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

Friday, December 17, 2010

It's Not Who You Know, It's Who Knows You and Other Holiday Cheer

[Construction crews work diligently on rebuilding Chicago Avenue near Andulka Park after it collapsed on Wednesday from a broken storm drain. ]

[A portion of the storm channel bordering Andulka Park goes bye bye]

[Storm channel adjacent to Andulka Park collapsed on both sides taking a Pepper tree down too]

State Comptroller's office finds fault with Mayer Hoffman McKann's audits in Bell, stated they were "rubber stamped" by the firm which it alleged didn't comply with standards for conducting audits. Having challenged the "perfect" audits conducted by this firm of Riverside at Finance Committee meetings, I'm not surprised.

(excerpt, Los Angeles Times)

"MHM appears to have been a rubber-stamp rather than a responsible auditor committed to providing the public with the transparency and accountability that could have prevented the mismanagement of the city's finances by Bell officials," said Controller John Chiang in a statement. "Had MHM fully complied with the 17 applicable fieldwork standards, it would have led them to identify some — if not all — of the problems."

But where does this leave Riverside and other cities who hired the same firm to audit their books?

UPDATE: POWER OUTAGE in Eastside, beginning an hour ago...

"This is one big mother and it's going to have a lot of waves in it."

--Bill Hoffer, National Weather Service

Riverside will be buried in rain because upsetting the applecart of the current La Nina is the Pineapple Express. That phenomenon most often is seen during an El Nino year or an appearance of what's called the Madden Julian Oscillation. Remember the rain season that dropped nearly 30 inches, that was caused by the latter weather condition in the absence of the former. But the Express has lined up at Oregon and branched all the way to Hawaii which means that Central and particularly Southern California is in its sights for five straight days of what would be the heaviest rainfall in some years. Approaching La Nina years generally don't impact rainfall until January.

The rain so far this fall has led to a milder fire season and has brought some more greenery to Riverside, but what will it do to the city's roads and the highways especially since many people aren't careful when they drive in inclement weather and it also will test the constitution of the city's Wi Fi network which it now manages which has seen signal strength and connectivity drop in several areas of the city from the latest storm. Last year equipment including 14 devices were replaced by the vendor after defects in the product caused problems with their ability to control voltage from the street lights which power them causing shorts and outages.

[The city-managed Wi Fi network will get its first real test facing inclement weather this week with five days of the current "Pineapple Express" rain forecast. Several areas are already experiencing lower signal strength and connectivity in the wake of the most recent storm.]

This week connectivity and signal strength has diminished substantially in several locations and the city's currently sending out its management team to weatherize equipment so it will be less exposed to the elements. No ETA of when this work will be completed and when the system will resume full connectivity again but hopefully this will address the weather related issues which last year virtually shut down most of the network for four months.

Otherwise, the same streets that flood and overflow (meaning that the Arroyo River will return) including western portions of the Eastside by the railroad tracks will likely so again, so batten down those hatches!

Will the famed Arroyo River be returning this winter?

And you really can't say there's no rivers in Riverside at least not this time of year.

Will City Hall Pick Its Own Guard for Charter Review?

About 21 people applied to serve on the upcoming Charter Review Committee and their names have been forwarded to the Mayor's Nomination and Screening Committee for selection to be interviewed presumably by the city council and mayor. In the last foray into this arduous process about 10 years, appointments had been made by Mayor Ron Loveridge and the city council members.

"Do I know this person? Do You?"

[The Mayor's Nomination and Screening Committee prepares to begin the process of selecting the members of the charter review committee and yes, often it does come down to who you know...or rather they know. ]

It's not clear yet what kind of role ward representation will be playing in this process in terms of whether this charter-mandated process falls under the charter amendment added by the passage of Measure GG, but don't be surprised if the appointment process winds up being highly politicized like everything else in this city. But the last round of charter review tossed out recommended initiatives including those which put the Community Police Review Commission and the Ethics Code and Complaint Process in the city's charter where both were readily manipulated by factions at City Hall quickly enough. Also ward representation and the requirement that the city has to change independent outside auditors after five consecutive years. So the process that took place not even 10 years ago (and it comes earlier this year because it's based on some convoluted formula centered on the timing of the mayoral election which switched to 2012) has a history of tremendous impact of course based on voters' response to proposed initiatives and it could be this time as well as the list of items to present to a committee that hasn't even been created yet continues to grow.

One of the items that might be discussed is whether there needs to be changes in what entity the city's auditors report to with their findings. Instead of city management, it could be the city council or mayor instead if this proposal reaches the ballot and gets voted in by the electorate.

