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Saturday, September 23, 2006

The voice of the voiceless?

Council Strips the HRC of power to look into police issues

In a matter of just three months, the City Council disbanded the Human Relations Commission, re-wrote its charter and then appointed new membership. The great crime of the previous Human Relations Commission appeared to be advocating for a specific issue.

And it’s in some ways ironic that the very night that the Davis City Council approved the hire of an ombudsman, Bob Aaronson (an act that never would have happened without the direct intervention and sweat and blood of the previous commission) they also rewrote the rules for the new the commission to make it so they could effectively never do this again.

Let it be clear—this was done clearly because the majority of three on the city council did not like the way the HRC advocated for a police oversight board. They said as much.

In defending the decision to remove the police issue from the HRC and at least temporarily from the public purview, Stephen Souza reminded us all that in fact, they were a public body, they were a permanent body, and that any complaints about the police should go to them—the city council. They are the ones that can take action.

However, that is not the way it is supposed to work. The commission system is designed as a filter for public discourse—they can take their complaints to the commission, the commission has the charge to research and investigate and then make recommendations to the city council as to how to act. What this city council wants to do is remove the commissions (and not just the HRC) from public deliberations and concentrate power within the city staff and the city council. The city council would not operate effectively if each individual with a complaint took the complaint directly to the council rather than to the commissions.

Or did they?

The intent of the council is very clear:

The Subcommittee agreed that, with the addition of a Citizen Advisory Board to the Police Chief, a Police Advisory Committee to the City Manager, a contract Police Ombudsman for the community and other steps underway in the police department, the Human Relations Commission should focus on issues other than police oversight.

However, the authorizing resolution is foggy. It makes no mention of exclusion. This point was raised at the city council meeting by members of the public. At this point, Don Saylor added language directing the HRC to “refer” police issues to the appropriate agency. But instead of clarifying the directive from council, it made it more ambiguous. Saylor acknowledged that there would have to be some degree of processing for that to occur. However, the plain meaning of the language itself does little to give one the impression that police issues are outside of the purview of the commission’s resolution.

Sue Greenwald, was unclear about the meaning of the added language and ended up voting against it. Heystek, was generally opposed to the changes, and voted against it. Neither one was clear about the meaning of the language change, though talking to Heystek after the meeting he seemed to think that there was nothing in the language of the resolution itself that would preclude action by the council on police issues, however, the intent of the council was clear.

Resolution vs. Ordinance

Stephen Souza stated that they changed all of the commissions from ordinance to resolution unless they were required by law to have them as an ordinance. It is a subtle move but it greatly weakens many of the commissions. During this discussion, Souza maintained there was no functional difference; however, it was enlightening to hear him during an earlier discussion state that ordinances have “a little more teeth.” An ordinance writes the language into the municipal code and it requires one reading and then a second meeting to have a vote on the ordinance. A resolution can be changed at anytime by majority vote and it is not placed into the municipal code. This is another indication that the city council has tried to weaken the commission system in order to consolidate power within the council and city staff.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Does Davis care about living wage?

Let's be blunt here--you could work a full-time job at the newly built target and not be able to afford to live in Davis. Does that trouble you?

That's the question raised by newly elected Lamar Heystek who was promptly villified for playing politics. There is a political element to the debate, there is no denying that, but the core issue is that defines our society and our town--fair wage for a hard day's work. That is in many ways the core of the progressive mantra.

Yet that action embroiled Heystek in a heated fight into the wee-hours of the morning. Don Saylor went on the attack.
(From the 9/20/06 Davis Enterprise) “There’s just a number of questions about this,” Councilman Don Saylor said. “To bring it up as a discussion is appropriate. To bring it up as a full-blown ordinance for a first reading, that’s not talking about policy, that’s talking about politics in a lead-up to an election.”
That's really the statement at issue for me. The first problem is the requirements for an ordinance to be passed--namely a first reading and a second passage.
City Attorney Harriet Steiner told the council that for the ordinance to have a potential effect on Target, it would have to go through a first reading at this week’s meeting, and be approved no later than Oct. 6, a month before the election.
So this measure is time sensitive. Can we fault Heystek for bringing this up at the last possible moment? Well if we look back to the August 1, 2006 meeting, yes a month and a half ago, Lamar asked this be agendized. Of course, the council majority voted it down. Saylor then suggested to Lamar that he could prepare the item himself (in lieu of staff preparation) and put it on the agenda as a councilman's agenda item. That is what Lamar did.

Had the council approved the placement of the agenda, it could have been on last week's agenda, and brought back this week for discussion. They voted against that option as such they created the situation that they faced late Tuesday night, not Heystek.
The rest of the council assured Greenwald and Heystek that they would like to see a living wage ordinance— and in fact, Councilman Stephen Souza said he and Saylor are hammering out a projected labor agreement between Target and two unions — but questioned the narrowness of Heystek’s proposal.
Well, I'll believe that when I see it. The Sacramento Labor Council has already come out against this proposal. The Council majority opposed even having an item on the agenda discussing this issue. IF they were truly concerned with the narrowness of Heystek's proposal, they could have at the August 1, 2006 council meeting have made an alternative suggestion. They are not interested in doing that because they do not support a living wage ordinance in Davis. They are merely trying to kill this proposal before the ballot initiative in the fall. In essence, they are trying to have their cake and eat it to.

