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

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

The House That City Hall Built: Election 2011 Begins

UPDATE: Don Betro, city council incumbents take out papers this morning according to City Hall

UPDATE: Is former Councilman Dom Betro preparing to take out papers in the Ward One Council race....and if so, how will this impact the race overall and the campaign of challenger Marisa Yeager?

To be continued...

"Sir, who ran the city of Bell?" a prosecutor asked him Tuesday.

"In my opinion, Mr. Robert Rizzo," Velez answered, naming Bell's former city administrator. "Everything had to go through Mr. Robert Rizzo."

---Los Angeles Times

[Riverside City Hall has lost some old faces, gained some new as it faces another election cycle]

[The police administrative headquarters in downtown has a new chief's name]

The Press Enterprise reflects on the year since the DUI incident involving former Police Chief Russ Leach. There's no ulterior motive to it, as it's common for the initial anniversaries of watershed events to be recalled and remembered. Some people are upset that the newspaper did this but then again some people are upset that the newspaper or any other media outlets reported last year on major events going on in Riverside. They blamed the media for what happened when in actuality, it was those who engaged in the behaviors who were responsible for bringing major turmoil to the city. But what's important after finishing up one of Riverside's most turbulent years in recent memory is what's been learned from it, what steps have been taken to ensure there's not a repeat and how can the city and the police department head in the direction where they need to go? Just the basic credo of learning from your history or being doomed to repeat it. The lessons that Riverside learns in the wake of controversial or critical incidents are too costly for repeats and the police department underwent two major upheavals since 1998 including one stipulated judgment with the state. Some powerful individuals there and in the city did actions and made decisions which adversely impacted those who worked beneath them including those who had serious misgivings long before 2010 even started. Those decisions when they came to light impacted how many residents have trust in the city's government.

So I'm not one of those folks who's up in arms simply because the newspaper did an anniversary article and blaming the reporter, Alicia Robinson is just silly because she probably got the assignment from her editor anyway. And the things that unfolded, did so because a dam broke and once that happens, trying to stop the flood is just about impossible until the waters recede on their own.

The newspaper worked very hard during the first few days that became weeks after what had transpired on Feb. 8. 2010 which was its job. What was it supposed to do when it got information, pretend it didn't happen? That's a decision that can't be understood until you're the one who's making it, understanding that careers might crash, elections might be impacted and people might have a variety of strong reactions because of something being brought to light. But others on the canvas risked far more than that, as is often the case when addressing serious misconduct, or even criminal behavior because this city doesn't reward those who expose its sins after all. It usually punishes them first and then pays out in litigation costs including settlements later down the line.

And does it make these individuals the most popular in town? No...more than likely not they wouldn't win popularity contests which themselves don't matter after high school compared to doing what is right even if it's unpopular.

And through a lot of chaos and confusion, which is nearly always the case when incidents that are covered up on some level come to light suddenly and there are attempts to scramble around and pull the tarp down over them or to draw attention away by saying, don't look at the man behind the curtain. And you have to ask yourself what would life be like now if these things had happened but no one ever knew? The one thing that is true is that the city and police department wouldn't be better off for the secrets being kept.

The incident came to light after it became clear that there were attempts to keep it under wraps. The decision to turn the investigation over to the California Highway Patrol only came after the phones were burning off the hook at both the police department and City Hall. In fact, as most people know now there was no investigating done in the first 36 hours. And once City Hall had gotten wind of it, not much going on there either except to figure out ways to not let the public know what had happened. Most of the year, it was odd to watch the city government which for the most part seemed to especially the mayor live in a different plane than most everyone else, as if nothing had been happening at all. One of the city government's direct employees gets tied up in some behavior that's investigated by an outside agency and nothing but silence when it's in crises like the past year's when a city's residents know if there's strong leadership or whether it's lacking.

