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, November 17, 2009

Balancing the Latest Budget Cuts on the Back of the RPD

After the mayoral election resulted in long-time incumbent Ron Loveridge winning another term, the news came out from the city not long after that it was another $4 million in the hole in terms of shortfall in its anticipated budget revenue. In reality, that budget shortfall has been there a while but you know it's not really nice to talk about negative and unpleasant details like a budget crisis during an election cycle so there was somewhat of a collective silence on this until the election was over. Why, is two fold, being that budget cuts are nasty issues for voters especially when it's a public safety department that's been placed on the chopping block. In this case, the Riverside Police Department which will face about 60% of the cuts, allegedly at the request of Loveridge to the city manager's office. Ironic, given that the Riverside Police Officers' Association's PAC endorsed him in the latest election. Not that the mayor should do what any of his endorsers tell him but PACs usually endorse people after evaluating whether their views on issues fall into line with their own as much as possible. Then again, that has to be balanced against the liklihood of winning and whether an incumbent may retaliate against a union for not endorsing them. Sounds silly? That's one of the thrusts of a recent lawsuit filed by two former leaders of the Riverside Police Administrators' Association so maybe it's not so silly in this city.

At the time, there was no announcements of where the latest round of budget cuts would take place but as it turned out, the police department will be bearing over half of them, to the tune of over $2 million. That's put a lot of things on hold including the unplanned thawing of up to two lieutenant and four sergeant positions which have been in deep freeze for well over a year, even as the vacancy rates of supervisory positions increase and will increase again next year. Not to mention the creation of more officer positions including the 10 that Councilman Paul Davis regularly asks for. Employee freezes especially those in promotional positions tend to feed retirements and resignations as employees see the incentives for remaining in their positions fade away. What's preventing the supervisory levels from approaching a more critical level is the high vacancy rates in the sworn officer positions which number about 30, plus or minus the six entry level positions that were recently unfrozen by the city council.

A department representative said that some of the cuts had already been taken care of by the department's vacancy rate and that's somewhat reassuring to hear. But the news came as the department was trying to figure out how to reconfigure its Special Operations Division which will see two out of three of its lieutenants retire later this month. The traffic division lieutenant which has been vacated by retirement for the second time in 18 months will be filled by a lieutenant assigned to another division, rather than through the promotional process as originally hoped. In fact as stated, the planned promotions have been scrapped until further notice.

Chief Russ Leach appeared at a recent Latino Network meeting on Nov. 4 and said that the department's vacancy rate was currently 25 positions (although a Human Resources report put the vacancy rate of the department at around 10% which is 65 positions) and that the department would start planning its Strategic Plan, part deux. The plan was to originally have been completed by the time the current one mandated under the stipulated judgment with the state expires in December. But of course, the best laid plans often go astray and so was the case here when elements of City Hall allegedly blocked the development of this latest Strategic Plan until just before the date of that Latino Network. Currently, the department hopes to have its Strategic Plan completed and ready to go to the city council in some form in March. Both Leach and his boss, City Manager Brad Hudson have given different comments in terms of how the public will be able to provide input. Neither is optimal to reach all areas of the 300,000 people in this city whose tax dollars go to pay the general fund which pays for the police department's budget.

Both chiefs need to go back to the drawing board on that issue.

Community Police Review Commission Meets

[CPRC commissioners John Brandiff and Ken Rotker react in different ways to the ongoing discussion on whether or not minority opinions will either be allowed as minority reports or pretty much allowed period. ]

The Community Police Review Commission met last night alas without nerf sticks to do battle again over the idea of publishing or including minority reports within their majority reports. Unfortunately I was unable to stay for the entire meeting but I will update on this ongoing situation in a future posting.

The most ridiculous conversation took place when a member of the public asked the commission when it was planning to hold vice-chair elections, given that the previous vice-chair, Peter Hubbard had vacated that position to become chair after the last chair, Sheri Corral resigned last month. The commission currently has no vice-chair. When Hubbard as chair of the commission was addressed with this question, he had very little to say about it. In fact, he did what Corral often did and that was to defer the response to CPRC Manager and de facto Chair Kevin Rogan. Rogan said he had consulted Priamos on this issue and that the election had been postponed because the commission would be appointing in a new member and that person would be unfamiliar with the candidates and thus unable to make an informed vote.

