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

Monday, June 28, 2010

River City: Where Silence Speaks Louder than Words


Hundreds attend swearing in of new chief in Riverside

More to Come...

Hall of Silence

[These days, they call it the Hall of Silence as Riverside's City Hall has essentially responded to this latest crisis as they did the last one, by saying nothing. At least they didn't apparently need to hire a high-priced public relations firm to teach it how to interface with other people this time.]

There's been a lot of talk during the past few months at least amongst different communities in Riverside about the events that have transpired in the past few months since the Feb. 8 DUI incident involving former Riverside Police Chief Russ Leach and his city-issued Chrysler 300. Much of it involved the double standard that existed in regards to how average city residents are treated during DUI stops in comparison to the police chief who instead of being arrested or cited or even evaluated at the scene for being under the influence, was given a ride home by the watch commander, Lt. Leon Phillips. Leach ultimately received a medical retirement, his chauffeur, a notice of intent to terminate but the damage in terms of what had happened to the public's perception and trust in its law enforcement agency had been done.

Several months later, the dominoes began to fall inside the police department's upper management. Leach was gone. Acting chief John DeLaRosa was not surprisingly implicated in the mishandling of the traffic stop and in the delay and obstruction of its investigation by failing to either have it investigated inhouse or turning it over to the CHP until over 24 hours after the incident. Not long after he allegedly also received a notice of intent to terminate from City Manager Brad Hudson, he announced his retirement on July 23.

Deputy Chief Pete Esquivel gave hints that he would be applying for the chief's position and soon after that abruptly announced his own retirement as the Press Enterprise awaits the release of text messages from Esquivel's city issued phone that are tied into one of the internal investigations launched against him after he became interested in the chief's job. Whether there's anyone next in line to retire, is not known at this point but those who are closest to the last domino to fall must be pretty nervous, with the start date of the city's latest chief coming later this week. That's if their nerves aren't already shot from the escapades of the past several months.

But even as the management crumbles within the police department and there's many questions about whether there's a large enough of a healthy pool for the new chief to choose from for his most direct management staff, the various elements inside City Hall remain silent including the majority of the city's elected officials. They have sat and watched the police department experience its greatest turbulence in the past 10 years as the house of cards created under Leach and their current city management began to fall down. They have sat and watched as their direct city employees have engaged in questionable and even illegal conduct during the past five years as revealed in the scandals involving illicit gun sales, cold plating of city-issued vehicles and the issuance of badges to city management employees. Even though these activities attracted multiple "inquiries" (as one assistant city manager called them) from the State Attorney General's office, the city council and mayor have said nothing publicly about it.

Councilman Steve Adams can almost be forgiven for his silence because he was implicated in the cold plates mess and dismissed it as "old news" which it is to him if not to the city residents including the constituents in his ward because the city tried very hard to keep the truth buried. And why should an elected official ever feel the obligation to explain to his constituents why he violated the law prohibiting civilians from having cold plates on their vehicles. But what was truly enlightening is that all these transgressions came to light not long after Hudson had proclaimed to the masses that no one would receive "preferential treatment" and that everyone was equal under the law.

But is it true that some people are more equal than others, as George Orwell might say? Because it would seem that while the former chief enjoyed preferential treatment during his DUI incident, that his bosses, Hudson and Asst. City Manager Tom DeSantis also benefited from
preferential treatment. The city government's silence on their actions which attracted outside investigations just shows that this preferential treatment continues.

But the unwritten rule at City Hall has always allegedly been this. That as long as those on the dais keep Hudson happy, then their projects in their particular wards will proceed as scheduled and won't be delayed or deferred. That's one very effective way to keep a city council's members in line. And this unwritten rule is clearly in view when there's discourse between Hudson and city council members such as that which took place recently involving the futures of the convention center along with the downtown library and museum (which was the focus of a desperate missive for help sent out by a Metropolitan Museum Board member). Councilwoman Nancy Hart actually broke from her usual protocol and asked some pointed questions and was summarily dismissed by someone who works for her. Other city council members who have asked too many questions have had it more than hinted that they won't win reelection. Forgetting of course that it's the city residents who ultimately decides which city officials come back for another term and which get pink slipped.

Others praise Hudson's performance effusively including both the current councilman, Mike Gardner and a past Councilman, Dom Betro whose wards both included the downtown area which gets the lion share of Hudson's attention after all. These effusions of praise came just days before the revelations of illegal conduct involving the city manager's office were the focus of articles. Gardner and Betro both sounded like they had their minds on running for election and you couldn't blame them really because the Ward One contest a year out is shaping up to be one involving at least four candidates including Gardner. It's not clear what office Betro is running for at this time, but an interesting place to look might be the 2012 free for all, otherwise known as the mayoral race.

