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.
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Location: RiverCity, Inland Empire

Thursday, April 29, 2010

CPRC Changes Meeting Times to Shut Public Out

"This will not define my career."

---Acting Chief John DeLaRosa during a recent command staff meeting about the Feb. 8 traffic stop as he vowed that he would take care of Lt. Leon Phillips and Sgt. Frank Orta, the other parties involved with the stop.

The City's First Train Wreck:

The City Management's Case point on Micromanagement

by City Manager Brad Hudson and Asst. City Manager Tom DeSantis

The Canary in the Mine:

The Community Police Review Commission

[Three members of City Hall's backed voting bloc on the CPRC, not pictures is its fourth member, Ken Rotker who masterminded the meeting change to 11 a.m.]

It began innocently enough as a discussion on an agenda item intended to roll back earlier changes made on the commission's meeting times. This meant that for the Community Police Review Commission's evening meetings would be moved back from 5 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. At its first meeting held at 5 p.m. last month, the commission played to an empty house and that made the City Hall backed contingent quite happy with themselves, short of removing the word "community" from the commission's name altogether.

Alas, their meeting this week was attended by two city residents and that displeased this City Hall voting bloc to the extent that instead of voting to extend the meetings from 5 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., they voted instead to switch to holding them at 11 a.m. A time when they are well aware few community members will be able to attend those meetings. They conducted this meeting while three commissioners were not in attendance and thus couldn't vote on this issue.

You see, the City Hall contingent of the CPRC which includes former Chair Peter Hubbard, current Vice-Chair Art Santore, Robert Slawsby (appointed by former Councilman Frank Schiavone to break a tie vote) and Ken Rotker has become the voting minority when all the commissioners are in attendance. That's because Chair Brian Pearcy, Chani Beeman, John Brandriff and new commissioner, Dale Roberts (not the Mission Inn owner) along with swing voter Rogalio Morales who doesn't have the best attendance record have begun to outvote them, including in the contentious election held last month for commission chair, which in a close vote resulted in former two-time chair, Pearcy ousting Hubbard.

You remember Hubbard, the chair who had to be elected through a proxy vote cast via teleconference call from Santore who was in Florida at the time. The first time in commission history, any commissioner was offered a chance to participate in a commission vote in that manner. But this time even with his voting bloc in full attendance, Hubbard had lost in a squeaker and pouted about it for a while afterward being a no show after losing.

But then the now-voting minority found a way to get even and regain control of the commission. Because it wasn't just about trying to prevent community members from attending but also some of the commissioners as well. As this had been a tactic that had been attempted in the past but ultimately thwarted when some commissioners called it for what it was and the City Hall contingent was forced to back down. At least for a little while.

Ironically, several times during the meeting Santore chastised members who weren't there who should be there while they were conducting business. Yet the representative from the City Attorney's office didn't speak up and offer any of those members an opportunity to participate in the meeting change vote (which could impact their ability to serve as commissioners) by teleconference. But City Hall's shown that teleconference voting will only be allowed when the city manager's office needs a vote that will ensure its continued intentions to micromanage the commission which just turned 10 this month.

But as soon as the City Hall contingent realized that at least at this meeting, it constituted a majority, it went quickly to work, and by the end of the meeting, several commissioners had hit a meltdown, ironic given that this was the first meeting since the commission received its so-called "civility" training. But even as the infighting continues, there will be fewer city residents to attend the meetings to witness it, as the City Hall contingent of the CPRC has made sure of that through its second action to change the meeting times in just the past several months. Not wanting the city residents witness how it conducts business which when you think about it, mirrors the attitude of the city manager's office which runs the commission and a few other things in the city. Watching the machinations of the commission gives the city residents the best opportunity to see exactly how Hudson runs every other department in this city, where most of the business is done in private. And this meeting was no different, in terms of putting it all out on display even as the puppeteers themselves were no where to be found.

