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, December 05, 2010

River City: Anatomy of an Ethics Complaint

UPDATE: The Mayor's Nomination and Screening Committee sided with colleague Councilman Steve Adams in the ethics complaint (through a 4-0 decision) filed by the La Sierra/Arlanza Neighborhood Alliance while City Manager Brad Hudson makes shocking allegations, well hints of them without elaboration of course, against the organization including some that were news to those on its board.

[Members of the Mayor's Nomination and Screening Committee heard and ultimately voted against complainant.]

UPDATE: Former Riverside Police Department officer Anthony Fletcher sentenced to prison for one year after being convicted of multiple felony counts of child molestation.

From the Ashes of Maywood to Riverside:

The hiring of a city employee...

Coming soon...

UPDATE: Human Resources Board member Rosetta Runnels passed away last week, a very nice and conscientious person and board member, who achieved her law degree after many struggles and worked as a lawyer in Riverside while also serving as a mentor.

Ethics complaint involving Councilman Steve Adams

When: Tuesday, Dec. 7 at 10 a.m.

Where: Mayor's Ceremonial Room, Seventh Floor City Hall

Backup material: here

The formerly postponed ethics complaint against Riverside Councilman Steve Adams filed by the La Sierra/Arlanza Neighborhood Alliance will finally be heard by the Mayor's Nomination and Screening Committee at City Hall. The incident came to light when reported in the Web site Our La Sierra here a day after the alleged incident took place. Adams allegedly appeared at a meeting of LANA to speak at it along with City Attorney Gregory Priamos in tow and after being told that there would be time later for him to do so on the agenda, he allegedly called several city employees who had been scheduled on the agenda to give presentations to come out and talk to him in the parking lot. After whatever discussion took place, the city employees who had been scheduled to present left the premises. This led the members of LANA to the conclusion that Adams had told the city employees to leave the meeting in lieu of remaining there and providing information through presentation to the membership.

The allegation against Adams is that he violated Charter Amendment 407 prohibiting administrative interference by elected officials covered in this section of the Charter. Violating the section of the charter constitutes a violation of the city's Ethics Code, according to an email submitted by LANA to City Clerk Colleen Nicol.

The original complaint was denied at about the same time Hudson suddenly came forward publicly and said that he not Adams had been the ones to order the employees to depart even though he hadn't been present at the meeting location. Adams in the press claimed the complaint had no merit that it was a political attack against him because Taffi Brandriff's husband John was running for city council against him in 2011. Throughout the entire ethics code discussion process, Adams has said publicly that he believes that the code has been used against elected officials for political reasons even in one case making vague references to a hypothetical example of a car accident three years ago, at a Governmental Affairs Committee causing no small degree of confusion in the process.

So LANA filed an amended complaint which like the first edition, detailed the chain of events it took place in greater detail.

Amended Complaint:

On the evening of September 2, 2010, LANA met at the Senior Center at La Sierra Park. Our guest speakers for the evening were Cindie Perry, Public Works Manager and Tom Boyd Director of Public Works; they arrived prior to the meeting in business attire, briefcase in hand, and ready to present.

Councilman Steve Adams arrived early and brought with him Greg Priamos, City Attorney for Riverside. Councilman Adams told Co-Chair of LANA, Taffi Brandriff, that he (Councilman Adams) WOULD be speaking at the beginning of our meeting. He cited undocumented “complaints”, allegedly received, regarding the manner in which LANA meetings were conducted. He was advised by Mrs. Brandriff that the agenda had been set, and that time did not allow a speaker added at the last minute. He was advised that time would be given at the end of the meeting for any, and all, interested persons to have the floor for a set time period. He was invited to participate in a future meeting by making a timely request.

Mr. Priamos discussed with Mrs. Brandriff, the nature of LANA of its affiliation with the city and queried Mrs. Brandriff on the possibility that LANA was organizing as a Governance group. Mrs. Brandriff reiterated that LANA was a community group through the RNP (Riverside Neighborhood Partnership) and in no manner had ever indicated, or acted in any way to suggest, that LANA was organizing as a Governance group. Both Councilman Adams and City Attorney Priamos left the meeting room.

Councilman Adams Legislative Field Representative was seen informing Public Works Manager Cindie Perry that Councilman Adams would like to speak with her outside. They were viewed speaking at length in the parking lot. After their conversation neither Ms. Perry nor Mr. Boyd returned to the building nor answered our call. Since Ms. Perry and Mr. Boyd were seen by many in readiness to present at our meeting and then left the premises after a conversation with Councilman Adams, the concern is that Sec. 407 of the City Charter was violated, which as stated above is an ethics violation.