And the timing for that last charter amendment is great in terms of the city's current five year contract with the problematic firm of Mayer Hoffman McCann as CAL PERS has decided not to give that company any more business in the wake of the controversy of what happened in Bell. As most people know, Bell contracted with this firm to do its audits which for some reason came out perfect (which is also pretty much what happened in Riverside) even though everyone knows now including the State Comptroller's office that this just wasn't the case at all. Even though Asst. City Manager Paul Sundeen had said at a recent Finance Committee meeting that the city charter provision does allow the city to hire different employees from the Mayer Hoffman McCann firm, at least one city council member says that's not going to happen and that the firm will not be doing business with Riverside. And that's how it should be, show that firm the door and go through a vetting process to select its replacement.

Not much has been said about the problematic ties of the legal firm, Best, Best and Krieger not only with the city of Bell but also Maywood the city that had to disband its entire work force including its problem plagued police department (which has been contractually replaced by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department)though that's mostly involving Attorney Edward Lee. Lee was most recently removed by Downey as its city attorney. But then again, Riverside's own city attorney's office either refuses to produce or can't find contracts between the city and Best, Best and Krieger for legal services that the firm provides to Riverside in different areas as much of the city's legal defense for example is farmed out by City Hall to legal firms including this one. But then Priamos' office couldn't find two labor contracts tied with proposed "at will" contracts in the police department until Hudson found them three years later, so it's not exactly news that they can't find any legal contracts to one of the main law firms used by the city.

But anyway, concerning the ultimate selections of the Charter Review Committee, once the mayor and nominating committee members figure out who they know and don't know, the process will go to the city council for interviews and selection but it's interesting that some of the applicants from the 21 filed have been revealed, including the CEO and publisher of the Press Enterprise Ronald R. Redfern, which will be interesting to see if he's even picked. Will that depend on how naughty or nice the publication has been, or will be? It's just a bit of an unholy intertwining of City Hall with the Fourth Estate but if Redfern gets picked it will be interesting to watch and this isn't exactly unprecedented because included in the last eclectic collection of members last time around was another individual with employment ties to the publication, Marcia McQuern.

And it's interesting that the city's charter gets this kind of reverence every 10 years like it's a very important document, when it seems like too many other times, it's just another piece of paper with writing on it. After all, where was it written in the charter that city officials could involve themselves in the promotional process or apparently help themselves to a city department's resources?

In fact, the charter prohibits that type of behavior punishable by jail time and a hefty fine as City Attorney Gregory Priamos helpfully pointed out to CPRC commissioners simply for challenging Priamos latest interpretation of the charter's provision on the CPRC. But in alleged cases involving some denizens at City Hall, nothing was done at all, except to call it "old news" and to pay a lot of money in hopes that it would go away.

So it's hard not to look at the return of the charter review process without some skepticism because while there's been much preaching and some of it very opportunistic about the importance and sanctity of the city's very own constitution, there's been considerable muddying of the waters in terms of whether or not that's actually true.

Community Services Division Returns to RPD

[Riverside Police Chief Sergio Diaz has made the re-institution of the Community Services Division one of his highest priorities]

Chief Sergio Diaz has announced that components of the police department which have fallen by the wayside will be returning including what will be the highest priority which will be the return of the Community Services Division which was disbanded several years ago purportedly to decentralize community policing though that didn't really happen. It kind of scattered into some corners including some popular programs that disappeared for a while. Facilitated greatly by a lack of commitment at the top of the hierarchy not to mention the gutting of the police department's civilian and sworn ranks by decisions made that had partly to do with saving budget funds.

This left the department with over 100 vacancies and a 20% vacancy rate on the civilian side and sharp reductions in its sworn side in every division except the detectives' rank which is protected by a MOU dating back to the early 1990s. The lieutenant's vacancy rate went as high as 33% (including 50% at the watch command division) and about 22% at the sergeants' rank. A massive number of promotions, the last wave of them being within weeks of Diaz' arrival softened the vacancy rates in supervision. Lieutenants have two vacancies currently but the vacancy rate at the sergeant's level still looms at six positions.

It's anticipated that a lieutenant's position might be opening as soon as January when Darryl Hurt's position goes off the book as he reaches retirement age which means that it would be likely that two other lower level promotions would take place as well if his position is filled. But the department's in a precarious stage when it comes to tapping into the officer level which has at least 30 vacancies. So the reduction in staffing in the sworn side has led to a delicate balancing act between supervision and those supervised because it's impossible to promote at the sergeant level without tapping directly or indirectly (through the detective's rank) into the officer pool. The department recently won a COPS grant for 15 positions and has started the process of filling them with about 33 in background checks. But the city has also promised the department 12 additional positions back when it found the extra $3-4 million dollars behind the proverbial couch at City Hall, though the city's memory appears to already be running short here already.