The question really is, do the people of Davis care about living wage?

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Human Relations Commission and Ombudsman on Tonight's Agenda

Following up on the Ombudsman Position

Did anyone catch the Davis Enterprise last night; you might have seen the announcement of the new Ombudsman, Robert Aaronson. Buried in the niceties and praise for the new city employee were some cold, hard facts.

Aaronson will keep his duties in the city of Santa Cruz, and spend a couple of days a month in Davis, said Deputy City Manager Kelly Stachowicz. "He's a contract employee, so he will basically be accessible by e-mail or voice mail; anybody can use that at any time and he will check those frequently," Stachowicz said.

Hang on, now I’m fuzzy on my math as it relates to couple, few, several, many… but I’m pretty sure a couple is two. As in the guy will be in Davis two days a month. Is that correct?

Claire St. John writes:

There might not be much discussion about the $60,000 contract, however, as the item is on the consent agenda along with 12 other items that are approved with a single motion.

Again, let me do the math here, we are spending $60,000 on a guy who will be in Davis two days out of the month. And they complained that the Berkeley model was too expensive?

I do not know whether to congratulate Mr. Aaronson or apologize to him for not give him the resources and power to be able to adequately do his job.

Following up on the Human Relations Commission

I’m not even going to talk about living wage today, but it is going to be a very busy council meeting tonight.

When the Human Relations Commission was founded there was a city ordinance establishing its charter. The City Council is now removing that ordinance and replacing it with a resolution. Does that resolution weaken the authority of the HRC? That’s unclear.

What is clear is that this resolution replaces any existing charges that the HRC had:
WHEREAS, this resolution supercedes all previous resolutions related to the structure and purpose of the Human Relations Commission
Here’s what I do not follow quite as well. In the resolution, they write, “the commission is established and guided by the following documents: a. Davis Anti-discrimination ordinance…”

The Human Relations Commission shall have the responsibilities as provided in this section and such other duties as the Council may, from time to time, decide:

a. Study and make recommendations regarding problems in the city which arise from alleged discrimination prohibited by state and federal law or local statutes and report such information to the City Council.

b. Advocate and encourage educational and other appropriate activities to seek to discourage or prevent discrimination and prejudice and/or to promote diversity, equality and justice. This function can be addressed by holding conferences and other public meetings, engaging in educational campaigns, partnering with other organizations to develop outreach information and programs, and other methods determined to be appropriate. Specific activities for which the Commission is responsible include the city of Davis Martin Luther King Jr. Day event, the city of Davis Cesar Chavez event and the city of Davis Thong Hy Huynh Awards. Resolution No. 06 –XXX

c. Recommend to the City Council such publications and reports as may address issues of discrimination, diversity, prejudice or other matters related to the community principles or anti-discrimination.

d. Recommend programs and activities to encourage minority- and woman-owned businesses in Davis.

e. Recommend to the Council additional programs and practices designed to further commission objectives and take other necessary action to prevent discrimination against groups and individuals to ensure public peace, health, safety and general welfare for all residents of Davis.

f. Take other necessary actions, as directed by Council, to prevent discrimination against groups and individuals to ensure that all members of the Davis community will be treated equally and fairly.
However, the council wants to take the police issue outside of the purview of the HRC. How do they do that when they are directed to take “other necessary actions… to prevent discrimination against groups and individuals to ensure that all members of the Davis community will be treated equally and fairly.” I think they need a disclaimer: except when the offending party is a police officer, in which case there is nothing they can actually do.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Monday, September 18, 2006

Aaronson handed down major finding in a police spying investigation

I remain skeptical of the mechanism put in place by the Davis City Council for reviewing the police. I do not think the ombudsman position has enough teeth to it. I also do not believe that the support boards—the PAC and the CAB—have sufficient public scrutiny. Adding to that is the recent move to remove the issue of police complaints from the purview of the soon-to-be newly formed HRC.

That said, from the research that I’ve done, Aaronson looks to be a fine choice for police ombudsman. In one highly publicized, the Santa Cruz police department was accused on spying on war protesters. The police investigation exonerated the police.

Aaronson issued a scathing report on the investigation. He said the investigation "is incomplete and flawed for a very predictable reason. It violates one of the most basic investigative precepts by having been compiled and written by the very individual whose decisions are and should be under investigative scrutiny." He went on to say, "I am surprised and disappointed that he was assigned to that task."

He then did the review itself and found serious wrongdoings by the police department. “Details of the 600-page report , released to the public Friday, reveal a pattern of abuses, including spying on parade organizers, spying on other unrelated groups and first amendment activities, and profiling organizers and other unrelated people. Officers posing as parade planners gathered information about the planned peaceful protest against virgin forest destruction by Victoria’s Secret and relayed this information to Capitola Police." (For the full report please click here).

Here’s his letter castigating the review process.

According to people who have worked with Aaronson, they consider him to be a fair and straight shooter concerning investigations on the police department. He does tend to go public with critical remarks, although clearly the letter was very strongly worded to the Santa Cruz City Council.

If anyone knows of any other cases involving Aaronson, please post it here or send me an email.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting