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, November 13, 2009

Anatomy of a Scandal and Other Trials

The Fruit is Rotten but is the Barrel?

Anatomy of a Corruption Scandal as the corruption that has infested the city of San Jacinto gets split wide open like a rotten fruit. This incident came up in discussion with an elected official in Riverside and the conversation touched on the critical vote taken by this city's city council a while back where the majority of the city council voted to uphold the inclusion of language in the code of ethics and complaint process which was inserted under very questionable circumstances and addressed the issue of whether city council members were really ever on or off duty.

That question split the Riverside City Council in half with three elected officials, Mike Gardner, Andrew Melendrez and Paul Davis believing that they were never really off-duty because the reality is that they get approached even in their lives off the dais by people who see them as being onduty as their representatives. Gardner and Davis especially came off of upset wins in wards where the incumbent had alienated many of the voters with his behavior or actions, including on the dais. Voters apparently saw them as the alternative to what these two incumbents had to offer their constituents.

The majority of city council members, which were Steve Adams, Chris MacArthur, Rusty Bailey and Nancy Hart either believed that you could neatly delineate between being on or off duty or they just didn't want people looking into their "off-duty" behavior too closely. If the rumor mill is correct, at least one member of this voting bloc might have reason to worry.

Adams seemed to have done everything short of wearing a neon sign to express his concern that he get complaints filed against him (by a process that's fairly toothless, which makes this concern kind of funny) for "off-duty" conduct whereas MacArthur and Bailey seemed to be more concerned with having complaints filed against them (again by the same toothless process) for behavior as incumbents running for reelection in two years over their campaign tactics. Not surprising, given that most of the mud slinging that happened in their last election cycles involved the races over their ward seats. MacArthur in particular rubbed some people the wrong way for how he painted his rivals Donna Doty-Michalka (including her marriage to her late ex-husband) and Harry Kurani, who was slammed by one of MacArthur's campaigners over his Middle-Eastern ethic heritage. So it's not surprising that those two council members voted against striking the suspect language in the code on those grounds.

And why again is this language suspect? Because of an unfortunate chronology of events that took place in 2007 after a member of Save-Riverside, Kevin Dawson filed a complaint against them councilman, Dom Betro. As you know the complaint was supposed to go to the Mayor's Nomination and Screening Committee for a hearing date but as you may know, that didn't happen and proper procedures weren't followed because City Attorney Gregory Priamos who was only supposed (pursuant to the resolution and municipal code language) was supposed to serve in an "advisory" capacity, not as arbiter. Yet he on at least two occasions mailed out letters to people filing ethics complaints that their complaints had essentially been denied. But even as Dawson's complaint was getting quashed, at least the members of the Governmental Affairs Committee which included Betro met in the middle of summer, 2007 to add the now controversial language that said that elected officials had to be acting under that capacity to be subject to complaints.

Not surprisingly, both Betro and Schiavone attended that meeting and pushed this language. Now you know that Schiavone as committee chair couldn't propose the motion himself so naturally Betro who of course had no personal or professional stake in this at all, went ahead and did it, according to this minute order of the July 23, 2007 Governmental Affairs Committee meeting.

It's not difficult for most people with a little common sense to figure out that 1) this was completely a self-serving action by both committee members who are now ex-council members and that 2)this is exactly why it's critical to have an ethics code and complaint process in the first place because of the behavior exhibited by these two former councilmen.

One question for the city council members who either by personal motivation or through fear voted to include this language, is whether or not you would view the city officials in San Jacinto who had to show up in Riverside County Superior Court for their arraignments after the scandal finally broke as being on or off duty. But these are just rhetorical questions as part of an exercise because the truth boils down to this, it doesn't matter what the elected officials answer. It matters that when scandals like this break, it's nine elected officials who were entrusted by the city's voters to be ethical leaders and representatives and their business and political bed mates who were indicted, not nine ordinary city residents or businessmen. Because the truth is, elected officials are never offduty. That will be amply shown by how the public views these now criminal defendants as either elected officials or private citizens, which do you think it will be?

Who's going down for a fall here, four ordinary citizens or four elected officials? And how long did it take you to answer that question?

But seriously, there is one elected official on the dais of San Jacinto's elected government that hasn't been indicted at least not yet. If you were to ask that government of one the same questions about elected officials being on or off duty, might this person provide a slightly different answer?

