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, January 10, 2011

Election 2011: The Mystery of the Vanishing Councilman and Audit Review

Where Goes Councilman Steve Adams?

[Councilman Steve Adams has once again left the chambers when a person speaks at the podium he doesn't like]

Out with the scandal ridden 2010 and in with the brand new year of 2011 and that means in Riverside, there will be municipal elections for all the odd-numbered elections which will take place in the wards as they are currently delineated given that they are all up for redistricting in several years.

One of the councilmen up for reelection is Steve Adams who won last time around by only 13 votes over former councilwoman and mayor, Terry Frizzel who he outspent by at least 20 to 1. There's rumors going around that she is thinking of running again, joining Community Police Review Commissioner John Brandriff in the upcoming election. If she does jump in the race, then it's more likely that this particular contest will continue past the mail in preliminary round in June and into the finals in November. So her decision could have a pivotal role in deciding the direction towards determining who will be sworn into office as the Ward Seven council member after the election.

But Adams has become somewhat vulnerable in the past year given the allegations raised against him by two retired lieutenants that he interfered in the promotions of two other lieutenants to captain in 2005 and 2008. Depositions from that lawsuit painted a disturbing picture of what had happened with Meredyth Meredith and John Carpenter during what usually is a hallmark moment in an officer's career. He had also responded after the scandals involving cold plates, guns and badges came to light that it was "old news". Well of course it was, because City Hall had covered up those scandals for several years successfully and many of those who reside within its walls knew about this unethical and illegal activity way before it came to light.

Adams also voted against changes in the city's ethics code at a recent city council meeting, the only one on the dais to do that. He had been adamantly opposed to the removal of the controversial "24/7" that the city council had approved in late 2007 after two former councilmen on the Governmental Affairs Committee added it not long after one of them had a complaint against him for behavior that City Attorney Greg Priamos had alleged was not covered by the code. Now Priamos wasn't supposed to adjudicate that complaint in the first place but his ruling was on shaking ground until the language was added, that was ultimately removed late last year by the city council members once they saw the writing on the wall.

But Adams makes a city council meeting more interesting by some of his colorful comments and at times by his absence from the dais which usually takes place during public comment particularly those when members of the public speak that he doesn't like. In fact, there are a couple members of the public that when they speak, he is out of that room so fast, if you blink your eyes you might miss it. One source said that Adams goes into the conference room and sits and does hear the comments because it's wired for sound. So he's kind of there listening and he's kind of not. He's the only councilman who splits during public comment. Some of those who watch, especially Councilwoman Nancy Hart who make faces and visually reacts, don't look happy to listen but somehow they manage to stay glued to their seats while Adams heads out the door. Which is an important part of being an elected official whether they enjoy it or not, because the job has some parts that make those who do it happy and some parts that don't but they are public servants.

It's kind of interesting to watch him do it and even predict when he'll do it but if that's how Adams reacts to one situation that displeases him or makes him uncomfortable, then one wonders how he reacts in similar situations including those not so visible to the public including his constituents. Other councilmen who haven't liked listening to the public criticize them manage to paste on smiles once the calendar designates an election year and some have even done 180 degree changes in terms of their reception to public input but it's their record over a much longer period than the few months of an election cycle that ultimately define what the voters in their wards do at the polls.

And decorum on the dais is really one of the top qualities, believe it or not, that voters look for in their elected officials when making the decision on how to vote. It comes up over and over again in responses to what this city's residents look for in their candidates and the ones who have struggled to act like concerned and interested elected officials on the dais have had a hard time staying in office. One councilman even acted up during his election cycle including at public forums and although heavily favored, he didn't win a second term in office. An elected official who is smart will understand that reality. That the electorate in many of the wards in Riverside even those with lower voter turnout definitely know what they want and even more so, what they don't want in their elected representatives.

[Also up for reelection is Councilman Rusty Bailey who confused some of his supporters when he flipped on some of the stances on several issues he held when running for election in 2007.]

