he said.

Information on upcoming anti-Nazi Rally in Casa Blanca

Media and Public Update: Rally Against Hate on October 24 in Riverside

A Riverside rally at 10 am on October 24 sponsored by dozens of community organizations will express "rejection of Nazi intolerance, racism and violence," reports Kevin Akin, spokesman for the community coalition. Nazis from the "National Socialist Movement" (NSM) have announced that they will be demonstrating in Riverside on Saturday, October 24, and the coalition intends to show that the Inland Empire rejects the Nazis.

"Our rally will be entirely peaceful," states Akin. "We will rally on the other side of the street from the Nazis, and we have been assured that there will be a large enough police presence to keep the Nazis from crossing the street. We will have an orderly, peaceful, disciplined demonstration, and will not permit anyone to participate who engages in violence or attempts to provoke violence. Our message is too important to let disruptions draw attention away from it." He says that the message will be conveyed through chants, singing, and signs in both English and Spanish. Some of the signs being prepared feature such slogans as "Tolerance Yes, Hatred No," and "Inland Area Rejects Nazi Hate."

At the same time as the community rally at Madison Street and Indiana Avenue, a picnic and play event for children will be held four blocks away at Villegas Park. When the Nazis leave, the demonstrators will march to Villegas Park and hold a "victory rally" with live music. Organizers ask that children not attend the rally at Madison and Indiana, but stay with a relative or guardian at Villegas Park until the march arrives. Demonstrators are urged to park at or near Villegas Park and walk to the rally. Organizers ask that each person bring a can or box of food to donate to local food banks, and put the food in collection boxes at Villegas Park.

Akin reports that organizers have been in contact with the Riverside Police Department and have secured permission to use the bandstand area at Villegas Park from the Riverside Parks and Recreation Department. He estimates that "about 40 monitors will help keep the demonstration orderly and effective." Final details of the "Rally Against Hate" will be settled at a meeting of representatives of sponsoring organizations on Wednesday, Akin reports.

For more information: Kevin Akin (951) 787-0318, cell (951) 675-2813

Meetings on the proposed high speed train may be coming to a venue near you.

Meeting Info

Five public meetings are planned to discuss the planned high-speed rail route.

Monday: Murrieta Public Library, Eight Town Square, 24700 Adams Ave.

Tuesday: Corona Public Library, West Room, 650 S. Main St.

Thursday: Bobby Bonds Park, Cesar Chavez Community Center, 2060 University Ave.

Nov. 2: Ontario Airport Administrative Conference Rooms, 1923 E. Avion St.

Nov. 3: Feldheym Central Library, Kellogg Room, 555 W. 6th St.

Source: California High-Speed Rail Authority

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