You're elected and you don't like these rules? Well, the exit door is that way and don't let it hit you on the way out. And thank you for leaving because the public really has made it clear that it wants ethical and professional elected officials to represent it. Including the Riverside voting electorate as was evidenced in the past two legislative elections.

But here are several questions anyway because it's going to be an interesting journey to how far this ethics breakdown has reached in the halls of power in San Jacinto.

(excerpts, Press Enterprise)

City Councilman Jim Ayres and his wife, Nancy, a school district trustee, sold their home for $89,950 more than its appraised value to Scott Shaull, of Roseville, who used money provided by developer Stephen Holgate to pay for the house.

On or off duty?

City Councilman Jim Ayres and his wife, Nancy, a school district trustee, sold their home for $89,950 more than its appraised value to Scott Shaull, of Roseville, who used money provided by developer Stephen Holgate to pay for the house.

The Ayreses then bought a $550,000 home from one of Holgate's companies on a gated cul-de-sac where eventually four of the nine indicted people lived.

Jim Ayres voted as a councilman in favor of a development deal that helped Holgate prepare his property for the planned Mid-County Parkway and for commercial development after the road is built.

On or off duty?

In the affidavit, Robinson outlined how Ayres sold Shaull a home for an above-market price, resulting in an almost $90,000 "gift" to Ayres. She detailed the money path by which she said Holgate secretly bankrolled the home purchase by Shaull.

"All parties I consulted with advised me that it was a 'big red flag,' " Robinson wrote.

Holgate withdrew at least $78,000 from various bank accounts between April and June 2006, the same time period in which Ayres deposited $82,000 into the account for his state Assembly campaign, Robinson wrote.

Jim and Nancy Ayres received tens of thousands of dollars for their state Assembly and school board campaigns, respectively, from Holgate, Shaull and Ellison, and from others whom Holgate reimbursed for their contributions, Robinson said.

On or off duty?

The Riverside City Council and Mayor Ron Loveridge should really have a reality check about whether or not they are ever really "off-duty" once they take the oath and are sworn into elected office. Particularly those who seemed the most concerned about their conduct at baseball games being linked to their council jobs like Steve Adams and those who were worried that their conduct during elections might be problematic for them as elected officials like Chris MacArthur. The remainder who just appeared to latch on to the lemming mentality should reexamine whether they should leave it up to other elected officials to tell them or scare them with scenarios to vote a particular way.

The fact is, that anyone who behaves ethically and professionally when not in council uniform will not be concerned about whether or not an ethics complaint will be filed against them. The fact is, that an incumbent elected official running a clean, ethical and principled campaign will not be concerned about an ethics complaint being filed against them.

The San Jacinto Corruption Scandal roster of players. And who was "played"? Why, the city's residents of course! And once again, we're all reminded of the unholy political (and economic) alliances that often exist between elected officials and their pet charity, developers.

Does this happen in Riverside? To the extent that brought the house of cards called San Jacinto's government toppling down, we should all hope not. But the Inland Empire Weekly wrote about financial contributions being made to a former councilman's campaign by developers who were generously endowed through the Redevelopment Agency with key properties in this councilman's district.


Such was the case with the city’s acquisition of businesses on the downtown block bordered by Market and Mission and 1st and 3rd streets. In lawsuit after lawsuit filed November 2, the city moved to condemn a dozen parcels of land to make room for Raincross Promenade, a tony housing project by LA developer Mark Rubin. This action, one of the largest and, at an estimated $5.4 million, one of the most expensive condemnation efforts in the city’s history, resulted in dozens of merchants and their employees being forced to find work elsewhere.

Rubin, incidentally, is listed by Betro as a key endorser of his council re-election bid.

Across the street, business owners—scared out of their wits by what any fool could clearly see coming—quickly sold out to Beverly Hills developer Alan Mruvka, who wants to build 125 residential and live/work units between 1st and 3rd streets along Market.

“We didn’t really have a choice, did we?” says Lee LeMunyan, the co-owner of Bader Motors, who sold his property to Mruvka and shut down the business in May. “The city doesn’t want older businesses here. They want new businesses for a new tax base—then they’ll be happy. Wherever we go after this, I can promise you it won’t be Riverside.”