Still even with the hiring, it will take up to 2-3 years for the new officers to be more confident and experienced in their positions and the department's rank and file still skews strongly towards lesser experience with only several years ago, the average officer being 23-24 with about 2- 2 1/2 years experience.

Also hit hard by the freezing of vacant positions was the civilian side of the police department which once allegedly had its positions frozen for several months several years ago so that money there could be borrowed against to send to redevelopment. Maybe the sewer fund was tapped out at the time and thus not available for playing ATM but even today the civilian ranks have been greatly depleted in numbers.

The civilian employee shortages have resulted from attrition and freezes which have taken place in most positions except dispatching. Diaz has said he's identified about 20 positions that are important with at least five being critical and has said that he will address these issues with City Hall which is an important step in addressing these critical issues.

Diaz has also listed the return of the Community Service Division as a big priority at public meetings and this resurrected division will be getting ample office space at its new home at the police administration headquarters in downtown Riverside. One way to be able to gauge how much emphasis is being placed on a division particularly a "new" one is how the assignments to that division are viewed by those eligible to put in for them. And judging by the rush of lieutenants who tried out for the head of the Community Services Division, it's quite hot indeed.

Lt. Guy Toussaint previously assigned to the Traffic Division beat out at least a dozen other lieutenants for the position as more than two-thirds of that rank's staffing apparently contested for it. His vacated position will likely go to one of only two lieutenants who applied for a stint leading Traffic. These two lieutenants are an area commander, the other a newly promoted watch commander who applied to head the Traffic Division. It's likely that if it's between these two individuals that the latter will get it because he has prior experience in the division. But it's ironic the popularity of the newly reinvented division with the lieutenants in comparison to actually having a lieutenant try to transfer out of an area command into the Traffic division as the area command posts were viewed by many as a means of getting promoted to captain in the past.

In fact, not too long ago, an area commander was transferred back to watch command and replaced by another lieutenant allegedly because he lacked a degree which wasn't even a listed requirement to be an area commander or even a lieutenant at all. However, the captain's position does apparently require at least a bachelor's degree and some saw it as placing people in area commands who were more viable candidates for captain's positions in terms of satisfying the qualifications for applying.

As for the lieutenant's rank, there were 12 people who passed the test with 11 showing up for the testing date and one other candidate (who apparently did very well) showing up the following day for his own written test. As stated earlier, two tested in the "A" bands, closely together and as it turned out those were sergeants, Jaybee Brennan (who led the previous lieutenant's list back in the era of numerical ranking) and Christian Dinco (a first-time test taker). Dinco successfully reversed the trend of others who tested for the first time, who finished in "B" and "C" band. That raised some eyebrows but the consensus appeared to back him for the next lieutenant's opening in the light of giving him the chance, not surprising considering the current dynamic surrounding the views toward upward advancement plus he's seemed to have successfully avoided the mantra of "some people are just good test takers" that has been in the air. Surprising given his stellar performance his first time out.

The "B" band had eight names in it, as the lieutenant's testing curve was the somewhat well known bell shaped curve often seen in testing environments with the distinctions between "A" and some in "B" band apparently being fairly close to making delineation difficult.

The candidate who appears to be favored in the "B" category is Mark Rossi who went from one special assignment holding the very challenging position of overseeing the Homicide Department to another in Personnel and Training with barely time to breathe in between or time spent in field division. Which is pretty close to how some of the candidates including those ultimately promoted have trended this past year. Are people who finish one special assignment and start another being groomed or mentored, that is often hard to determine but it's in interesting contrast to other officers who put in for special assignments only to be told they have to complete at least a 12 month stint in field operations usually patrol before they are eligible for that coveted assignment.

So far in this year's promotions including at the lieutenant's rank, SWAT experience as well as that in divisions that were under the former assistant/acting chief John DeLaRosa (and the Personnel Division run by his mentor, then captain, Michael Blakely) most notably personnel and training were seen in many promotional selections including those made by Diaz in July. It will be interesting to see if that trend continues under Diaz whose first round of promotions mirrored the favorite picks of two management team members.

Not surprising given that DeLaRosa allegedly had said on one occasion that he favored promoting out of SWAT and it's believed that Blakely likes them very much as well which may give some explanation for the trend though one of the department's most challenging assignments might be attractive for a variety of reasons so it's hard to say. But actually those who ranked higher on the lieutenant's listings were geared more in the direction of a myriad of assignments from the patrol division, to the chief's office, to specialized teams including the now defunct Police and Corrections Team which had been a vital tool in addressing recidivism. Rather than one or two specific areas.