What likely happened is that the City Hall contingent saw that no one attended the meeting last month and that made it quite happy until they showed up this month and several city residents were in attendance who spoke. Perhaps that's when the voting majority for that meeting decided not to do as originally planned to roll the meetings forward but instead to roll them backwards even further. Sounds silly? Well as one commissioner Santore freely said in one meeting, the public speaking time was changed from five minutes to three minutes with a snide comment made that people like me didn't need speaking time at meetings because we had blogs. So Santore's dislike for this blog (which he freely expresses at neighborhood meetings and which after all, is his prerogative) was one reason why he felt public comment needed to be reduced?

Silly really.

The one thing about Santore that's more refreshing however, is that unlike the others in his voting contingent is that at least he freely wears his alliance with City Hall on his sleeve. Hubbard, the former chair, works for American Medical Response, which contracts its public safety services right out of Hudson's office, a clear conflict of interest in his service. The kind that City Hall is also more happy to overlook.

[During a summer 2009 CPRC meeting, Hubbard (l) naps during a presentation by the Internal Affairs Division from the police department. To his right, is Santore and in front, is Beeman.]

It's interesting that once again, someone on the commission tries to promote an agenda item to make the commission more accessible to members and the City Hall contingent which does after all have a better attendance record than the other voting bloc counters that action with a motion that will actually further restrict the public's access to the commission, in this case its monthly general meeting. That's happened before as many community members have attended the meetings in the past year or so and then walked away unwilling to come back after seeing how several commissioners treat the public and how they teach each other. At least once an entire class that had sat in on one meeting and the teacher left with the sentiment and no doubt some interesting in class discussion about the unfriendly dynamics involving the CPRC at its meetings. People are afraid to speak at the meetings for the anticipation of getting their heads bitten off.

But by voting to change its meetings to the mornings when the public would be less likely to participate, the commission also essentially disqualified some of its membership from participating as well. And guess what, those members who will have a difficult time participating just happen to be those who the City Hall voting bloc disagrees with. That voting bloc's way to handle dissent or even just a difference of opinion from either the city's residents who attend or other commissioners is just to try to shut them out of the process. And yes, the commissioners who voted to change the meeting time are aware of how it impacts other commissioners because during a prior meeting when they tried to change meeting times to 8:30 a.m., several commissioners on the other side told them that they would be forced to resign from the commission so in the face of some heat, the City Hall contingent backed off.

So at least time by changing the meeting time to an earlier one, they can't plead ignorance. This latest change was fully carried out through the intention to silence even dissenting voices among their own ranks, forget the public which doesn't matter anyway. And one commissioner freely admitted afterward he had been carrying out his marching orders.

[Rotker, who is wearing his CPRC uniform and usually votes along with the City Hall contingent. He's the representative from Councilman Chris MacArthur's ward.]

Watching the commissioners interact with Rogan in the mix, is like listening to fingernails scratching the chalkboard. Watching the CPRC continue its downward slide under the watch of Hudson and DeSantis has been an interesting exercise and a fairly good parallel to what's been happening to the Riverside Police Department under everyone's watch at City Hall. Watching what's happening to the both of them, brings to mind the canary in the mine phenomena. Because in a sense, the failing commission is the canary in the mine, which is the police department and it's hardly coincidence that both the commission and the law enforcement agency that it oversees are floundering, both as a result of City Hall's handling or rather mishandling of them. Because if the police department's not standing in a good place, then neither will the CPRC.

And commissioners like Hubbard, Santore and Rotker have their counterparts in the police department. People who receive marching orders or some sense of direction from elements of City Hall and have carried it out. But if there are commissioners on the CPRC who are trying to do the right thing, so is it with people inside the police department as well. The commission is completely failing in completing the mission that it was set up to do during times which were turbulent in ways different than now and it's not abiding by the city's charter either. The police department is struggling to define itself as its command structure which wasn't that strong to begin with begins to crumble, also in large part to how it has been handled by City Hall including but hardly limited to the city manager's office.

And the leadership of City Hall for the most part has sat back quietly and watched all this take place during the past five years. Except for those who actively participated in the downfall of the CPRC and the problems with the police department and who in fact were the same individuals in both cases. Some city council members actively reversed a decision on officer-involved death investigations that was done by the city council in 2009 but the commission recently violated the city's charter by refusing to send an investigator in the death case involving Carlos Quinonez as the charter doesn't make these investigations optional. But it's pretty clear that the reversal on officer-involved death investigations came from the city council and not those it employs because of the huge disparity in participation in first diluting that charter power and then in its partial return.