And that's why I wasn't too concerned about all this back and forth that's been going on recently on what to do with the Ethics Code and complaint process that has been like a few other civilian accountability mechanisms whittled and watered down since its inception. If you remember, the majority of the city's voters pushed at the polls in November 2004 for the city to create an ethics code and complaint process. A research committee (the first of two) was created to examine what was being done in other places and issue recommendations for what would be Riverside's own code and some of those recommendations were actually taken while others were tossed.

The city council is completely incapable or unwilling to hold those who misbehave it in check so ergo not much is going to come out of even the best intended ethics code and complaint process. But the voters sure know how to hand out pink slips to those who bypass the ethics code and its complaint process during election time, it's hard to overlook how effective the voters have been at holding their electeds accountable in the one means available for them to do so. They more than make up for a city government that shrugs even when it's come to light that its members have engaged in unethical behavior, not to mention when their own direct employees have faced investigations by the State Attorney General's office's criminal division.

The original code appeared pretty weak particularly by allowing elected officials to review and decide upon ethics complaints filed against other elected officials. Most of the populace didn't take the process of having the Mayor's Nomination and Screening Committee assigned to this task very seriously because after all, when council members have acted out on the dais against the public, everyone else next to them is silent. However, if a council member feels that a member of the public is too rowdy, often other elected officials will join him in his or her indignation.

Not to mention that in most municipal elections, blanket endorsements of incumbents are often issued officially or not by the majority of the city council (although one or two might opt out of this practice) which turns the city council into a garden club that makes it appear as if they are hostile or at least unwelcoming of "outsiders". But since most often these days it's been "outsiders" who are beating out incumbents by those whose votes really matter, one would think this custom would change but so far, no. But it's these realities that have made many folks not put much credence in the city's exercise at creating an ethics code and complaint process and this distrust was rewarded by the fact that very few of those actually filed against elected officials didn't even make it past Priamos' office.

At some point, Priamos or perhaps one or more of his handlers had assigned him the task of not just "advising" on complaints but rejecting them on technicalities. In two cases, arbitrarily assigning new rules prohibiting complaints even when they weren't included in the resolution and in one of those cases, allowing the councilman who was the subject of a complaint that Priamos rejected and another to insert language into the code to cement that rejection. The so-called "24/7" language went to the full city council and naturally was passed. The Code and its meaningless complaint process went nowhere until 2010 when scandals erupted and people started venting their anger and frustration at City Hall and the police department (in the wake of the DUI incident involving the former police chief) and after being mostly silent about these issues, apparently some city council members decided to placate the public by tinkering with the Ethics Code. It went back to research committee #2 and one of the strongest recommendations to be issued was the most vexing yet persistent of them all which was to have an outside independent body handle ethics complaints filed against elected officials.

2010 apparently penetrated into the psyches of some people on the dais and they reversed their positions both on the "24/7" language and on allowing an independent panel of some sort to handle complaints involving elected officials at least at the first level. The reliable Mayor's Nomination and Screening Committee will serve as the appellate process which means that any finding against an elected official will probably be appealed by that individual back to his own colleagues and if history is correct, most likely will be overturned there. But at least there's a layer of oversight by city residents who serve on the new panel which will be the chairs of the city's boards and commissions which are elected every March.

At any rate, even with all the changes, it's really hard to get too excited by what is still a process that doesn't really address the myriad of issues which arose in 2011, that are still on the minds of many prospective voters this year. Some might rail against the Press Enterprise and the media in general of making news where there was none but most people seemed to have saved their consternation towards City Hall. How much of that which will remain to influence the results of Election 2011 remains to be seen. But the past has shown that the ethics code and complaint process pales in great comparison to the ultimate ethics process that takes place at the polls. Most if not nearly all of the elected officials who voters questioned on their actions wound up getting pink slips even in races where they outspent their opposition or were heavily favored. Will that trend continue this time? That's one question which it's too soon to answer yet but in the past some unlucky individuals on the dais have seriously underestimated many things in their constituents including their intelligence and tolerance for dais hi jinks to their own detriment.