Frankly, the city didn't factor that there were people who didn't agree with what was being done. And what some people who are upset at the coverage and the retrospect don't realize is that it might be difficult to have to read the material and have your perceptions of your city government challenged and tested, but it's another to have to deal with it when it's around you and to know that despite the fact that most people aren't engaging in questionable behavior, more people pay the consequences for it than for those who actually engage in it. Especially considering much of the time most of those in positions of upper management can rather effectively insulate themselves from all accountability and transparency too. And remember, this is the government that runs the city and yet when incidents like some of the ones that were covered last year come to light, people wonder if they really know their city governments.

The issues that came to light in such a major way had been brewing inside the police department and City Hall going back to at least 2005 and they came to light in some cases several years after they took place. Why? Because when City Hall management knew what was taking place, it didn't issue press releases saying oh by the way, we're cold plating vehicles illegally or manufacturing flat badges despite the admonition from both the State Attorney General's and Riverside County District Attorney's offices prohibiting those very practices. And then when they finally came to light, individuals who were caught up in the messes including Councilman Steve Adams (who had a cold plated car) dismissed them as "old news". When in actuality, a more accurate term would be "buried news".

This incident and its aftermath destroyed some careers and caused some departures from this city and a lot of upset about what had happened.

By the time these scandals came to light, they had already attracted the attention of the State Attorney General's criminal division which engaged in correspondence with the police department even as the leadership of both police associations were engaged in trying to find out more information through California Public Records Act requests about attempts by some individuals at City Hall to equip their city-issued cars with police equipment including police pursuit tires, radios and flashing lights. Incidentally, none of the three police employees who led the two unions are employed by the city, all of them retired last year after settling three lawsuits filed by them alleging discriminatory action and retaliation they faced from police management and City Hall for engaging in these activities.

One employee, Det. Chris Lanzillo who was president of the Riverside Police Officers' Association in 2008-09 was fired within three months of challenging then Acting Police Chief John DeLaRosa in a roll call bull session. Two lieutenants who held leadership positions in the Riverside Police Administrators' Association, Darryl Hurt and Tim Bacon retired at top captain's level (including retroactive pay at this level) after settling their lawsuits on the eve of trial in April 2010. But then DeLaRosa's stint as acting police chief became a bit shaky after it was revealed that his cell phone records were tied to the Feb. 8 incident involving former Chief Russ Leach. He ultimately retired in July 2010.

A lot of distrust from communities in both the police department and City Hall largely for the actions of a few but if it weren't for the actions of some folks out there, this incident in all likelihood would have never come to light. Unless I'm mistaken and it was Mayor Ron Loveridge's intention when his office was tipped off by an anonymous phone call to hold a press conference revealing what had happened on the steps of City Hall. Even after it did happen and all these changes came about, he didn't even mention any of it in his State of the City address.

Covered up both inside the department by upper management there as well as inside City Hall. It's important at an anniversary to look back at that contentious year and ask questions, like where are we now, what lessons have we learned and how do we plan to move forward both as a police department and a city.That retrospective process can be a very positive experience and cathartic for those involved particularly those who suffered because of what happened. Learn from your history or be doomed to repeat it as they say. It's not clear which direction Riverside has headed in, but after sitting and witnessing what's been going on during the board and commission appointments, it's a bit like deja vu.

The publication confirmed that Leon Phillips was still a lieutenant through the department which was interesting because it had been receiving press releases from Phillips and interviewing him while he held this rank for the past six months. Apparently Phillips contested his demotion in the city manager's office and won, getting a written reprimand and an agreement to not work with one of the members of the management team until his retirement. Sgt. Frank Orta medically retired after writing a police report on the "filed" traffic incident and has put this incident behind him not talking about it very much, a source said.