The executive management and chair and vice chair of the commission spoke at meetings including two Governmental Affairs Committee meetings and also participated in a top secret ad hoc committee to "research" civilian oversight statewide. Yet when the city council acted to reverse that earlier decision again through the Governmental Affairs Committee, neither the executive manager, chair or vice chair appeared at any of these meetings let alone made any public comments. That just shows that these individuals, are all aligned with the city management office which probably opposed the changes but on this case, was overruled by the city council which employs the city management.

And the work product of that oh-so-secret study that Rogan performed was never really revealed in its entirety. The Riverside Police Officers' Association leadership did its own research study and has been more generous and open about explaining and producing its work product than anyone at City Hall had been about that earlier study.

The whole matter of picking and choosing of what charter amendments to honor and which to disregard has been a pattern and practice of City Hall for quite some time.

For one thing, Hudson doesn't hold as much abidance to the charter amendment (passed by a majority of the voters) involving the powers of the CPRC as he does to the language which enables him to have "final say" in promotional decisions say, by a police chief. Former Riverside Police Chief Russ Leach often said, for example that when he wanted to promote someone, Hudson would throw the charter at him. Apparently that section of the charter was thrown at Leach at least several times. And sometimes, it wasn't even just by Hudson's volition meaning that it wasn't always Hudson who had that "final say" but one or more of his own employers on the dais. Including city council members who made statements that they fully understood that involving themselves in the promotional process inside city departments was illegal, meaning a violation of the city's charter.

Yet at least one current city council member violated that provision of the city's charter while on the dais. But then the promotional process certainly higher up had turned into the kind of sham that a person could literally be promoted one minute and then by the time they went to meet with the police chief, it would be shot down. Ever hear the story where Charlie Brown had the football pulled out from under him by Lucy Van Pelt? Well, that story's included in the promotional process involving a police department where the "final say" comes from inside City Hall. The aftermath of which has led to a command structure that has, with one exception, been unable to figure out how to function in the wake of what's been happening.

At any rate, the CPRC's been sliding down into the chasm for some time now, sliding very much on public display while the downturn of the police department happened mostly either behind closed doors or inside a very insulated environment. But there's similarity between the paths of the two because they fall under the same umbrella of governance and both started having problems magnified beginning during the same time period.

And the city management makes it abundantly clear what it expects from those who serve it "at will" and that's certainly been the case of the CPRC when you compare the two executive managers who served under the will of Hudson.

The city management’s office must be really happy about that, after hiring an executive manager who has clearly not been told to make public outreach any type of priority given that the commission’s outreach has plummeted during his watch. His predecessor, Pedro Payne had towards the end of his tenure, been banned from attending community meetings by Hudson through his conduit of choice, DeSantis. So the fact that there’s been no substantial outreach from the commission is not by accident but by design. Just like with everything else.

[Foreground, Rogan with City Attorney Gregory Priamos in the background. If you ever want to ask yourself how independent Riverside's new chief will be allowed to be, you need to examine Rogan's hiring and his history of employment under the city manager's office to answer that question better.]

Rogan, a retired captain from the Pomona Police Department does provide a very important case study in what the city residents can expect from any new police chief that comes riding into town and there will be more discussion of that in later postings. After all, Rogan had been chosen by two interview panels, one representing the city and one including community leaders and yet, he quickly enough fell vulnerable to the dynamic involving Hudson, DeSantis and the city’s departments. There were warnings that whoever was going to be hired by the city would wind up being a Hudson puppet even before the final selection process to fill this management position had been made. After Rogan came aboard, it quickly became clear that he was an intelligent man who clearly knew what side of his bread was buttered. After all, his predecessor Payne had “resigned” not long after a difference of opinion at a meeting with DeSantis had led to the assistant city manager getting upset with him and kicking him out of the room.