But apparently Adams isn't worried about it given that he's picking and choosing what parts of a public governmental meeting he chooses to attend and opting out of the parts that he doesn't like. If it works for him that's one thing but what matters is if this is what the majority of those who vote in his ward want that in their council representation or if it's time for another changing of the guard.

City Council Holds Workshop on Independent Audits

[The issue of internal and external auditing came up at a recent Finance Committee meeting]

On Tuesday, Jan. 11, the City Council held a workshop to address this agenda item which will address which independent auditing firm the city will be hiring to conduct well, annual audits of its finances. It will be looking into hiring a new auditor after the expiration of the five year contract with some personnel at the controversial firm of Mayer Hoffman McCann. At first, Asst. City Manager Paul Sundeen seemed to imply at an earlier Finance Committee meeting that the city could hire another player in the now troubled firm to do the audits and still be in compliance with the City Charter which states that no auditor can provide services to the city for more than five consecutive years. That provision was yet another that was added to the city's constitution during the election in 2004. But one elected official said essentially no way, no how that Mayer Hoffman McCann would even be on the list of three proposed candidates that would be brought to the city council for a final selection.

The workshop didn't last that long and Sundeen gave his presentation along with members of the Finance Department which is now housed under City Manager Brad Hudson. He reassured the city government as he usually does that everything's a-0kay and that Riverside's done well in its internal and external auditing processes.

Riverside has its own independent auditors, two now having lost a third one that wasn't replaced. They audit areas and report to the city manager's office, though it's not clear that they are authorized to audit that particular office. One question I have about this process is what happens in conflict of interest situations when there are personal relationships between department heads and internal auditors and didn't receive much of a response on that and it's an issue that could potentially arise in any such situation with any city. Whether it's hypothetical or not in Riverside is certainly not going to be clear to anyone outside that process at City Hall but there should be provisions to address it. Audits are financed by the funds of the department that is the subject of the audit and some of the funds where audit payments arose raised some questions among those who attended the last Finance Committee meeting. Not to mention why Priamos couldn't provide any written contracts for a public request made that involved the hiring of outside legal help from the Best, Best and Krieger law firm.

But anyway, the city council and mayor had statements to make after the presentation and several had questions as well. Loveridge had expressed concern about the firm being associated with Bell which is now bankrupt and most of its elected officials have been arrested and charged with crimes of corruption.

Finance Committee Chair Nancy Hart said that an audit is the check of the numbers that the city gives them and there was a sense on one side that the city's honesty with the auditor is what's paramount in conducting an audit with any accuracy or integrity tied to it. There's definitely truth to that but most experienced auditors can smell a rat so to speak meaning that most cases of fraud and other corruption leave trails including information that is missing and most auditors if they follow the right procedures (which didn't happen in Bell's audits by the firm), they can know enough to go back to a city and say they need more information or question the information they did receive. That has happened in other cities being audited.

Sundeen said that three firms in the past 15 or so years including Mayer Hoffman McCann had found no problems in any of their audits. But a recommendation to have another independent firm review the audits performed by Mayer Hoffman McCann went ignored by the city council and mayor and that's unfortunate. Because it's true that Riverside's audits by this firm bordered on perfect. But then again, so did those conducted on Bell which received "rewards" for the perfection of its audits. Of course that turned out not to be the case at all. Criminal charges aren't usually levied against elected officials and their management employees in cities that truly have perfect audits. And that's what happened in Bell, when those audits turned out to be lies which became clear when the State Controller's office did its own investigation and quickly found that Mayer Hoffman McCann hadn't followed proper procedures. Davis expressed concerns about the problems with the firm being investigated by State Comptroller John Chiang and he's right to be concerned.