Mruvka, incidentally, donated $500 to Betro’s re-election bid. A company called CityWorks, LLC—listed as the developer of Maric College in Riverside and holding the same post office box address as Mruvka—contributed $1,500 to the Betro campaign. Mruvka and CityWorks also donated a total of $1,000 to Riverside Councilman Steve Adam’s re-election effort.

The Press Enterprise wrote this article about the use of eminent domain including in downtown Riverside several years back but doesn't mention anything about campaign contributions in its article. But then it's been said that the building which currently houses the newspaper itself was constructed through the use of threatened eminent domain. That building might be looking for a buyer right now and has already leased office space to outside businesses.

After all, its staff is getting tiny now what with all the layoffs of valued employees that it doesn't really need all that space anyway.

Then there was the embarrassing situation involving how the city council voted to pay settlements for several lawsuits including the legal fees for one against former City Councilman Frank Schiavone. called the Bradley Estates Scandal first reported here by Save-Riverside and later by the Press Enterprise in this article and that one.

What was a tad bit disturbing about the whole Bradley Estates mess is how nonchalant the city council was about what had just taken place. Imagine setting a precedent for paying the legal fees of a developer by having that fortunate person just happen to be an elected official. City Attorney Gregory Priamos tried to explain away the embarrassing episode in that fashion but how many people were actually convinced?

Anyway, Press Enterprise Columnist Dan Bernstein comments on the scandal involving Riverside County here and analyzes how this county stacks up to that other one in the Inland Empire.

Inside Riverside is blogging about the indictments and scandal here.

Depositions Begin in the Bacon/Hurt Lawsuits

One other lawsuit that this blog has been following is that filed by Riverside Police Department lieutenants, Tim Bacon and Darryl Hurt which make allegations of questionable practices by the city manager's office employees, Brad Hudson and Tom DeSantis as well as Schiavone and current councilman, Steve Adams. This lawsuit which came up for discussion and/or update at a closed session by the city council not too long ago will enter into the critical phase known as deposition gathering which is where prospective witnesses are interviewed by either side of the case. It's not known who will be giving depositions on the plaintiffs' side but it should be very interesting as finally a lawsuit focuses on what's actually one of the city's worst kept secrets. And whether or not any individuals will try to resist giving depositions will also be another potential issue. After all, in past lawsuits, some employees have tried to use up all their sick days just to avoid appearing for a deposition in a lawsuit filed against them or their agency.

One of the major issues raised through this litigation was whether elements of City Hall including Hudson and DeSantis were overinvolved in the day to day operations of the police department and if so, to what degree. The case is set to go to trial though given that the federal courts in Riverside are fairly congested (and one judge, Stephen Larson is set to retire if he hasn't already)it could be a while. It's difficult to believe that the city will go to jury trial in a public forum involving the police department considering the financial beating it took during the last round in the autumn of 2005. But then the buzz is that if the city's still carrying an insurance carrier, that this carrier wants the city to stop settling so many cases and start taking them to trial.

Still, it's not likely the city government wants any information to come to light in terms of how deeply one or more of its direct employees or even past or current elected officials are influencing the operations of the Riverside Police Department as has been deeply rumored for the past several years at least back to the time the department was released from its stipulated judgment with the state attorney general's office. Actions which are rumored to be attracting more than a little outside attention.

The fact is this, the police department is supposed to be run by who else, the police chief. It's the police chief who is by the way getting paid a pretty generous six figure salary that allegedly was increased under the new five-year contract signed last December, that needs to be in charge of his department. The police chief needs to do the hiring (which in one case last year caused some concern), the disciplining and the promotions. Which three of these powers does the chief have?

I'm betting none. Because if one of those three powers, in this case potentially promotions is impacted, then so will go the other two, if not today then eventually.

Allegedly, the police chief was out of the state and had no idea what was going on when two key management personnel (who weren't the subjects of concern, just the process of promotion) were promoted in 2007 at first, only if they agreed to be "at will" employees but when that was scraped as being not just inadvisable but not allowed, concerns were raised about the promotions of upper management including captains. The perception being that if you didn't want to play ball not with the police chief but his bosses, you couldn't get promoted. That's part of what the Bacon/Hurt lawsuit is about but the perception seems to have permeated even at the lower levels of supervisory positions as well and that's disturbing.

And why is it when two Latinos are getting promoted to join a third one in upper management, that suddenly their positions are going to be "at will" and at the will of who? It can't be the police chief because it's getting more and more clear that he's not in control of his own department so it's most likely his own employers.