The sergeants' listing process attracted droves of candidates which resulted in around three dozen candidates, whether because the timing was right for so many people or perhaps because more people are willing to try the process again under new leadership given that quite a few potential candidates either opted out of the process due to frustration with the department's somewhat fraternization promotional practices or they removed themselves from listings out of similar frustrations. And who could blame them for that, given that if you went to the wrong church, the wrong party, the wrong strip club or ran with the wrong vacation crowd, you were out of luck. Dissing the wrong elected official could get you bounced out of contention too. Maybe the influx of sergeant candidates is a good sign that maybe people are willing to try out again and see what happens and if all of these somewhat questionable practices are truly of the past.

At any rate, it remains to be seen if any promotions are pending including what if anything will be done about the newly completely vacant lieutenant's position but you just never know in this city. But the commitment by the police department to a division that got dismantled and put in moth balls only several years ago is an interesting twist and hopefully a sign of Diaz' commitment to community policing.

City Employee Alert

Apparently another high positioned African-American employee has been pushed to depart the city of Riverside recently, the final of a list of Black and Latino employees that would be ousted provided to this blogger several years ago. The list correctly forecast the departure of Tranda Drumwright, Jim Smith and Art Alcaraz. This latest employee worked in many of the city's departments including Finance and Development and allegedly a lawyer had been hired at some point in this process initiated by the Seventh Floor. But then there's been quite a few of employee decisions and departures that have attracted quite a bit of attention in the past five years.

This is just the latest.

[Hudson's still in place though rumors suggest that he's departing and how will be relate to his new CPRC manager if former Maywood Police Chief Frank Hauptmann is hired?]

In other news, it's been highly hinted that former Maywood Police Chief Frank Hauptmann is in background as the city's selection for the new manager of the Community Police Review Commission which will also be losing its current chair, Brian Pearcy when he terms out this March. Hauptmann if hired will be an interesting addition to the cast of characters at City Hall and will fill the shoes of the recently departed manager, Kevin Rogan and a commission that's pretty much in disarray since certain denizens at City Hall designated it one of their favorite playthings. Because Hauptmann's ethics have been praised in various venues including the State Attorney General's office which worked with Maywood's police department to institute reforms up to the point where it was disbanded. Without naming him, City Manager Brad Hudson hinted at connections between the city's top candidate (which he didn't name) and that state agency as well as consultants who had been hired by the city to address issues including most likely, police practices consultant, Joe Brann who also worked closely with the State Attorney General's office in Maywood. Hauptmann was viewed by one person as the most ethical interim police chief, which is a great endorsement but given the pool of interim chiefs who preceded him, it's not a difficult competition to win.

If he indeed is to be hired, will Hauptmann clash with his boss Hudson, that remains to be seen but it will certainly be interesting to find out. However, an interesting change is who the liaison to the CPRC from the police department will be. Previously, it was Personnel Captain Mike Blakely who did the job but now Asst. Chief Chris Vicino will be taking over that position. The dynamics between those two management employees might be the most interesting to surface so far, including some intriguing power plays between them at the office. Given their very different personality styles, it'll be interesting to see how it plays out.

[Asst. Chief Chris Vicino prepared to take over as liaison to the CPRC]

[Hudson's former right hand man, Tom DeSantis has officially left the city]

Former Asst. City Manager Tom DeSantis who had abruptly had his resignation announced by City Manager Brad Hudson several months ago will be officially gone by the end of the month, about four years after he allegedly sent one of the former CPRC managers, Pedro Payne packing (through a "resignation" letter) after a heated disagreement that took place at a meeting. Why DeSantis was asked by Hudson to resign is a matter of intense speculation but apparently wasn't sparked by any of the recent chain of unfortunate events that was unveiled this past year but another alleged incident that involved both Riverside and another city. But DeSantis' departure did alter the dynamic in Riverside both in and outside City Hall and a retrospective to the five-year stint of this figure in the canvas of River City will be provided in a future blog posting.

At one point, the city had approved classifications for one assistant city manager and several deputy city managers but nothing has been done to address whether there will be fewer city management employees or more of them given how the staff of them had mushroomed in recent years.

As has the attention from the public these positions have attracted.

Press Enterprise Columnist Dan Bernstein is issuing updates on the construction of the new parking garage in downtown Riverside. There's actually been chunks of asphalt seen in the location which hadn't seen all that much activity lately.

Three more judges appointed by Sacramento to the Inland Empire's courts.

And a police chief who has lasted 30 years in that position has retired.

Not guilty plea, entered by Earl Ellis Green who is charged with the murder of Riverside Police Department Officer Ryan Bonaminio and the man accused of targeting police officers in Hemet appeared in court.

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