The copy of the report provided by City Hall wasn't signed but the real one was by former Deputy Chief Pete Esquivel. The report is what made it clear that there was some sort of perhaps loosely designed plan to engage in giving preferential treatment and to keep that fact hidden from the public. In all, the police department lost its chief, Russ Leach and both Esquivel and asst. chief John DeLaRosa who didn't go to the scene during that incident and the information he provided in his CHP interview that he didn't know that Leach was intoxicated was contradicted by the interviews of three other officers who were at the scene who all said they had passed along their strong suspicions to DeLaRosa via their cell phones. Records for city issued cell phones were released by City Hall for the officers at the scene, City Manager Brad Hudson and Asst. City Manager Tom DeSantis but were not provided for City Attorney Greg Priamos who claimed attorney/client privilege including apparently for any phone calls he could have been making during the relevant time period on Feb. 8, 2010. Hudson's phone was allegedly turned off while he was touring theaters out of town and it's not clear how he even received notification of the incident that day because the records showed no incoming or outgoing phone calls on his city-issued phone until after about 5:30 pm which apparently made him among the last to know about it.

Despite all these questions and plenty more about City Hall's own actions, the city council and Mayor Ron Loveridge gave Hudson their collective blessing to investigate the police department and essentially not investigate himself or DeSantis and then have the work product reviewed by former Riverside County District Attorney and Best, Best and Krieger partner, Grover Trask.

[A page of the police report that helped end two police employee careers]

Cell phones proved to be critical in 2010 for bringing two careers in the city's workforce to their ends and the adage of people living in glass houses shouldn't be throwing stones applied to these two employees who were forced out of the ranks either through retirements or other means of departure. It's a bit difficult to criticize or punish one employee for doing something when you're allegedly doing similar yourself.

[He said that most of the problems were in the police department but no one investigated City Hall let alone...City Hall. ]


As to anyone getting special treatment in the future, Hudson said, "I think most of those issues were within the Police Department, and really, we're trusting Chief Diaz" to ensure it doesn't happen again.

The statement above really deserves its very blog posting and it will get one, but it's very disingenuous for Hudson to make this statement. Yes there were issues inside the police department which was investigated by Hudson's office but City Hall itself and its "issues" were not included in any such investigation or included in the hen house to be investigated by the fox. It's ironic that Hudson made a statement like that to the press about a year that saw revelations come to light about how he and former Asst. City Manager Tom DeSantis had gone about equipping themselves with flat badges, cold plated cars and firearms purchased from the department in what turned out to be an illegal sale.

[Asst. City Manager Tom DeSantis' career in Riverside came to an end but apparently not attributed to any public scandal but did it come after the phone call of a former city employee?]

The police department saw major changes including the hiring of a new police chief, Sergio Diaz and two members of his cabinet, both hired at-will, from his own haunt, Los Angeles and also from Pasadena. Asst. Chief Chris Vicino and Deputy Chief Jeffrey Greer join Deputy Chief Mike Blakely (who had first arrived in Riverside at that rank) who was elevated from the captain's ranks.

The summer saw the abrupt departures of both DeSantis and CPRC Manager Kevin Rogan (who took a job in Los Angeles) and the last straw for DeSantis apparently came out of some other onduty situation apart from his foibles that had preceded it. His position wasn't refilled but Asst. City Manager Belinda Graham apparently is handling all of his work responsibilities. The city after an interview process hired former Maywood Police Chief Frank Hauptmann to be its new CPRC manager. Hauptmann had worked for two police departments before Maywood and while there, had apparently been instrumental in among other things, exposing misconduct of city officials and police department employees in Maywood and later Bell.

In the mix of alleged sinners in those Los Angeles County cities, included city management employees and it's clear those feats preceded him here judging how he's been treated by other city employees around him. He's an interesting mix to the city's cauldron indeed and it remains to be seen how this impacts the dynamic of Riverside's halls of power. Some folks wondered how he managed to get a job here considering the antics of the past year and why a city manager who micromanaged the CPRC through DeSantis would be interested in doing so.

Riverside's not really much like Maywood or Bell but that doesn't mean it doesn't have its own share of problematic behaviors that need to be addressed, including the fact that it shared some professional firms including one that conducts independent audits with Bell.

