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, May 02, 2010

The Finance Committee Returned to Hudson's Toy Box

[Finance Committee Chair Nancy Hart (r) and member, Councilman Paul Davis sitting in that rarity of events, an actual meeting of this committee. In the midst of the "great recession" (not to mention Riverside's own Renaissance) as one individual called it, this committee's been kept in mothballs. Is it a dying relic or will it rise again?]

[The man that the city government has handed all the keys to the city's coffers including nearly all the city's financial accountability and checks and balances systems, which is City Manager Brad Hudson. After seeing how well it worked when he had received all the keys to the Riverside Police Department, with a sea of outside investigations and promotional mayhem following.]

It's been covered as an issue plenty of times in this blog but the Press Enterprise asked questions about why Riverside's Finance Committee's not holding hardly any meetings.
The answers to that question of course vary on which member of the barely there committee is asked, with committee members, Councilmen Paul Davis and Mike Gardner wanting to meet more often while its chair, Nancy Hart (who calls the meetings) doesn't seem to agree. She seems perfectly happy and has said at city council meetings when this question has arisen that she's perfectly happy to let Asst. City Manager Paul Sundeen tell her when there's an issue worth meeting about. So there you have it, the chair of that committee that is supposed to be both oversight of the city's financial processes and provide a layer of transparency for city residents is handing off that responsibility to the head of the department the committee is supposed to oversee. It's equivalent to the hens giving the fox the keys to the coop, just another example of the city government's strong willingness to reduce the areas of city government that it's responsible for overseeing including its main responsibility, the city's financial state including its annual budgets and funding sources.

And what's really at stake underneath the hubris is that there's a difference of opinion in this city about whether or not the city council, its legislative body elected by the residents, should retain control of any of its financial accountability mechanisms. At least as far as the majority vote of the past several city councils has been, the answer is a resounding no, as one by one the city council has surrendered these mechanisms to the city manager's office.

The Finance Committee's barely met since 2005 and if you look at that year, you'll notice that the majority of the meetings were held earlier that year, before June, with only two out of the 11 meetings that year being held after the first week in May. In fact, the meetings began to dry up after June that year the month that City Manager Brad Hudson came to City Hall.

And it's also more than likely that the scheduling of Finance Committee meetings began to decrease at about the same time that the once independent Finance Department became added under the umbrella of the city manager's office creating a conflict of interest situation. That decision which created a stir among community leaders and governmental watchdogs at the time if not the city council, was done just before the city launched to great fanfare its Riverside Renaissance program several years ago, the ambitious five-year program that's not really being paid for now as much as it will be paid by future generations of city residents.

The committee experienced a long drought after its December 2008 and the only reason it's met since then was because it was pressured to do so. But what's interesting to add to this situation is that involving another financial body, the city's so-called Investment Committee which was scheduled to meet last Monday. Just finding out what that committee entailed and who served on it, which is essentially Sundeen, Hart and city staff, took some deep probing at City Hall, conversations with several different city departments including Finance and several phone calls by city employees. Finally a gentleman from the Finance Department was very helpful at providing that information but the whole experience was very surreal in that it took all that time and effort just to find out more about a committee that seemed to be so much of a mystery that no one even knew who was responsible for posting the meeting agenda in the Brown Act case in front of City Hall. Why are the processes involving the city's finances and its accountability mechanisms either nonexistent, dying on the vine or some deep seated mystery?

Welcome to Hudson's world, the one where the veiling or even elimination of the city's financial accountability mechanisms began almost immediately after his hiring in June 2005. But these questions are worthy questions to ask the city officials including during the next city council election cycle in 2011.

Some interesting comments were included in the online article. Maybe City Hall doesn't think city residents have a clue what's going on or are paying attention but these two comments really nail the issue on its head in a way that should really put some of the cast of characters at the 'Hall in their places. Oh and look there's that naughty word again, oversight. Some individuals at City Hall pretty much duck and cover whenever that word floats inside on the wind.


Hey Nancy, it's called OVERSIGHT! You aren't CFO's staff, and you aren't dependent on his decision to call a meeting. If finances are too boring for you then resign and let someone else take over who is concerned (and interested) in these issues.

The CFO says there hasn't been any controversial or complex financial issues, so there's no need to meet. In the midst of a Great Recession ??Who elected him ??

Pretty amazing that our electeds aren't watching the cash register closely and frequently.