Like the executive manager of the CPRC, the police chief also serves the city manager’s office as an “at will” employee. And generally as we’ve seen that if there’s a difference of opinion on how to run a department or even on how to make a decision about it, if the department head or manager doesn’t back down and acquiesce to the city manager’s office, then they are shown the door. Usually by submitting a resignation as Payne did with the reason being that they are seeking new career opportunities. Or in at least one case if it’s difficult to get rid of a recalcitrant department head, then usually that individual receives a salary increase for their cooperation.

But Rogan who is given full-time pay to work part-time (to protect his PERs retirement) goes along with the program fairly well. He's caused a bit of friction with the police department by generalizing his experiences at Pomona Police Department while answering general questions about the Riverside Police Department, but he's clearly operating along the lines of what his bosses expect. It's ironic in that Payne had been called in by DeSantis during his tenure at City Hall to be admonished to maintain better control over his commissioners yet sometimes it's pure mayhem at the CPRC meetings which never was the case while Payne worked as the manager.

But it's been fascinating if a bit disheartening to watch how he presides over the meetings and when the commission's had weak chairs like Sheri Corral and Hubbard, half of the time they spent leading the meeting was during or after side bars with Rogan, often while others were speaking.

It's also been a valuable lesson watching Rogan and the commissioners aligned with City Hall work even as rumors had began slipping out about the tremendous issues inside the police department particularly with its promotional processes at the top of command and changes which were working their way through the supervisory promotional processes as well. The public was well aware of the dynamics of infighting and struggle within the CPRC but not so much about what was happening behind the closed doors of the police department (and City Hall as it turned out) at around the same time period. Both the CPRC and the police department began to go south in some critical ways after the arrival of Hudson and DeSantis even as they carried out their responsibilities. The crash of the CPRC actually preceded that of the police department but the latter agency being larger and much more significant was felt more profoundly by everyone. People trying hard to keep both of them going and performing their functions and mission statements but even with the best efforts of many, there's only so much that can be done before in a sense, it comes crashing down.

Inside neither of these agencies, did these crashes come overnight.

DeLaRosa's Response to the City Manager's Report on Leach Probe

Not too long ago, Acting Chief John DeLaRosa allegedly held a command staff meeting, a large one in the wake of the revelations about his cell phone records being tied to that of the watch commander sat the scene of Leach's infamous Feb. 8 traffic stop. Even after Leach's comments in the press about the racism and sexism inside the department and how he planned to as he later said, throw some boulders while speaking out at community meetings. Apparently that last comment has made more than a few people at the top of the command structure more than a little bit nervous. As if they weren't apprehensive enough, except for one. Capt. Mike Blakely who helped sink a career or two, opened up Internal Affairs Investigations including against one of his former sergeants who was a victim of a crime and then more recently, went on vacation. But he also set the standard for putting in more hours than anyone else in his peer group and apparently vacations were a rarity for him and around him people breathed a sigh of relief.

But anyway DeLaRosa's address focused mostly on those damn cell phone records during his speech before the masses.

He stood before them, reading his comments from a prepared sheet, angry enough so that tears threatened. He said that his career would in no way be defined by what had happened to it. Everyone else watched him as he also made it clear that he was disappointed with what the city manager's office had said in its report that it had released to the public, blaming the management for what happened on Feb. 8. The report hadn't even been done yet and shouldn't have been released, DeLaRosa had told everyone at the meeting. But he did make reference to the other individuals who had been at the same traffic stop.

"I'll do anything in my power to make sure nothing happens to Leo or Frank," he said.

Meaning Lt. Leon Phillips and Sgt. Frank Orta who had been involved to varying degrees in the handling of the traffic stop once the two patrol officers who had stopped Leach had been released from the scene and sent elsewhere. But the damage has already been done and the evidence that has been released so far indicates that he played a major role in what had already happened with Leo and Frank. If he used his cell phone to give Phillips orders to not conduct a DUI evaluation on Leach and to instead have him driven home, then as the superior officer in management, he bears a large degree of responsibility to what happens to officers lower than him on the command chain. Phillips made his decision on how to ultimately handle it, but whether or not a subordinate can refuse a command from someone higher than him including in management is not something that is known certainly not by those outside the department. Would a person be allowed to do that or would they face punishment even termination?