But in the meantime, the wall of silence at City Hall continues onward, and the more quiet that those inside City Hall act, the more loudly issues are discussed by city residents outside the 'Hall. And it's likely that these voices will continue talking into the next election cycle.

There's an interesting power dynamic inside City Hall that's been the topic of much discussion outside of City Hall and that involves the relationships between the mayor and city council and their direct employees. People ask, does the dog wag the tail or does the tail wag the dog? And the answer to that question can be very complex and it can evolve over time. When Hudson and DeSantis first arrived in 2005, there were still council members on the dais that were forceful enough in personality that there's some credibility to the belief that the city council was in a sense directing Hudson. Initially, there was the GASS quartet that had fired his predecessor, George Carvalho and then when Councilman Art Gage fell out of favor, he created an empty chair that was filled by Betro and then you had BASS, which didn't prove to be any improvement. But the voters had something to say about that and ultimately two members of BASS, Betro and Frank Schiavone were voted out of office and replaced by grassroots candidates who ran on fiscal accountability, Gardner and Paul Davis. Ed Adkison perhaps read the writing on the wall that GASS was in its final gasps, and stepped down.

Of that quartet, only Adams remains and in his last election in 2007, he hung onto his office by a slim margin of votes. Adams is up for reelection next year and Adkison is heavily rumored to be running for mayor with just about everyone else in 2012. But the configuration of city council began to change in 2007, but did it really change for the better?

That's a question that many residents in the city's different wards are grappling with now in the wake of all the revelations that have spilled out about upper management employees at City Hall. The only words that have come out of the city council about their direct employee who engaged in illegal conduct that apparently only because illegal or an issue when he and DeSantis were caught is to effusively praise them. And that's really only from one active council member and a mayor who called Hudson the best city manager in 30 years, which is what one step above former city manager John Holmes being the best city manager by Loveridge a decade ago?

And the message that even those that have remained publicly quiet about these revelations of illegal badges, cold plates and using the police department as an illegal gun vendor are sending, is that there's a tacit approval or at the very least tolerance for this type of behavior at City Hall. Meaning that however questionable the conduct of the city council's direct employees may have been, it must be okay with their bosses. Because silence on ethical and legal violations such as these is complicity. And if it's true that Hudson, the direct employee is instructed on what to do by his bosses, then who instructed him to engage in getting badges and cold plates for himself and his direct employees and why then did he choose to blame his subordinates when caught by investigators after these violations had already taken place?

The public has no assurance from their elected leadership that such misconduct by denizens high up in the rafters of City Hall will never happen again or that there will be any consequences if it does, because after all, it did happen without consequence to those committing the acts. People ask why there's no comments about Adams' own participation in the cold plates scandal from those on the dais, and how given that lack of comment, the public can possibly trust the city council to handle ethics complaints involving its own members. Adams actually sat in judgment of another elected official during a recent ethics code complaint hearing, ironic given that his own violation committed was first, against the law and second, covered up by City Hall until it recently came to light. But what has changed in terms of the public's ability to trust that its elected officials will be expected to behave in a lawful manner?

Absolutely nothing. Because if the power structure at City Hall gave the individuals involved in these acts of unlawful misconduct a pass as a legislative body this time, they will most certainly do it next time and the next time. The only effective mechanism for cleaning City Hall of the elected officials which are viewed by their wards as being somewhat less than desirable is the ballot box. The politicians who forget that simple fact usually get pink slipped.

But with the alpha dogs of both GASS and BASS gone or nearly gone, there hasn't really been anyone yet to replace them which makes one wonder that if you have a dominating city management team, whether once again, the dog wags the tail or the tail wags the dog. In a vacuum of clear leadership or direction from the dais in which direction does the city management go?

City Hall's Top Dog

[City Manager Brad Hudson, the city's administrator and some say he runs the city council rather than the other way around.]

The city council appears more than it did in the past to play the lessor role of leading the city in the absence of the more domineering members of the prior two ruling quartets. That's one of the most frequently asked questions, what and where is the leadership coming from at City Hall. After all, who was in charge when the city management employees were running around equipping themselves with badges and their city-issued vehicles with cold plates and emergency equipment?

Who's in charge now?

