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

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Riverside's Voters Wanted More Transparency; River City Gets By on Less

UPDATE: Riverside Public Library Springs Roof Leak in downtown Riverside! General Services has been contracted to take care of it, just one day after the air conditioner broke down amid some smoke.

The Press Enterprise hits it out of the park with an editorial on the mixed responses to public records requests by Riverside's City Hall. And the editorial board nails it right on the head when it states that the city pretty much only turns over records readily and willingly when it's obeying the law or trying to correct a legal violation and its record is somewhat less stellar when it's trying to clearly cover up inappropriate or even illegal behavior by some of those inside City Hall. If a document embarrasses the city, no it doesn't exist or can't be found but if it makes the city look good or like it's abiding by the law or correcting an illegal action, here have a copy of it on us. I was reminded of that just this week after I became intrigued by the Mystery of the Reappearing At Will Contracts. You know the same ones that didn't exist or couldn't be found by City Attorney Gregory Priamos in April or May 2007 and yet three years later, have reappeared in City Manager Brad Hudson's office. And which were apparently held in his hands at a recent city council meeting held on July 13 when he said he had them right there and available for public review.

[Riverside City Manager Brad Hudson magically unearthed two labor contracts that couldn't be found by the city attorney's office only three years earlier at a recent city council meeting.]

[City Attorney Gregory Priamos (r.) stated in a May 11, 2007 letter that the same labor contracts that Hudson produced on July 13 couldn't be found after a search for them when they were requested by a police labor association under the CPRA.]

Were they missing the past three years or did the city just not want to hand them over for public review? And if the city couldn't produce them then, why can it suddenly wave them at the public now?

Why, most likely because they might have been considered a source of public embarrassment during the brouhaha surrounding them back then but now, they're considered "old news" kind of like the badges, cold plates and illegal gun sale scandals were dismissively labeled by a sitting councilman. Because as far as those are concerned, Councilman Steve Adams himself chastised the press and the public by telling everyone they were "old news" of course without explaining why. The contracts weren't available and individuals were told by Priamos' office that they couldn't be found precisely because of the fact that these documents had generated so much controversy in the city's labor force that members of both police associations crowded the city council chambers during a meeting in late March 2007. But since three years have passed and the issue with the "at will" contracts was a past event, now these contracts suddenly reappear in Hudson's hands while he tells everyone attending and watching the city council meeting that now they not only exist but they're available for the city's residents to finally see.

The explanation by Priamos could very well be is that the "at will" contracts were considered "drafts" (even though drafts constitute public documents except perhaps for preliminary drafts) but if that's the case, then that just makes this situation more embarrassing because no where in his response letter from May 11, 2007 did Priamos mention that the requests for these labor contracts were being denied because they were "drafts". And if they were "drafts" and thus taboo in 2007, then why are they being offered up like candy now by Hudson now?

Why isn't the city council more concerned that one of its direct employees, the city manager, is waving around documents at meetings that one of its other direct employees, the city attorney, stated couldn't be found in a search three years ago? And you know that if Priamos had been searching far and wide for documents resembling the at will contracts of two police management employees, he would have begun his search at the city manager's doorstep. And you also know since testimony indicates that Priamos or a representative had been present when former deputy chief, Pete Esquivel had signed his at will contract, that meant he would have been cognizant of its existence.

The irony is that this kind of attitude is partly while this charter amendment was passed by the city's voters overwhelmingly in November 2004. As well as the comments of a councilwoman included below. At least 90% of the city's voters felt it was necessary to insert text to strengthen the accessibility to public meetings and records for people. But then at the time, maybe the voters believed that the city actually abode by its charter all the time.

[Councilwoman Nancy Hart expressed her belief to a daily publication that she supports the release of public records unless the intent is to catch someone doing something in government.]

You can't blame Hart for being honest because she's just saying out loud to a reporter what the rest of City Hall is probably thinking and what it's practicing when it comes to the release of public records to well...the public who paid for them. After all, if the City Attorney's office has such a "spotty" record as some have called it for releasing public records to the media and public, then surely he must be getting direction to do this from well, some corner right?