It's interesting how both comments reflect what I've heard people say when talking about the handling of finances by this city government, about how it's bit by bit sold off in some cases through majority vote most of its role as a financial accountability mechanism to counter the administration that it employs. Requirements for authorization of the interfund transfers were liberated by city council vote several years ago, amidst the fanfare about the city's sewer system. And that impacted how money is borrowed and returned in the city's many different funding sources, sometimes causing certain accounts like the oft-raided sewer fund to not be used for what they are intended to be used for but as glorified ATM machines, albeit ones with high interest costs which aren't always visible at the time.

The inactivity of the Finance Committee actually didn't go without notice during the past several years.

Jennifer Vaughn-Blakely and other members of the Group and League of Women's Voters including Barbara Purvis were attending Finance Committee meetings when that committee was actually meeting. But it's so typical of the city government to first give away most of its accountability mechanisms to its administration and like Hart so amply showed, await direction on how to lead the city. And under the city's charter, it's the city council which as the legislative body that's supposed to lead through direction and in some cases, delegation involving its three direct employees, the clerk, attorney and city manager.

The charter does prohibit a type of micromanagement of direct employees called "administrative interference" but the interpretation of that has differed among different elected officials and on the situation at hand. For example, when Hudson and his assistant city manager were micromanaging one of their favorite toys, the Community Police Review Commission, council members who opposed the commission kept saying that to redirect him away from doing that would be engaging in administrative interference. But no doubt, it was these same elected officials who were directing him to engage in the micromanagement in the first place. After all, one city officially allegedly told someone else that if any employee didn't do as they were told, they would be gone and listed a former city manager who had been fired by the city council as an example. And indeed former city manager, George Carvalho was somewhat more resistant to being directed day to day by the city government at the time. But if this conversation took place where this former city council member said it's my way or the highway, then what does that say about whether the dog's wagging the tail or the tail, the dog? That can be a difficult question to even begin to answer sometimes, since City Hall has become much more insulated in recent years. But not everything that has slipped through the cracks is good news.

The Toys That City Hall Broke

[Another one of Hudson's favorite toys, the Riverside Police Department which he usually hands off to his assistant city manager of public safety (lol, the irony), Tom DeSantis to play with.]

In 1999, the Riverside Police Department faced its greatest crisis, and its biggest test. Complete mayhem swept the city and inside the department as well in relation to a decade or so of deterioration and neglect which finally erupted like a boil in a very visible way. Two years and several outside investigations later, the State Attorney General's office forced the mayor and city council's hand by essentially sending its leader, Bill Locker, down to Riverside to say, reform or we'll sue you in court. The city council blinked except for one, and voted to instead settle the lawsuit with the state's highest prosecutory agency and institute reforms which in actuality were needed years before due in part to the department's failure to modernize with the city it served.

But even as the reforms took place, the department split into two different directions when it hit a fork in the road during 2005. On one hand, it had set itself down a much more progressive path, instituting reforms which would allow it to transform itself into one of the most modern police departments in the state and much healthier than it had been in years. But that development exacted a price and caused a fundamental part of the police department to head off in a much less progressive and ultimately destructive direction. Which began when individuals in positions of power at City Hall began to believe that since the department was pretty much out of the hands of the police department and overseen from outside of it, then what were a few more extra hands in the pot? The consent decree though vital to the department in a sense had also opened Pandora's Box and after that, quite an interesting cast of individuals jumped into it.

Former Chief Russ Leach was officially in charge of the department as its top ranking officer on the chain of command. But above him through a mandate issued by the state's courts including the Riverside County Superior Court in downtown, was someone in a position of overseeing everything that the department carried out on the laundry list of reforms mandated by the state. A liaison existed between the state and the city in the form of police practices consultant Joe Brann. So within six months after Leach had arrived to take the helm of the troubled department in the midst of the turbulent city, he had been handed a script to follow courtesy of the consent decree. And by 2005, that process had begun to wind down as the city and department finalized its remaining reforms and underwent periodic audits for the rest, which was at about the same time Hudson and his assistant city manager, Tom DeSantis rode into town. Hudson from leading the Economic Development Agency and DeSantis pretty much from exile.