Hudson's "Kitchen Cabinet": The City Council

[From back to front, Councilmen Rusty Bailey, Andrew Melendrez, Mayor Ron Loveridge, Councilman Steve Adams and City Attorney Gregory Priamos all contributing to the sound of silence at City Hall on the recent scandals unfolding there. This round of scandals has provided a good look at who really runs the 'Hall and it doesn't appear to be its legislative branch.]

[Adams, Melendrez and Bailey sit in a meeting of the Governmental Affairs Committee to discuss the most recent proposal for changes in the investigative protocol of the CPRC. Adams show of force against the Riverside Police Officers' Association by backing these latest changes wins him its endorsement more than one year before his next election cycle.]

But it still doesn't appear that those elected to represent the city residents as a legislative body are interested in those concerns and have remained silent. Even though the past few months had apparently seen dozens if not hundreds of angry phone calls both to City Hall and the police department since this incident took place. What it seems to be is that there's elected officials including those up for reelection next year who are sitting there, hoping that those who vote have short memories. But given that there's already much discussion about people planning to run in all four wards up for grabs next year, that will be very unlikely, as accountability and transparency at City Hall seem to be big issues raised in both the city's communities as well as in the minds of those considering a run for office.

Marisa Yeager, former president of the Women's Democratic Club is contemplating a run for the first ward against Gardner and at least two other candidates are considering it. Community Police Review Commission member, John Brandriff is planning on taking on Adams in Ward Seven.

The Other Silent Partner

The other quiet entity in the past few months regarding these issues has been the Community Police Review Commission, which isn't all that surprising considering how closely some of its members identify with and align themselves along the interests of City Hall rather than those of the community. In fact, the CPRC is so hostile towards community members that it has rescheduled its monthly meetings by majority vote several times in the clear hopes that city residents will be unable to attend them. In fact, the meetings in the past few month have gone from being held at 5:30 p.m. (the scheduled time for years) to 5:00 p.m. to noon and the latest was held at 2 p.m.

They are being held at this latter time only because the commission so far hasn't found time to schedule its special meeting which is going to be held so they can decide when to meet. If they voted against meeting at both 11 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. what times are left during the day that a) city residents won't be able to attend and b) some commissioners won't be able to attend either.

[Former CPRC Chair Peter Hubbard is a high ranking employee of American Medical Response which contracts directly with Hudson's office for its public safety contracts. Despite what is clearly a conflict of interest, Hubbard was allowed to serve on the commission.]

[Chair Brian Pearcy oversees the commission's first mid-day meeting since it first began conducting meetings in 2001]

But even when the CPRC can figure out how to get most of its members together in one conference room or another, the commission has little to say on the current crisis in Riverside. Just like the City Hall, the CPRC is treating the whole mess that's erupted involving the police department and City Hall's power structure as if it never happened. People have asked, where is the CPRC but there's been no answer from that body that's supposed to provide civilian oversight over the police department. And in its greatest crisis and even in the face of the impact it's had on community/police relations, the commission remains silent, in violation of its charter powers most particularly Charter Amendment 810(a) which compels the CPRC to advise the city council and mayor on all community/police relations issues. But seeing itself as a prop to City Hall, it's unlikely that the commission will function as a productive entity anytime soon because clearly City Hall doesn't want it to function that way.

The CPRC should have gone out in the communities of Riverside and had listened to people's concerns about what transpired on Feb. 8 and its aftermath and how it impacted relations with the police and the CPRC should have gone to the police department's employees and asked them how what happened impacted community/police relations from their perspective. And then taken this information to the halls of city government and served in its advisory capacity under this charter power and responsibility. Of course what would have been really helpful would have been if the elected leaders at City Hall would have been concerned or even interested in how the chain of events that transpired involving the police department and City Hall impacted community/police relations. But that's not concern that has been expressed so far from the dais and that probably won't change until those who are up for reelection believe that expressing this concern from the communities is necessary to remain in office.

In the meantime, the police department faces similar challenges to those it faced a decade ago. One chief gone, another coming in, again from the Los Angeles Police Department. Severe staffing shortages and sharp reductions in the training budget. A half dozen officers including the former chief who've gotten into trouble and been prosecuted. A crisis of trust with the city's residents and a slew of medical and other retirements. And even potentially outside scrutiny from a variety of law enforcement agencies or investigative bodies of a city where its own accountability mechanisms including civilian oversight have been effectively neutered or weakened by City Hall. An apathetic City Hall.

In 2010, did Riverside come full circle again? And if so, who or what will set it right again?

Press Enterprise Columnist Dan Bernstein writes about more cherry picking at City Hall.

Anyone know what Dan means by "Seventh Floor Glockers?" Just kidding.

Hemet experiences more attacks on its police facilities.

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