Hart could just as easily added the title of being spokes person for the city in her very telling responses she gave to a newspaper reporter when she said this:

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

"If there's a need for (the records request), I don't have any issue with it, but if it's just trying to catch you in something you're doing ... then I might have an issue with it."

My goodness! Either someone like City Attorney Gregory Priamos hasn't been training the elected officials adequately in the application or purpose of the CPRA or there's deeper problems with the elected government that believes through its legal eagle Priamos that it can pick and choose which parts of it that the public, city residents or local media, can access. But her comments off the cuff no doubt do explain a lot of what is happening at City Hall with its public records release and even why it's happening. It's happening precisely because of what Hart said, that if the records risk exposing embarrassing information or even worse, their release puts Priamos on alert that the city's facing potential risk of civil liability, then the documents either don't turn up on diligent searches or they don't exist. Well at least not until a later date anyway in some cases like the magical at will contracts. Because it's not clear from the language in letters that state documents can't be found as to whether they don't exist, got lost or the city just doesn't want to release them. It's especially not clear when those documents that can't be found show up later on.

And here's the exact text of the charter amendment for public meetings and public documents access. It's a pretty good expression of the importance of transparency in government through the insurance of accessibility to public records. It's just too bad that City Hall appears to pick and choose when to abide by it and when to enforce the provisions which govern public records accessibility in ways that don't seem to differ much from Hart's spoken philosophy on the issue. Just like individuals at City Hall have picked and chosen what other laws to follow including those pertaining to badge, cold plates and gun sales.

But here's the charter language that voters went to the polls and en masse pulled the lever for its inclusion.

(excerpt, city charter)

Sec. 201. Access to public meetings and public records.

City agencies, boards, commissions, committees, officials, staff and officers, including the Mayor and members of the City Council, exist to conduct the people's business. It is fundamental that the people have full access to information, not to just what decisions have been made in their name but how those decisions were reached and how they were deliberated. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created. The people do not give their agencies or public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know.

Our values lie in a government that helps its citizens in a timely way to obtain information. Our values lie in a broadening base of public participation, involvement and interest, providing new ideas and energy.
Our values lie not in hiding embarrassment and unpleasant occurrences. Our values lie not in preventing dissent.

To carry out the purposes set forth in this section, the provisions of the Ralph M. Brown Act (California Government Code Section 54950 et seq.) and the Public Records Act (California Government Code Section 6250 et seq.) shall apply to the City Council, and any commission, committee, board or other body created by Charter, ordinance, resolution or formal action of the City Council, or the Mayor.

Special circumstances dictate that there must be exceptions to access. But those exceptions should be narrowly drawn and narrowly exercised. Public employees must be protected from unwarranted invasions of privacy while the public's right to fundamental information must be protected. Citizen right to privacy must be protected with the knowledge that involvement in government matters necessarily reduces an expectation of privacy.

In general, the value of access should be given a strong presumption of public benefit. (Effective 1/18/2005)

But is the city's government and its direct employees truly honoring the will of the voters and obeying the charter? We've seen what the city has done to charter amendments involving the powers of the Community Police Review Commission which have been weakened by the city government through its direct employees and the much diluted and ineffective ethics code and complaint process. So despite it being the city's Constitution, it's hard to view it as anything but a piece of paper with writing on it stored somewhere because that's how City Hall views and treats it.

So much different than the will of the majority in Riverside and once again, here's that special paragraph written with civic leaders like Hart in mind.

Our values lie in a government that helps its citizens in a timely way to obtain information. Our values lie in a broadening base of public participation, involvement and interest, providing new ideas and energy.
Our values lie not in hiding embarrassment and unpleasant occurrences. Our values lie not in preventing dissent.

But that doesn't seem to jive very well with the values expressed by Hart and the behaviors of Riverside when it comes to upholding and enforcing the city's charter and the state's public records laws which seem to be more on a case by case basis based in some documented cases on whether or not the city wants to release information that it believes either embarrasses it, exposes any misconduct or illegal acts or puts it at increased risk of civil liability.