Certainly the patrol officers and even a sergeant might be more vulnerable than a lieutenant but then again, DeLaRosa didn't just call Phillips at 3 a.m. out of the blue as the selectively released phone records indicate. In all likelihood, someone called DeLaRosa from a communication device outside the city-issued phone system and it's possible that that would have been Leach as purported by Hudson. But there's so many unanswered questions and let's just say, gaps with those phone records, that it's hard to know what exactly the phone records indicate except that DeLaRosa talked to Phillips at least twice and that there are clearly phone calls that were made including one to DeLaRosa which were not accounted for and just point out the fallibility of the logs released by the city.

And why a high-priced ticket like Hudson is allowed to slide by saying he turned off his phone for the majority of the day while out of town.

But by expressing the need to "do anything" for Phillips and Orta indicates that DeLaRosa at least in some sense is admitting culpability or at least knows that that's been done for him already in the minds of many people. But then again, as a high ranking officer suspected of instigating the cover up and blocking of a criminal act from investigation, DeLaRosa's already in an unusual position, having not been placed on paid administrative leave. It had been raised here several times how much of a hurry City Hall was to place two former lieutenants who sued it on administrative leave until they can reach retirement age in contrast to how reluctant it has been to place the involved parties in Leach's traffic stop and attempted cover up on paid administrative leave.

As for what might have been the best thing to do for Leo and Frank, perhaps that would have been to tell them to handle the traffic stop as they would with any other person and then to drive there himself and support them in that action. But DeLaRosa apparently didn't do that, instead what most people suspect is that he issued orders for them not to conduct a criminal investigation of what turned out to be a criminal violation and to drive Leach home instead of to jail.

DeLaRosa is a product of several things including a rapid rise up through the ranks, with very little time spent at each level closest to the height where he had risen. In a department where promotions were given out sometimes like candy, he quickly advanced from lieutenant to assistant chief between the autumn of 2005 and the spring of 2007. In fact, his most recent promotion was in the midst of a firestorm when the city manager's office tried to sign both him and then Capt. Pete Esquivel to "at will" positions which at least Leach believed meant that they would be "at will" to Hudson and not him. That had generated an uproar and Hudson later said that it couldn't be done. There was debate about whether or not Leach had even been involved in their promotion process. He claimed he had been but hadn't even been in town at the time. And that process left a bad taste in the mouths of many for quite a while afterward and gave the public some idea that things weren't quite going as they should in the police department including its relationship with City Hall.

But it's hardly surprising inside a City Hall that appeared to be more involved in the promotional process than the police department. A process which made it more likely that a Leach incident would be its inevitable result.

Steve Adams Endorsement Fallout

The endorsement of Adams by the Riverside Police Officers' Association has already generated some controversy within the organization even though the election's over a year away. Members have withdrawn their PAC funds from the coffer and there might possibly be board resignations arising from this. Why his endorsement has generated some degree of heat might have something to do with Adams' alleged ties to some of the promotions that were carried out by the police department at its highest levels which had created a stir in some corners.

Adams had been a defendant in the lawsuit filed by former lieutenants, Tim Bacon and Darryl Hurt allegedly for involving himself in the promotional process which if so would be a charter violation and illegal as well as threatening officers who didn't back his reelection last time around. He had also created a firestorm in the RPOA during the last election cycle in 2007 through a letter he wrote slamming them. The city settled that lawsuit behind closed doors the same day that Mayor Ron Loveridge called the allegations of micromanagement by City Hall that were made by the Eastside Think Tank, "fiction."

The RPOA seems to be more intent on backing incumbents as shown by its selections in 2009 but their endorsement of Adams will help make for a very interesting if action-packed election next year. Adams is is a vulnerable incumbent who barely won last time out and stack a strong, hard-working principled (and armed in terms of the facts) candidate against him and he's probably going to get pink slipped.

Press Enterprise Dan Bernstein discusses the controversial "reliability" utility charge.

Judge and political candidate, Paul Zellerbach said that Riverside County District Attorney Rod Pacheco wasted money.

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