Commissioner Chani Beeman shot a quick hole in that response by saying that the charter and commission's own written procedures requires elections to take place every March, a time when new commissioners are sworn in so that the election is mandated to take place (and Priamos has said made this clear during several past meetings) on the same day one or more new commissioners might be attending their first meetings. She said that Commissioner Rogalio Morales had attended several meetings before he took his position so he had a chance to be familiar with the sitting commissioners. Rogan responded by splitting hairs on whether it's any different between mandated elections and "discretionary" ones which opened the door on who's serving the commission and making those "discretionary" decisions. It's probably not Hubbard who introduced items and interjected his opinions but otherwise is no more an active chair than Corral was during her term.

Interestingly enough, Morales was a no show at this meeting, which would have been his second appearance on the commission.

In other news, it appears that commissioner Art Santore was called into the office of either Rogan or perhaps even the city manager's office (whether Brad's or his adjutant) to be chastised for appearing at the Nazi rally and counter rally in Casa Blanca earlier this month. Apparently someone complained that he was asking people if they wanted to file complaints with the police department. Shocking indeed, not so much that he was chastised because most people know that the commissioners are under quite a few people's thumbs at City Hall these days but that he was actually asking people about complaints. What's fascinating about that episode would have been to see how some elements at City Hall react to the news of such activities by a commissioner it believed was firmly in its camp. But then again, a micromanaged civic body can often have its more unpredictable moments.

By the way, the Mayor's Nomination and Screening Committee was to hear an ethics complaint against Hubbard for conflict of interest on Monday, Nov. 23 at 1 p.m. For whatever reason, the agenda hasn't even been posted online yet on this item and probably won't be until the requisite 72 hours before. But the latest news is that the entire city council has been told to appear at this meeting because a second complaint has been filed against the entire committee for conflict of interest because all of them receive sizable campaign contributions from the national parent company of American Medical Response (which employs Hubbard in some capacity) during their election campaigns, according to their campaign disclosure statements.

It will be interesting to see what plans the city council has to address this latest ethics complaint. A good guess is that it will probably be another group spanking by the city council which is exactly what the Mayor's Nomination and Screening Committee did during the only hearing it ever held involving an ethics complaint (against a former city councilman). That memorable meeting provided a useful exercise in not telling people why it's pointless to have elected officials hear and decide complaints amongst themselves but more importantly, showing why.

Jennifer Vaughn-Blakely, the tireless chair of the Group and its members as well as those in Save-Riverside and other organizations should be lauded for pushing for the complaint process to go to an independent panel for discussion and resolution, including possibly a panel of retired judges. So far, the city council has pretty much given that no brainer suggestion a cold shoulder although the only elected official who wigged out about it publicly was actually Councilman Rusty Bailey.

City Council's Decision Not to Take Public Comment Before Commissioner Vote

Speaking of the CPRC, I received some comments and emails in the past day on the decision of the Riverside City Council to vote on the appointment of its newest commissioner before taking public comment. Doing so was proposed by Mayor Ron Loveridge who chaired the meeting and it was supported tacitly by the city council who after all, lets him lead the meetings the way he feels and when asked about them taking a vote on an agenda item without public comment, Councilwoman Nancy Hart, who's also probably done running for political office answered, "yes we are". She was heard telling someone that she appeared to be concerned that someone who spoke before the vote would be trying to influence her to change her vote.

Loveridge is now for the first time a lame duck mayor and perhaps a lame duck politician so he can pretty much do what he wants to do including how he leads a meeting or pushing for an over $2 million cut in the police department's budget as he allegedly did. The city council pretty much goes along with it either because its members don't value public input or they are fearful that their pet projects will not be voted upon favorably by the other city councils. This was especially common when recently ousted alpha male Councilman Frank Schiavone pretty much ruled the city council, but clearly remains in effect now. Maybe they're worried the mayor will spank them. But this dynamic otherwise called "Groupthink" has been the law for Riverside City Councils for the past decade.

City Attorney Gregory Priamos was absent but if he had been there, he would have backed the city council's decision as he's the only attorney I'm aware of who actually uses the state's sunshine law, the Brown Act to restrict public input and he does it quite well. But you have to be realistic as an appropriate nickname for Priamos is "Four Votes", meaning the four votes from the city council he needs to keep his job when he undergoes his periodic job evaluations in closed session.