Councilmember Adams displayed conduct unbecoming an elected official and retaliated against the members of LANA and the community. We are asking that this be investigated and a report be given to us regarding the findings of that investigation. This abuse of power is inexcusable and the Community should not be penalized because of politics and this is another reason why this matter must be investigated by you. Thank you in advance for your anticipated cooperation, respectfully yours,

Mr. Scott Andrews
Lana Board member/ RNP Chairperson/ W3C member

Mr. Richard Long
LANA Board member/ Pacific Palisades Neighborhood Watch

Mrs. Taffi Brandriff
LANA Vice Chairperson/ RNP member/ La Sierra Hills Neighborhood Watch

Mrs. Sophia Diaz
LANA member/ La Sierra Hills Neighborhood Watch

Ms. Sharon Mateja
LANA Founding member/ RRR Co-Founder and Chairperson

Mrs. Mia Alvarado
LANA member/ La Sierra Hills Neighborhood Watch /Alvord Council PTA Vice President

So this sets the stage for the public hearing that has now been scheduled for Dec. 7 and most likely will prove to be a lesson plan in why the Mayor's Nomination and Screening Committee is so ill-suited for hearing ethics complaints filed against elected officials, a process that has been somewhat amended by a recent narrow city council vote. A vote that according to Priamos could be reversed when the city council meets next month to discuss and vote on the language of the changes to the resolution defining the code and complaint process. If the city residents don't continue to be engaged in the process, then all it would take is one or more council members, say Nancy Hart, and the changes voted on by the city council recently would be undone including the most at risk provision, the creation of a separate and independent panel to hear complaints involving elected officials. But it's an election year for four of them coming up including Adams and that would make any such political reversal potentially damaging to their political campaigns.

[Councilman Steve Adams, subject of the ethics complaint]

[Brad Hudson, Key Witness for Adams who employs him]

[Mayor Ron Loveridge, if in town, will chair the panel]

[Mayor's Nomination and Screening Committee minus Adams will hear complaint and lustily dismiss it ]

[Councilwoman Nancy Hart(l.) will substitute in for Adams]

Before the amended complaint came the original complaint filed by LANA which received some responses from interesting parties. According to the ordinance defining the complaint process, complaints against elected officials are supposed to head to the Mayor's Nomination and Screening Committee but relatively few filed against city officials have actually made it to the correct venue. Several were essentially rejected by Priamos but not the LANA complaint, that one was actually denied by a different city employee for a change, this one being Hudson. Whether to provide clarity on the situation or to fall on the nearest bayonet, Hudson actually was allowed and perhaps even sanctioned by city council members to reject an ethics complaint filed by one of his employers. Oddly considering his history, Hudson essentially put himself under the bus instead of throwing someone else adding a nuanced anecdote to the history of this particular complaint and the process itself in the process.

Hudson stated his denial of the complaint when he responded with the following email around Sept. 22.

(email, Hudson to LANA)

This is in response to the letter from the La Sierra/Arlanza Neighborhood Alliance (LANA) dated September 10, 2010 and received by the City Clerk on September 13, 2010. The letter incorrectly asserts that Councilmember Adams violated Section 407 of the Riverside City Charter.

As you may know, Councilmember Adams received complaints from several citizens that LANA was misrepresenting the group’s scope and authority. Councilmember Adams appeared at the meeting for the purpose of sharing the City Council’s action of May 25, 2010 creating a formal neighborhood council approach and answering any questions as to the process and guidelines for becoming a neighborhood council. Councilmember Adams was not allowed to address the group and offer the information.

Thereafter, I made the decision relative to city staff’s participation at the meeting. My decision was based upon the citizen complaints that the LANA group was misrepresenting its scope and authority and the refusal to permit Councilmember Adams and the City Attorney to provide clarification as to City Council’s action. Consequently, there is no basis for your assertion and there is no further action to be taken on your letter.

The language that is in red is that used by Hudson in the email to take it upon himself to act as the judiciary body denying the complaint before it was filed. Perhaps it was because Priamos was busy doing something else too much so to slip into that role himself. But the response from the city council and mayor when once again, the ethics complaint process involving elected officials was sidetracked was silence. Because as most people know, the tail wags the dog and not the other way around.

So in essence, in this particular case, the ethics complaint that was supposed to go to the Mayor's Nomination and Screening Committee pursuant to the ethics code resolution went to Hudson and ended there in violation of the resolution that governs it which is pretty funny in a way to have an ethics code and have a government that can't even adhere to the written language City Hall itself passed. But then again, this is Riverside which has been awash in embarrassing revelations and scandals this past year, so the fact that it's governing body is tripping over the ethics code mandated by the city's voters should come as no real surprise. But LANA amended the complaint taking into consideration Hudson's declaration of his recollection of the events and filed anew. The complaint was originally scheduled to be heard in early November but that meeting was canceled because Hudson had been called out of town to see his mother and his presence at the hearing was "key", according to City Clerk Colleen Nicol.

But LANA apparently had concerns about the hearing process itself and what person exercising basic common sense wouldn't, because the current process allows the fox to guard the hen house given that the city council has never been quite effective or even interested in addressing ethics code violations that take place at meetings made by current but mostly former city officials who berate and in some cases even slandered members of the public who said things at the dais they didn't like, like when Adams called several women "liars" and the complaint filed against him, the ethic code's very first, was tossed out on some technicality not included in the language of the ordinance as excluding the filing of complaints.

So LANA listed its concerns which match those made publicly by other individuals regarding the serious problems and yes ethical issues involved with having the Mayor's Nomination and Screening Committee hear complaints filed actually as it turns out, mostly against its own committee members.

October 7, 2010

To: Members of the Mayors Nominating and Screening Committee, City Council and City Attorney.
From: LANA Riverside
Re: Ethics complaint, re-filed September 27, 2010

It has come to our attention that the process for the review of the ethics complaint filed against Councilman Adams by this group could be problematic for the Council and for the City of Riverside. It would seem that the members of the Mayor’s Nominating and Screening Committee are all endorsers of Mr. Adams reelection campaign to the City Council in 2011. As such it might be perceived as a conflict for the Committee to hear a complaint against Mr. Adams. If the Committee were to clear him of the charges it might look to some in the community like a cover-up. Conversely it might be difficult or embarrassing to uphold charges against someone whom the members of the Committee have endorsed. While we are convinced that Mr. Adams did behave unethically, we also think he should have the opportunity for this case to be heard by an unconflicted and unbiased panel. We would suggest that a good faith effort be put forward to empanel a committee that could hear this matter and adjudicate it fairly and with no suggestion of partiality toward any outcome.

We also are requesting enough time for our request for records to be processed so we may present them at the hearing.

It would also be very helpful if the hearing could be scheduled in the evening when all of our complainants’ can be present. Most have jobs that would preclude them from being able to attend an afternoon meeting.

Thank you for your consideration of these concerns,

LANA Riverside.

LANA is right to be concerned, the first time the Mayor's Nomination and Screening Committee heard an ethics complaint involving then Councilman Dom Betro, the exercise consisted mostly of commiserating with Betro about the complaint filed against him and berating the person who filed with, Letitia Pepper, saying it was only filed to align with political motives. At that point in time, most of the city council had already endorsed or were in the process of endorsing Betro for that election cycle. And that's been a main issue that has come up as well, is how can elected officials take a serious look at ethical code violations involving their own peers after they've endorsed them for election. After all, they wouldn't endorse them without endorsing their politics as well as their positions on issues not to mention that blanket endorsements of city council members towards each other is very instrumental in trying to circle the wagons against any potential encroachment to their elected body by "outsiders". The issue of Adams being endorsed by most of the elected officials was raised in the email that LANA sent to City Hall.

Another email was sent involving how the process would be handled by the panel hearing the ethics complaint involving one of its own members.

LANA sent an email close to the original hearing date raising further concerns about the lack of communication by City Hall about the ethics complaint hearings dates and how hearings are conducted by the Mayor's Nomination and Screening Committee. The complaints mirror those raised by at least one commissioner who had a complaint filed against her and learned about that complaint through the Press Enterprise.

(excerpt of letter in response to initial scheduling of LANA complaint in early November)

"It is Tuesday November 9th and it is painfully obvious that the hearing process for ethics complaints is extremely biased, the committee knows what they’re going to do all along but the complainants don’t have a clue and aren’t told. We were never notified of the time or location of the hearing until the last minute and then it had to be rescheduled We also requested that the hearing be in the evening because the complainants have jobs and other responsibilities and are unable to attend in the middle of the day, obviously to no avail, although there was never any response to any e-mail. Consequently we have no idea what will happen tomorrow.

There is no place on the City’s website you can go to get any information on when, where, what and how the process will proceed. From the beginning we have been at a disadvantage, with the complaint originally thrown out based on semantics, and with little or no help in how to properly fill out a complaint. With no response to any e-mails that we sent and with next to no time, because of no communication as to the process and protocol of the hearing, we will do our best to present a justification for this complaint. The following is as brief and concise as we could make it and trust you will consider this as if we were there. We would also request that this statement be read for all those in attendance at the hearing."

That had followed an earlier email raising similar concerns about the process of the hearing itself in terms of the procedure followed including introduction of evidence, interviewing witnesses.