The previous city managers, semi-permanent and interim, had pretty much given Leach the autonomy and space to run his department and there were varying degrees of opinion on whether he was a highly capable leader or one that was less than that. However, when Hudson and DeSantis came in, almost immediately a power shift began probably within days or weeks of their arrival that summer of 2005. And the troubles began almost immediately after, the ones that laid the groundwork for the implosion that would take place nearly five years later. Hudson and DeSantis loved to micromanage what was placed in their hands by their employers, the mayor and city council including as stated earlier, the Finance Department but also the police department. But Hudson and DeSantis had special designs for the police department, in part because they were major police aficionados, although for some, a different term came to mind that's been batted around in connection with the two men.

Not that they are the only two city employees affected by the allure of a profession that's often painted much differently than it is in reality. It's been said that City Attorney Gregory Priamos has or at least had a display akin to a shrine for law enforcement in his office. Not that admiring a profession is a bad thing at all, but there's a different between admiration and what these men apparently experienced and admiration rarely is destructive in its expression, not so with idoltry.

DeSantis in particular seemed to embrace law enforcement and what it represented, authority, power and status if seemingly less fond of its pitfalls and responsibilities. When he carried a firearm, he chose the Glock, a gun commonly used by law enforcement officers including those with the Riverside Police Department. His city issued car? A series of Crown Victorias which are also a popular choice of "take home" vehicle for law enforcement officers. Not that DeSantis was always glowing about law enforcement officers because when it came time for the creation of more police positions (in the midsts of freezes)and issues of salaries and benefits, he was often known to sniff that it didn't merit such because it wasn't that difficult of a job and anyone could do it. Which really as most people are aware isn't the case at all. Certainly not for DeSantis who might face scrutiny for his altercation with a woman in a parking lot at Hemet that got awfully quiet, awfully quickly in a way that works only for people in positions of power or connected to those places.

This information might seem trivial, but actually it's not at all. It explains a lot of the actions that transpired between these two men, Leach and the handling or mishandling of the police department. Issues which attracted quite a bit of attention from outside the department and city as it turned out even as elements at City Hall tried to clamp down on them. But Hudson and DeSantis didn't stop there, they decided to exercise their management skills in other areas of the police department as well including its day to day operations, also beginning not long after they arrived. It's not always clear whether or not they were acting on their own volition because at about that time, the kitchen of cooks that operated and ran the police department got a little bit more crowded when elected officials began enlisting themselves in this effort as well, including one currently active council member and one who was ultimately voted out of office by his ward.

And so the downturn of the police department began.

Most of this happened behind closed doors at City Hall and inside one of those insulated and isolated environments which is your typical law enforcement agency. After all, most police departments to members of the public are like icebergs especially when crises occur from the inside out. They leave many people scratching their heads and asking, is what they see happening really only a small portion of what's actually taking place inside? As far as the police department in this city and the incident that finally broke it which was the Feb. 8 accident and traffic stop involving its chief, the answer is definitely and definitively, yes.

If most city residents in Riverside really knew what had happened in the police department they funded and the incidents that had transpired between it and elements of City Hall including what Leach often referred to as its "Seventh Floor", they would truly be shocked and while the police department would be the initial focal point for that shock and upset as it had been after the Leach incident, attention would soon turn towards the forces inside City Hall as they should.

But it's fascinating if very unsettling to watch the dynamics between the city manager's office and the city government that appears to give him carte blanche to administrate even in situations where the outcome has been detrimental, most notably involving the Riverside Police Department. The scandal that erupted involving former police chief Russ Leach's DUI accident and traffic stop had been at least a few years in the making and reached its inevitable outcome during the early morning hours of Feb. 8, after the police department had faced nearly five years of micromanagement by the city manager's office either with the city council's blessing or in several cases, active involvement by current and former members. And what's interesting is that more city residents are noticing the connections between the events involving the beleaguered department and the machinations of the city manager's office which oversees its operations, some say those that are carried out on a day to day basis.

The city government which oversees those who have overseen the police department knows fully well what has happened during the past several years and if not, its members have no excuse for being in the dark. Yet every time this issue isn't addressed when Hudson comes up for his performance evaluation, the city government is playing the city residents for fools. Because the damage involving the police department took place under their noses and on their watch and the price tag that it's exacting is climbing in more ways than one, with no leadership to be found to set things right again.

There is much more of this story to be told and it will be told and the only thing that's really both telling and very, very unfortunate is that those who should be telling it, the elected officials of City Hall, won't be performing that task.

But there's still a story to be told.