But GroupThink is a well known phenomenon in social psychology and unfortunately is not an uncommon problem in legislative governmental bodies. The city of San Jacinto probably had this dynamic exercised within its circle to some degree as well as other clearly dysfunctional behavioral patterns.

Definition of GroupThink:

(excerpt, wikipedia)

Groupthink is a type of thought exhibited by group members who try to minimize conflict and reach consensus without critically testing, analyzing, and evaluating ideas. Individual creativity, uniqueness, and independent thinking are lost in the pursuit of group cohesiveness, as are the advantages of reasonable balance in choice and thought that might normally be obtained by making decisions as a group.[1] During groupthink, members of the group avoid promoting viewpoints outside the comfort zone of consensus thinking. A variety of motives for this may exist such as a desire to avoid being seen as foolish, or a desire to avoid embarrassing or angering other members of the group. Groupthink may cause groups to make hasty, irrational decisions, where individual doubts are set aside, for fear of upsetting the group’s balance. The term is frequently used pejoratively, with hindsight.

Causes of Groupthink:

  • Structural faults in the organization: insulation of the group, lack of tradition of impartial leadership, lack of norms requiring methodological procedures, homogeneity of members' social background and ideology.
  • Provocative situational context: high stress from external threats, recent failures, excessive difficulties on the decision-making task, moral dilemmas.

Social psychologist Clark McCauley's three conditions under which groupthink occurs:

  • Directive leadership.
  • Homogeneity of members' social background and ideology.
  • Isolation of the group from outside sources of information and analysis.

As you can see, this is a formidable obstacle in the path of accountable government.

It's heartening to read the responses to this unfortunate development at that city council meeting because yes, it was not the democratic or ethical way to conduct business at a public meeting. That's why it's very important to remember incidents like this particularly if they become a pattern and practice at election time which rolls around on some level every two years for city council and four years for the mayoral election. What this elected body needs are leaders who will step forward and step up to speak to committee or city council chairs when they try to limit public comment rather than go along with it and then justify it by saying they're afraid that the public will try to influence a vote.

Strangely enough, even members of Riverside's City Council don't seem to be that concerned when developers try to do so, as they get the floor for longer period of time at public meetings and probably meetings behind closed doors as well. And that's what they really should be concerned about a lot more than their own constituents as hard lessons like those provided courtesy of cities like San Jacinto and the majority of San Bernardino County have shown.

San Jacinto Continues its Ethical Plunge

Councilman Jim Ayres from scandal ridden San Jacinto has to surrender a key position he had held in the Riverside County Economic Development Agency.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

The county placed Ayres on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of an internal human resources investigation and a criminal case against him, county spokesman Ray Smith said. Ayres was notified by mail, Smith said.

"He will remain on administrative leave until this whole issue is resolved," Smith said.

A grand jury last week indicted Ayres on 51 felonies and 97 misdemeanors amid allegations that he and eight others conspired to launder hundreds of thousands of dollars, conceal campaign contributions and offer bribes as part of a scheme to advance their political agendas.

One neighborhood in San Jacinto has attracted scrutiny and investigators in the corruption case had to abide by the old adage, follow the money.

The Press Enterprise Editorial Board stated that the indicted city council members should just resign already.

And does newest Riverside County Supervisor John Benoit have a connection to San Jacinto?

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

State campaign-finance records show that the donation was one of three to Benoit -- all given on the same day and all for the then-election maximum of $3,600 -- from donors that authorities identify in last week's indictment as funneling contributions from developer Stephen Holgate to San Jacinto Councilman Jim Ayres and other politicians.

Benoit said Wednesday that he had no reason to suspect that any of the donors to his Senate campaign might have been illegally reimbursed by Holgate, a political supporter, or others. He said he will review his campaign account.

"I certainly never questioned them until now. It certainly merits a good look," said Benoit, R-Bermuda Dunes. If any of the money is tainted, Benoit said, he will donate it to charity or deal with it some other way.

Benoit has not been accused of any wrongdoing.

He has close ties to Holgate, who has a home in San Jacinto.

Holgate and his wife have been among Benoit's top individual donors to his legislative campaigns, giving at least $27,000 since 2005, according to state records.

Inside Riverside which has been blogging on Benoit's appointment picked up the thread on this one quickly.

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