To: City Attorney, Gregory Priamos October 11, 2010
Re: Mr. Adams Ethics Hearing

Mr. Priamos, as the party that filed the complaint we have some questions regarding the procedure and protocol for the Ethics Hearing of Mr. Adams on November 2, 2010.
1. When will we be able to speak with or ask questions of the two City employees that were involved in this complaint or will they be available on the day of the hearing to answer any inquiries.
2. Since the City Manager has stepped up to take responsibility for this incident when will we be able to speak with or ask questions of him or will he be available on the day of the hearing to answer any inquires.
3. As an attendee at these proceedings and a witness to a portion of the interaction that took place on September 2, 2010 will you be able to discuss or answer any question that may arise or can we address any questions to you in advance.
4. If the hearing is scheduled at a time when the complainants cannot attend will their written statements be allowed to be read as a matter of record?
It is our hope that we will be able to present all the facts in this case including all records and information along with the statements of the witnesses and those directed to leave the premises that day. To that end we would appreciate a little latitude as we are not lawyers or are we familiar with the legal procedures of this hearing.

Actually most of the ethics complaint hearings have been conducted pretty similar to most of the other meetings held by the Mayor's Nomination and Screening Committee meetings. In that the agenda item, in this case an ethics complaint, is presented, the public gets three minutes to speak apiece and then the city council members discuss the complaint mostly to talk about how frivolous it is is. There's not really been much in the way of people questioning city employees or even elected officials as for the most part (except on one occasion), city officials or board or commission members haven't attended meetings where complaints filed against them have been heard.

One of the most interesting chapters of this complaint process was when LANA tried to gather information through the public records act on the communications between Priamos, Adams, the city employees involved and Hudson. Now it was Priamos' turn to come to the plate and engage in the art of skillful deflection.

On Oct. 14, LANA received a letter from Priamos stating that the city was denying its request for any and all documents pertaining to phone records and text messages for Adams, Hudson, Cindie Perry and Tom Boyd for the time period between 5-11 p.m. on Sept. 2. as well as any similar records in connection with references to LANA going back to May 2010. Except for phone records of Adams and Hudson only after 7 p.m. and two emails in relation to reference to LANA not protected under the attorney/client privilege. Any communications between Priamos and anyone else were deemed confidential in the letter under attorney/client privilege.

This is somewhat different, except in the case of Priamos, to information disclosure in the case of cell phone records in connection with the handling of the DUI incident involving former Police Chief Russ Leach. It's not logical on its face how Priamos could be assuming attorney/client privilege when he allegedly according to City Hall had little involvement in what happened at the LANA meeting in September and if Adams did nothing improper, why would he be seeking legal counseling from Priamos that would be deemed confidential? But it does speak to what Priamos once told someone was his number one responsibility as the city attorney which was to protect the city council and mayor. When he was asked what he would be protecting from, he really had no answer.

But as far as Hudson, it's kind of interesting because remember during the Leach incident when his city-issued cell phone records were somewhat...sparse in nature? His phone had been turned off most of the day while he was out of town touring theaters while Rome was burning. Then at some point he found out from someone what happened with Leach even as the records collected from the Press Enterprise showed no phone calls coming to or from his cell phone until after 5 p.m. on Feb. 8. Why is it only at 7 p.m. that the apparent witching hour takes place?

So one might ask in all seriousness, even if Hudson had his phone on after hours which was when the LANA meeting took place, would he pick it up and answer it? But what about the phone calls before the meeting earlier in the day, why are those deemed unreleasable? But it's pretty much a given that if the information is damaging to the city, that it's "confidential" and when it's not, it's able to be handed over while City Hall praises its transparency because again, Priamos' main job is to protect the city government, with the second job being to protect the city from civil liability.

At any rate, the ethics complaint will be heard tomorrow and the Mayor's Nomination and Screening Committee, Hudson (who was said to be attending), Priamos and their chorus will put on a good and lively show. But what it will ultimately prove to be is another case in point that the city government can't evaluate and police it's own behavior and that the entire code and process has yet to be worth the paper it's written on let alone that it's responding to the will of the public vote that put it in the city's charter.

But the charter review process is coming up again and no doubt the city's ethics code and complaint process will be among the myriad of topics discussed during that process, with perhaps some recommendations for charter initiatives to put on the ballot to strengthen it.

More charges possible in corruption probe in San Jacinto.

Some Northern California public defenders have sent a new labor contract to the Board of Supervisors, urging them to reverse the decision not to hire Virginia Blumenthal's firm and chose it over Criminal Defense Lawyers run by Paul Grech and Steve Harmon.

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