But the confrontation that was allegedly to have taken place over some key promotions between the chief and his bosses at the city council meeting turned rally in March 2007 didn't take place. The resolve to take the department back that many thought would take place during an expanded command staff meeting in July after the chief returned from a medical leave didn't materialize. And even the chief's own advisory board met for the first time last month after six months on hiatus.

Leach is probably smarter than his bosses and he's certainly more politically astute (though it's not clear whether he stuck to his pledge of not being "politically involved") and he has a wealth of experience from different agencies including a stint as chief of El Paso's Police Department to draw upon. He's done some great things as police chief and he's made some very difficult decisions that probably upset the community some times and his own department at others but that's what police chiefs do. They're not there to please people all of the time, they are there to run a department that interfaces heavily with the communities it protects and serves. He wasn't here when the problems which plagued the department ultimately forced it into a mandate of reform issued by the state but he understands better than his bosses what got it there and more importantly, what can get it in that state again. And he proved to be most effective when bolstered by the five-year stipulated judgment, but as soon as that document was dissolved, he began to lose control of his own department.

It took two months for it to begin. It took two more to see how off track the department was going because it didn't have the leadership it needed and it's own management was not moving forward together but were in congruent and uneven in their progression (a trait unfortunately shared by the Los Angeles Police Department's own management during its reform process). During the summer of 2006, the city manager's office was doing its best to circumvent a directive issued by city council vote in late March 2006 on an action plan to keep the department moving in the direction that it needed to including in its implementation of the Strategic Plan.

But the police chief needs to step up to the plate and assert for greater control of his agency and follow through with it. There are just less than 400 sworn employees and about 650 total employees who need a chief who is consistent in his leadership particularly during these difficult teams. They and the communities of Riverside deserve no less. There needs to be the police chief who is the department head rather than these shadowy city employees from the sidelines pulling strings to be accountable for what's good and bad, the successes and the failures. And unfortunately, it's pretty clear that's not what is in place now. And lawsuits like those filed by Bacon and Hurt and also the most recent filed by the Riverside Police Officers' Association make that even more clear. When the tax payers are paying off settlements or verdicts on these cases (and it will be one way or the other) then perhaps those who vote can make it even more abundantly clear when it's time to go to the polls, beginning in 2011.

Of course, once the S.S. Hudson gets set on a course including off-course, the only thing that can set it straight again is his captains, the city council and that's where the other problems exist. Unfortunately, a majority currently exists which is more than happy enough to hand off its responsibilities to the city manager's office (and to a lessor extent, the city attorney) so it's pretty easy to just let that office micromanage some city departments as well. The majority or a very vocal minority (and that works sometimes pretty well on rerouting a ship) is what is needed to either set this ship straight again as it should be or explain to the public why this can't be done.

The Tangled Web: The RPD and U.S. Border Patrol

What: Two RPD vehicles, one U.S. Border Patrol van, two police officers, two federal agents and 6-8 Guatemalans

Where: Brockton, south of Central/Magnolia interchange.

When: Between 2-3 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 13

Between 2-3 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 13, two police cars were parked with lights on behind a white pickup truck and in front of a white van with a police lights bar on top of it but no markings. Two male agents dressed in green were talking with two police officers, one male and one female. One police officer led a male Guatemalan dressed in jeans towards where five others were sitting on a curb directly behind the white van. They were loaded in the white van and driven off while the police officers remained behind to process the truck. It was interesting to witness because of all the controversy and confusion and mixed messages (and complete lack of clarity) that has been issued by the police department's management and City Hall on apparent changes that were made in police practices involving undocumented immigrants since the police department had its representatives meet with Border Patrol agents last November.

Most likely, the Guatemalans were flown back home to their country of origin. Having gone to school with Guatemalans including young girls who showed me their scars that they received while being tortured by the regime that the United States financially and militarily backed in the 1980s, it's difficult for me to view them as simply seeking economic opportunities when any time the country tried to exercise economic autonomy over its own resources, the United States funneled money in there to back a military dictator who would then turn around and kill, torture, rape and "disappear" over 100,000 of the Guatemalan people. Not that the counter revolutionaries were angels either but they didn't have a state backed military.