[One of Hudson's other toys, the spayed and neutered as Press Enterprise columnist, Dan Bernstein called, it, the Community Police Review Commission members and a couple of the Team City Hall players.]

When it's not micromanaging the police department and plundering its resources (and more on that later too), the city manager's office still had time to manipulate the commission and prevent it from operating as it's intended under the city charter. In 2004, nearly a year before Hudson and DeSantis were even on Riverside's map, the majority of the city's voters placed the commission in the city's charter in recognition of attempts by city council members who opposed it to either dismantle it or dilute its authority. Then when Hudson and DeSantis came in, two city council members, a current and a former, directed him and likely, Priamos as well to come up with means and methods to undermine its charter powers including the power to investigate and review officer-involved deaths. That process continued to play out until first the Governmental Affairs Committee and then the city council were forced to come out from behind their direct employees and take direct responsibility through several public votes to essentially strip the commission of its investigative power (and the commission's failure to investigate the 2008 of Carlos Quinonez is an example of this). The city council ultimately reversed this vote earlier this year led by of all people, Steve Adams who had actually along with former council member, Frank Schiavone spearheaded the original action. But these are two names that will come up very frequently not only in future discussions about the micromanagement of the CPRC but also that involving the police department as what will be clear is that it's the same cast of characters at City Hall which was behind both patterns and practice.

Currently, the commission is unable to perform the majority of its charter powers ranging from community outreach, to serving as an advisor to city government on police/community matters, in an adequate fashion although attempts to place restrictions on its ability to undergo policy review and recommendations failed because it conflicted with the city's charter as well as the commission's own bylaws and policies and procedures. It's still not known why the CPRC's current manager, Kevin Rogan, who's an "at will" employee of Hudson, tried to reduce policy review and recommendation only to cases where they stem from filed complaints when the language in the commission's own rule book clearly provides a more general and generous interpretation and application of this charter power.

It's fascinating to string together the common threads that all point to the same origin and the tapestry that's created will become much more clear in the days and weeks ahead.

The latest developments on the development of the latest parking garage in downtown Riverside.

Evidently election forums for political candidates are producing more no-shows. This became an issue particularly this year given that Riverside County District Attorney Rod Pacheco has avoided every single one during his reelection bid. His hired consultant Brian Floyd has simply said that the other candidate, Riverside County Superior Court Judge Paul Zellerbach is a "gad fly" and not worth debating but it sounds like Pacheco just is more worried about looking bad in front of voters.

Press Enterprise Columnist Cassie MacDuff writes about how the paths of San Bernardino County prosecutors has been cleared.

The court settlement which pitted the Riverside County supervisors against a tiny little rodent is revisited.

Public Meetings

Monday, May 3 at 4 p.m. The Human Resources Board meets to discuss this brief agenda. As you know, the Board has recently been targeted for "handling" by City Manager Brad Hudson through his conduit, Human Resources Director Rhonda Strout, which is why the agenda item regarding defining its mission is on the agenda. That was Hudson's suggestion after the Board invited him to its meeting to explain why he and his office had been blocking attempts by the Board to invite Development Director Deanna Lorson for a round of questioning in the wake of the massive number of employee departures through resignations (including men of color and older women) during a difficult economic time when most employees would remain in their jobs. Hudson showed up and made the suggestion that the board come up with a new mission. Which is no doubt because it's been stripped of most of its powers including its investigative power (through a city council vote to change its ordinance language several years ago) so it's got to figure out a new decision to pursue especially if City Hall weakens it further.

But what would be a key issue that could be researched by this board which is under its purview is the promotional process involving city departments most especially the police department and whether city management and city council members are unduly or in the case of elected officials, unlawfully manipulating it.

Tuesday, May 4 at 6:30 p.m. The Riverside City Council holds a pretty short meeting at City Hall to discuss this agenda. Don't blink your eyes, sneeze or go to the kitchen to refresh those snacks because you might miss it.

Wednesday, May 5 at 4 p.m. The Governmental Affairs Committee meets to discuss the issue of neighborhood governance. Is this City Hall's attempt to micromanage community organizations? Well that remains to be seen at this point. But even as employees have been laid off and vacancies frozen (with the police department's lieutenants at a current 33% vacancy rate for example) the city wants to create another paid position.

And so far, the Finance Committee meeting scheduled for May 10 hasn't been canceled yet by Hart.

The Women's Rape Crisis Center which has assisted many people is itself in crisis.

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