So why is the city able to get away with thumbing its nose in certain cases at Charter Amendment 201 when violating the charter's provisions constitutes a misdemeanor offense. In fact, Priamos helpfully pointed out to the Community Police Review Commission if tried to investigate officer-involved deaths shortly after they happened, its members would be putting themselves at risk of a hefty fine and up to a year in county jail. Even when there was no definite way to show that if the CPRC took that action, it would be committing a charter violation. But there lies the problem with the enforcement of the city's charter and the investigation and prosecution of charter violations is that those powers lie with Priamos' office and in this case, his office is clearly making some of the decisions which have probably unlawfully denied the Press Enterprise and others of access to public records. Talk about a conflict of interest!

But the direct employees act the way they are instructed to by those who keep them employed, elected officials and if the city council members were truly dissatisfied with what they were doing, they would be re-directed by those who give them periodic performance evaluations. So the only thing that you could really conclude is that the city government as an entity takes no issue with the poor performance of its direct employees including the city attorney on public records release that's been noted by the Press Enterprise and others as well.

As to who employs those who employ Hudson and Priamos, that would be the voters living in the seven wards of Riverside who make that decision every four years. The next round of elections will be for the odd-numbered wards in June of 2011.

River City's Dynamic Duo:

Armed and Ready on City Hall's Seventh Floor

But while labor contracts disappear and then reappear and post-its are in danger of being destroyed some documents are surviving the disclosure process intact including that the dynamic duo in the city manager's office finally paid for their police equipment the city allegedly bought them back in 2005 in that illicit gun sale involving the police department.

Now that was a while in coming from the top floor of City Hall, over four years before they reimbursed the city for the costs of their holsters (paddle and ankle) not to mention those grip extensions. There had been no paperwork available for the Press Enterprise when it had requested it but the purchases came shortly after. Better late than never some might say.

[Yippie-Kai Aaaaay! Assistant City Manager Tom DeSantis finally put his own gun paraphernalia on his own card.]

When the articles in the Press Enterprise came to light on the decisions of City Manager Brad Hudson and his sidekick and assistant city manager, Tom DeSantis were packing concealed heat, there was no mention of why Hudson had applied for his concealed and carry weapon's permit but now it's been revealed that Hudson did it to protect himself from irate people who came into City Hall's Seventh Floor.

Though ironically it was an irate DeSantis who in the summer of 2006 had 911 called on him in another city by a woman who told a Riverside County Sheriff's Department deputy that the former county public information officer wearing his city uniform allegedly flashed a gun and a pair of handcuffs at her. Not much investigation resulted of that incident as would have probably happened if he hadn't been a highly tethered management employee. After all, privilege carries a lot of weight, given how these incidents were committed, then investigated and then hidden by City Hall.

DeSantis himself wanted his gun because in his position, he attended highly emotionally charged meetings in high crime neighborhoods, according to the wording on his permit application. Which in itself is kind of ironic but anyway, it's very interesting how the city management office is oh so much more forthcoming about when they paid for the paraphernalia out of their somewhat generous annual salaries when they were somewhat less than forthcoming when the city had purchased them these items using the police department as an illegal gun vendor. Even the laundered gun sale in January 2006 didn't get publicly released to the city's residents. No, that only came to light after the city tried to take additional steps behind closed doors in over four years later to pay a huge sum of money to settle two lawsuits filed by two former police lieutenants who incidentally were the individuals who brought these illegal actions to light both to the proper authorities and in their civil litigation.

The two had also tried to equip themselves with illegal badges so that when they got out of their city owned (and once cold plated) vehicles to remove illegally posted signs, they could flash their badges as de facto code enforcement officers at anyone who questioned them. Never mind that the city has a pretty good sized code enforcement division to do just that. But it really needs two high-paid, six-figured employees to serve in that capacity. Not that they got to keep their badges or ever use them because the state attorney general's office said, no you can't.

Still, with this city management team, the dynamic duo, you just never know what will happen next. The one thing that you can guess for sure is that if there's any public document requested in relation to it, they may be provided by City Hall. But then again, they might not. But at least their desire to deck themselves out like commando police officers won't be ultimately billed to the city's residents.

Hooray for that at least.

The recall processes have begun for the city officials in San Jacinto who have been indicted in that corruption scandal.

Police furloughs up for discussion in San Bernardino.

A power failure led the downtown library without air conditioning. Which actually wasn't that noticeable.

No City Council Meeting Next Week In Riverside

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