The focus here is not so much on whether this is right or wrong (and the officers behaved professionally from what was seen), or the pluses and minuses of an understaffed police force policing federal laws but the complete lack of clarity and some have said honesty regarding the department's stand on this issue. You ask different people you get different answers and that should not be happening.

[If you click on this photo, the white van in the distance is the U.S. Border Patrol which was parked behind two Riverside Police Department officers.]

[Just after the U.S. Border Patrol van has left with about 5-6 male Guatemalans. The two police officers process the white truck in front of the squad cars. Click photo for larger size.]

Yes We Do...No We Don't

This issue has created a great deal of confusion among city residents as different people give different accounts in different venues about the relationship between the police department and Border Patrol. Yes they work together. No they don't work together. Yes, Border Patrol just provides bilingual translation. No, they provide means for identification. Yes they met with the RPD last autumn. No they haven't met with the RPD. Yes there is a specific policy. No, there's a policy simply because there isn't a specific policy. No, no, there's a practice but may or may not be a policy. Yes, we want the Guatemalans to feel safe to come report crimes to the department. No, we're there to enforce federal law.

And so it goes. So many words to say so little. But pictures say the loudest if the fewest words and yes, the two agencies are working together.

At any rate, the Seventh Floor through its conduit Kevin Rogan has finally allowed the Community Police Review Commission to put this item on its agenda for discussion from a policy and practice perspective. The Human Relations Commission has also been addressing the issue from a policy perspective and has met with the police chief and written letters to the city council for seeking clarification on both federal and local law enforcement policies and practices on professional contacts for the purpose of establishing residency status.

Officer for a day is about an eight year old kid who received this wish from the Riverside Police Department through the Make a Wish foundation.

The unfortunate thing is that for all the talk about "crack babies" in the 1980s, the one drug that's been proven to have the most detrimental effect on developing fetuses both through studies and real life examples is the legalized drug, alcohol. Drinking alcohol and pregnancy don't mix.

The most lethal drug of course is nicotine. Not so much the drug itself, but the "package" that carries it and kills over 365,000 people a year, most of them through gradual suffocation from a terminal lung illness. That's a city larger than Riverside.

Reimaging the Downtown Library

The Library Board of Trustees is taking public input on the preliminary design of the downtown public library which will either be rebuilt or renovated in the next decade. It will be held Monday, Nov. 16 at 5 p.m. at the Arlington Library on 9556 Magnolia.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

The library's board of trustees met in October to look at how a new library could be laid out on the current site at the corner of Mission Inn Avenue and Orange Street. The plan people liked most included about 100,000 square feet with two-story and three-story sections, board President Nancy Melendez said.

"It's not the same big box that it is now," she said.

The new building also could have many more windows and an atrium to let in the natural light absent in the existing library. Hassett said she is pleased that the early design would allow for expansion, and that it won't clash with the varied architectural styles that surround it.

"It's 360-degree architecture, which means there's no side of the building that is industrial, that isn't fully articulated," she said.

At Monday's meeting, the board and the public will see and discuss what could go inside the library.

Judith Auth, another Renew the Library member and a former Riverside library director, said some key elements will be a community meeting room that can be used after library hours, a larger children's area, and space to arrange the library's book collections in a more user-friendly way.

But it could be worse too. Colton for example said bye bye to its libraries for now.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

Shock and disappointment were rampant in Colton after the city abruptly shut down its two libraries and a learning center, and laid off about five dozen employees in a cost-cutting move to stave off a $5 million budget deficit.

Interim City Manager Bob Miller said by phone that 34 full-time employees have been laid off so far, but more layoffs could still come as the city works through contractual issues with some employees. Close to 30 part-time workers have also lost their jobs.

Colton's assistant city manager, Mark Nuaimi, said he laid himself off.

"I put together the layoff plan," he said by phone. "For the past 4½ weeks I've been looking at the revenue shortfall and looking to see how we could bridge that gap."

He said he and "a couple of other directors" were charged with recommending a reduction plan.

Other Meetings

Tuesday, Nov. 17 at 3 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Riverside City Council meets again to discuss this agenda.

Wednesday, Nov. 18 at 5:30 p.m.
The Community Police Review Commission provides another case lesson how micromanagement works at City Hall on the fifth floor conference room. Hopefully after three or four hours, they will have discussed this agenda.

CPRC Interviews

The city council will be meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 17 at 2 p.m. to interview three candidates for the Ward Three position on the CPRC. This report provides some more information.

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