But that's even more reason to have at least the last two audits reviewed by an outside auditor to make sure that no "irregularities" show up with how they were conducted in Riverside. This city already had enough bad news last year on what was going on at City Hall that the city's residents weren't privy to and the fallout of all these known scandals has harmed Riverside's image in the Inland Empire (although it's all relative in this region) and elsewhere as well. Riverside's been jokingly referred to as the City of Arts, Innovation...and Scandal. The best way to change that is not by spending money hiring consultants every six months it seems to create fancy new logos and slogans but to really put a high priority on the practices carried out by this city including how audits are conducted. But Riverside's not hit bottom yet which it very well could and until that happens, even doing something like reviewing past audits just isn't going to happen.

Fortunately I have a copy of the 2009 audit by Mayer Hoffman McCann so maybe there's some people who know audits who would like to review it. Riverside, I believe scored perfectly on this one as well.

But Riverside should take a serious look at how audits are conducted, by who and more thoroughly vet any outside firms that it hires so it doesn't end up with another situation with a firm that's embroiled in controversy for at least some of the "perfect" audits it issues. And it needs to take a closer look at the ones that have already been done.

What's a Crime Victim?

Press Enterprise Dan Bernstein's column is about whether or not the Riverside County District Attorney's office should use a crime victim's name. This case involving a wall where the names of those who have been killed by crimes are listed.

One man, Patrick McCarthy saw last summer that the name of his mother who had been murdered in 1976 had been added to the wall. When he saw it, he asked numerous employees in the office to remove it but it never happened. When he asked former D.A. Rod Pacheco about it, he said that Pacheco made an insensitive comment back misstating the circumstances of his mother's death. He also refused to remove it. That doesn't sound like the response from someone who really cares about crime victims. Because if he did, Pacheco would realize quickly enough that McCarthy's right in that grieving for a family lost to a crime can be a very individualized thing and the would have asked McCarthy's family and every other victim's family permission to include their names on the wall.

What he would find if he did that is that some would be very willing for him to do that and others would not be. There's a diversity in the responses that he would receive just as there is much diversity in the population of crime victims and their families. Their wishes would be treated as being more important than his own wishes, if he were truly interested in serving the people including those whose feelings on this issue were different than his own. Asking a family about inclusion of their loved one on a memorial wall wouldn't be such an afterthought. It's the right thing to do. By refusing to consider that and then making inaccurate comments about the circumstances of a murder prosecuted by your office, just smacks of using a "victims wall" for political purposes.

Pacheco who now works in a defense firm that specializes in white collar crime including those involving elected officials was defeated for reelection by current DA Paul Zellerbach.

Food Trucks to Be Banned In Riverside?

(Okay maybe not all but a select few)

The Riverside City Council wants to ban mobile food vending trucks but only certain ones. And as usual, their outlined excuses make little sense precisely because they point out the "dangers" of these menaces in general but are rather specific about the ones they wish to actually protect the residents of the city from. It appears to be more about the limiting of competition to area restaurants including those downtown but the closest thing to a death knell to downtown restaurants (besides the fact that downtown is only "open" at limited hours) is the inclusion of a restaurant inside City Hall when they spent millions renovating that building not to mention doing the pedestrian mall once and then deciding it had to be done a second time to take care of aging infrastructure beneath the street.

Not vending trucks. As far as "dangerous" foods that is why there's a permitting process and packaged foods carry as much danger as prepared foods as a massive recall of packaged sandwiches not long ago (due to salmonella) served as a reminder of that.

It's ironic that Riverside which so wants to be Orange County decided not to be in that one respect. There's not really a good discussion on this issue at the Press Enterprise either as it quickly descended into the usual, let's kick Mexicans and Asians or anyone who looks like them out of the U.S. diatribe.

Flooding at Sedwick Avenue to be Examined

[Sedwick, after a rainstorm, this well-traveled street floods "ever time it sprinkles", one area resident said]

[Riverside Councilman Andrew Melendrez]

Councilman Andrew Melendrez whose ward is bordered by the stream that goes beneath Sedwick Avenue in between the Victoria Country Club has responded to inquiries about what's going on in terms of coming up with long-term solutions to stop the river from overflowing onto the street whenever it rains more than about a tenth of an inch. The street has been badly damaged and undermined by the most recent rain storms and the drain itself that runs beneath Sedwick has also been severely compromised. Jan. 11 was the first date since the last round of rains towards the end of December when the road itself was dry though the river's still close to overflowing onto the street.