But mostly all of the situations that plague cities and counties begin based on the iceberg theory, that most of what you see isn't most of what is there.

[One of the flat badges City Hall employees had made for themselves]

[The Chrysler 300 sitting in a storage area at Magnolia Police Center has been refurbished but as of yet hasn't been reassigned. No one really wants to drive it.]

[The three newest members of the police department's management team including Chief Sergio Diaz (l.)]

[CPRC Manager Frank Hauptmann had been heavily involved in exposing corruption in Bell and Maywood]

Dan Bernstein of the Press Enterprise wrote this piece about the criminal investigation of the alleged vandalism by some Riverside Police Department officers of a homeless encampment last summer. The criminal investigation apparently had been completed and was going to the Riverside County District Attorney Paul Zellerbach for review but it's not known whether there were any recommendations to charge the involved officers with criminal offenses or not and if so, what they would be.

More Board and Commission Purges Coming?

Planning Commission incumbents to be ousted?

[Councilman Rusty Bailey was just as adrift during the voting process to appoint Community Police Review Commission members voting for different applicants each time]

A lot of people have been talking in different places about what happened during the interviews and selection processes for the Community Police Review Commission on Feb. 4. It was a pretty naked show of how Mayor Ron Loveridge and the city council really view the CPRC that shocked some individuals and not others. At the very least of it, they don't seem to know much about it or understand the work commitment involved. One viewed it as a means of playing politics and another spent the entire voting process trying to figure out which way the political wind was blowing and to keep up with it. Which wasn't possible because assorted political agendas came into collision with one another at the same time.

The impact on city residents regarding the appointment process of CPRC commissioners was nearly immediate. The early impacts seem to be it's vitalized the campaigns of other candidates running in Councilman Mike Gardner's ward including Marisa Yeager who was probably the biggest benificiary so far of what happened on Feb. 4. He had made very good points about how important it was for prospective candidates to know about the time commitment but then refused to vote the ones who clearly had shown that and voted for two that didn't including one who hadn't even originally applied to sit on it. And Gardner knows how critical it is to have individuals serve on it who are truly interested in serving on it enough to apply for it. Did he choose politics over the well being of the commission, well only he can answer that but there's some furor in Ward One over what residents there perceive the answer to be which has made the last week very interesting indeed.

But then again, you didn't walk there with the sentiment that any of the elected officials in that room really cared about the CPRC as anything but a political football and that's a really sad state of affairs. Having to filter through the sheer anger of city residents at what happened tends to wear out one's energy but if some of the elected officials want to politicize the CPRC then that's their decision but they can't then blame city residents who intend to carry that ball they've tossed into the election cycle.

But what happened also fostered discussion in two other wards, those represented by Rusty Bailey and Chris MacArthur where people are still considering runs for political office. Many people believed it provided a powerful lesson in involving themselves with the council candidacy process including political campaigns, that the power plays and politics of City Hall are what run its business rather than the elected officials themselves.

And that's much harder to clean up, but the shock waves at the naked power play of city council members and Loveridge choosing a woman who didn't even apply for the commission until receiving a phone call from City Hall over someone who had done outstanding work during her first term proved to be a wake up call for many people. And not just on the CPRC but also those who applied for reappointment on the Planning Commission or the Board of Public Utilities, the two other commissioners undergoing the "interview" process.

The reinterviewing of incumbent commissioners was the first in the CPRC's history or in that of the other boards and commissions and when some of the incumbents heard belatedly that they were going about the abrupt decision to reinterview incumbents, they saw the writing on the wall. Not that reinterviewing incumbents is in itself bad at all, it can be a very good process but the change to this newer process comes completely without any record of how the change was made, let alone a paper trail of any public discussion or vote on what are pretty significant changes. And if phone calls are going to be made to those who applied for other boards and commissions to be interviewed for the CPRC, then those phone calls should be made to everyone who is in that category rather than a select few.