Melendrez said that he had a conversation with the Public Works Department department and said they were researching the situation to see what could be done about dealing with the stream that comes from Canyon Crest Country Club, runs adjacent to Andulka Park (in that severely damaged culvart system) through the Victoria Country Club up to Riverside Community College. It flooded in at least one area up in Canyon Crest besides Sedgwick Avenue, he said. The street will be badly damaged through erosion on top and underneath it if water is allowed to keep flowing across it, he said as well.

When asked whether or not the country clubs had any ownership of the stream which runs through their properties, he said that he wasn't sure and didn't know whether Victoria Country Club owned that portion of Sedgwick meaning that the city had an encroachment agreement associated with easement.

No Public Presentation of New Community Police Review Commmission Manager by City Hall

[For some reason, City Manager Brad Hudson (front) has not held a public reception for the newest CPRC manager nor has he introduced him to the city council at one of its meetings]

In what has become a mystifying development, City Manager Brad Hudson still has not held a public reception or even introduced the latest Community Police Review Commission Manager Frank Hauptmann to the city council at one of its evening sessions. In the past including with Hauptmann's predecessor, Kevin Rogan, this was done even before Rogan had started working with the city.

Hauptmann who was formerly the last chief of the beleagured Maywood Police Department was hired last month and started working for the city on January 3, yet so far no announcements of any receptions that will be held to meet and greet with the new manager. Is this just an oversight by Hudson, a scheduling problem with Hauptmann or is he trying to backdoor Hauptmann into the position without a public reception? It's not clear at this time but if it's a lack of funding perhaps there could be a fundraising drive among city residents to at least be able to hold a reception for Hauptmann at City Hall or at a community center or library and maybe just have some cookies and coffee for those in attendance. It doesn't have to be fancy and it doesn't have to be catered from the restaurant downstairs but it would be the right thing to do to hold this reception or at least offer up a public explanation as to why the city's opting out.

It's really unbelievable that Hudson hasn't even introduced Hauptmann at a city council meeting at this point or explained why he's not able to do so.

Friendly Fire?

"This is always a black cop's fear, that he'd be mistaken for a [suspect],"

---Unknown source after the May 2009 fatal shooting of NYPD Officer Omar Edwards

One police officer killed by another in the Baltimore Police Department and while that shooting's under investigation, it's brought up the issue of "friendly fire" inside law enforcement agencies particularly cases where either plain clothed officers have been shot on duty by other officers or offduty officers have had that happen. One plain clothed detective of Puerto Rican descent once wrote an essay for an anthology book where he described sitting in a morning briefing office with other special unit detectives and talking with other officers of color in the room about how when they went out to their assignments that they hoped they wouldn't get shot and killed including by officers in their own department. That being one of their deepest fears, the author admitted.

It's happened not too frequently but enough to have attracted quite a bit of debate and discussion including inside law enforcement agencies including in New York and Los Angeles.

In May 2009, a New York Police Department officer was shot and killed by officers his own agency similar to what happened to another officer, Desmond Robinson while working undercover in 1994 although he survived being shot four times in the back. And then there was the shooting death of Cornel Young, jr. shot and killed by officers in Providence, a "friendly fire" shooting which led to a federal investigation of that police department. Other incidents happened in cities like Oakland, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. and other cities located between the two coasts. Most of them have involved larger sized law enforcement agencies and officers who are either onduty plainclothed or offduty and a disproportionate of the ones in this category (as opposed to cross-fire situations) have been African-American male officers and those shooting have been officers of all races.

The NYPD after a "friendly fire" or what is called there, "fraternal fire", incident involving Officer William Capers in 1972 (although there was another one as far back as 1940)procedures were changed including the identification of plain clothed officers.

Some articles written on the subject in recent years include the following.

Police, Race and Friendly Fire

NYPD: The Fear of Friendly Fire

Article on NYPD study of fraternal fire

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