Actually, the suggestion to reinterview incumbents was allegedly made by a former councilman who didn't win reelection the last time he ran for office but how the process that he had recommended was actually implemented, no one at least outside of City Hall knows the answer to that. And any accountable and transparent process has at least a paper trail that members of the public are informed about, when the changes to the process are made but this one didn't pass that test. But it's really taught a good lesson to those in Riverside who apply for boards and commissions, lessons that the very restrictive screening process by the Mayor's Nomination and Screening Board hasn't taught already. That there's really no point in having a great attendance record, putting in more than 40 hours a month of work and being a committed member of a board and commission.

There was not really much in the way of discussion or comments from elected officials about the votes they took which lessened the accountability and transparency of the critical process even further, the appointments they chose and the incumbents they ousted. But there's already talk that the next round of commissioner ousters will take place when they interview and select people to serve on the Planning Commission, viewed as being the city's most influential and powerful on the roster.

That interview and appointment process will take place soon by the city council and mayor and let the games continue because they're off to a great start, but then again the timing for engaging in game playing is perfect at the moment.

City Hall Rethinking the Take Home Car Issue?

It seems that members of the city government might be rethinking the car issue and might want to increase the car allowance instead. Councilman Paul Davis is rethinking the car issuance and perhaps increasing the car allowances. However, Councilman Steve Adams who once had to have his city issued car towed from Newport Beach wants to hold onto his Chrysler 300 saying that it makes him a more involved politician than his predecessors. Whether that's true or not might depend on how you define "involved" meaning that it's whether he's using it to service his constituents or whether he'd been trying to influence the police department's promotional process at its upper management level as had been alleged in the lawsuits filed by former lieutenants, Tim Bacon and Darryl Hurt.

[Councilman Paul Davis (r.) is rethinking the assigned car issue while Councilwoman Nancy Hart only drives her city-issued car]

[Councilman and political candidate Steve Adams fully intends to hang on to his city-issued Chrysler 300]

It's really difficult as stated previously to explain the whole philosophy of assigning expensive, gas guzzling vehicles to politicians and high ranking management employees, in some cases fleets of them, while most of the residents in the city have to pay for their own cars and some have lost their cars due to the recession and others don't have cars but rely on public transit. Why do these politicians have to have high end cars like Chrysler 300s and for politicians and City Hall employees to have Crown Victorias and not be assigned more efficient, less expensive vehicles? Actually the latter especially during the periods of economic crises would send better messages that City Hall was aware of the realities of what more ordinary city folks face. Though what would be interesting would be to assign politicians and city management employees bus and/or train tickets to use one day weekly where they have to use the county's bus system or Metrolink to conduct their business.

Not surprisingly Adams wants to hold onto his fancy car which is interesting because it's not known just how many city issued cars have been assigned to him since the process was changed pretty much behind closed doors to issuing vehicles. His statement comparing elected officials to police officers was most likely unintentionally humorous. When his Chrysler 300 might be newer and in better shape than city vehicles including police cars that are out doing the business, that's a sad irony but a bold statement about the priorities of City Hall.

Councilman Rusty Bailey dropped his use of a city vehicle allegedly so there wouldn't be a perception that he used it in his reelection campaign but if he's been polling people in his ward, he'd know that like a lot of city residents, they're just not keen on the idea of city officials being issued shiny vehicles to use for nonbusiness purposes. Just because the city attorney says it's okay to use them for personal trips (as long as this is documented to the IRS), doesn't mean it's the best and most sensible thing to do.

And no, an election day is not the time to find out how the voters really feel on this issue.

A long-time police officer's career comes to a close with the retirement of Richard Dana from being Hemet's police chief. He retired in Riverside as a commander and then went to be police chief in Hemet.

Testimony continues on the Bell corruption case at a preliminary hearing which will determine if the defendants which are most of the former city government and the city manager will stand trial.

Public Meeting

Tuesday, Feb. 15 at 3 and 6:30 p.m. The Riverside City Council will discuss this agenda.

[Gopher snake wandering down a street in Riverside]

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