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Saturday, January 20, 2007

Special Announcement

Due to increased activity on the People's Vanguard of Davis, there are two people who have agreed to moderate the comments--Davisite and The Law.

Please see the comments for details

Commentary: Looking again at the EAP Debate

At Tuesday's City Council Meeting during an item discussion the approval of a new EAP Provider, Davis City Councilmember Don Saylor said:

"I find this highly unusual. We've had a reasonable process of RFP. We've had several providers have responded... The current provider had every opportunity to participate in the process. He wasn't even in the top three in terms of the price and performance. We have relied on our... human resources director to provide us with a significant amount of information. And over the past month, we've asked them to go back and review this... I have no idea of why we are considering going back to a provider that we've now heard does not have the proper certification for the service..."

Mr. Saylor is correct this is highly unusual, and frankly something does not sit right about this entire exchange.

Please see the video clip below to view this for yourself.

First, you have Melissa Chaney, the Human Resources Administrator, telling council and the public about the Knox-Keene act and how each EAP provider is required to have a license under its provisions.

Second, you have Melissa Chaney, the Human Resources Administrator, telling the council that Psychological Resources Associates (PRA) is out of compliance and does not have a license. Not only has PRA been a provider for the City of Davis for 23 years, but they also provide EAP services to several other governmental agencies including the County, the City of Woodland, the City of West Sacramento, and the Davis Joint Unified School District. So how could a company that is in the business of providing EAP services to government agencies, not be aware of Knox-Keene act requirements and be out of compliance?

So you would think that maybe Ms. Chaney would clarify this issue? Mayor Greenwald asked her point blank and she stated, "No." This is a company with whom the city of Davis had 23 years experience, why would you not at least grant the courtesy of having them clarifying the issue?

At this point clearly Mayor Greenwald is torn on this issue. City Manager Bill Emlen intervenes saying that they were actually not sure about this issue and that if this is the concern, perhaps they should wait and explore it further. But if you watch Greenwald's response, the issue of Knox-Keene is clearly very decisive. Mayor Pro Tem Asmundson is not on this clip, but she has a similar reaction.

Mr. Saylor is correct--this entire exchange was extremely unusual and it would seem that this is far from the end of this story.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Commentary: The LAFCO Debate

Earlier this week there was a dispute as to who should fill the vacant LAFCO seat now that Frank Sieferman who had occupied the second Yolo County Supervisor seat lost reelection to Matt Rexroad. Mr. Rexroad argued it should be him since Woodland needed representation on LAFCO. Chair Mariko Yamada had planned to appoint herself to LAFCO arguing that she had greater experience with county issues and that as County Supervisor one does not represent one particular locality.

In the end, Ms. Yamada was overruled by her colleagues on the board by a 4-1 vote. However, we sympathize with both the position of Mr. Rexroad and the position of Ms. Yamada.

LAFCO is the Local Agency Formation Commission and contains members of the public, from cities, and from the county. There is one seat given to a member from the public, two seats from cities, and two from the County Board of Supervisors.
LAFCOs are responsible for coordinating logical and timely changes in local governmental boundaries, conducting special studies that review ways to reorganize, simplify and streamline governmental structure and preparing a Sphere of Influence for each city and special district within each county. The Commission's efforts are directed to seeing that services are provided efficiently and economically while agricultural and open-space lands are protected.
The regular city members are William Kristoff from the West Sacramento City Council and Tom McMasters-Stone from the Winters City Council. The alternate is Davis City Councilmember Stephen Souza. There are two city representatives and those representatives rotate.

There are also two County Supervisors on LAFCO. Helen Thomson who represents part of Davis holds one seat and Frank Sieferman had served prior to his defeat in November by Matt Rexroad.

Woodland Daily Democrat Jim Smith argued that Mr. Rexroad should be appointed due to the lack of representation for Woodland:

In this case, however, if Yamada does get herself appointed to LAFCO, it will mean minimal representation for Woodland.

This will be important because Woodland has number of annexation issues coming up in the future following last June’s expansion of the city’s urban limit line.

Former 3rd District Supervisor Frank Sieferman Jr. sat on LAFCO before he became chairman of the Board of Supervisors. However, if Yamada gets on the board then Davis could have an unfair advantage, since Supervisor Helen Thomson already is serving on the commission.

While we sympathize with the position that Woodland needs representation, we wonder if that representation issue should be solved through a seat that is supposed to represent the County's Interests (the entire county) on LAFCO rather than a seat designated to represent city interests. The problem it seems to us is that only two municipalities have representation at a time. Now in terms of mathematics it makes sense since there are five seats on LAFCO, two from cities and two from counties.

However, the seats on LAFCO from the county supervisors are supposed to represent county interests. If Mr. Rexroad who is now appointed is merely representing the interests of Woodland, then he is not serving the county well. In the end, this dispute may be better solved through structural changes to at least allow each municipality to have their interests heard--through the designated city representatives rather than creating a surrogate advocate at the county level. Mr. Rexroad is no longer on the Woodland City Council, he now represents the County of Yolo on such bodies as LAFCO even as he represents his constituents on the Board of Supervisors.

It seems to us improper to use one of the designated County seats as a substitute for the lack of a seat at the city level--that would seem to put county-wide interests at a disadvantage. If the concern by Mr. Smith and Mr. Rexroad truly is the lack of representation that Woodland had, perhaps the entire composition should be examined. If Mr. Rexroad approaches his position as representing Woodland interests, county residents as a whole may be short-changed.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Friday, January 19, 2007

Commentary: Parks Consultant Proposal Approved

The parliamentary maneuvering on the park's consultant request for proposal are almost as interesting as the actually item. However, the item itself deserves some scrutiny.

A request for proposal (RFP) is basically a call to take bids on a given project. Generally if a bidder comes in that is acceptable and within the estimate, an approval for an RFP is tantamount toward approving such an item. The city staff estimates the cost for this consultant on parks will be approximately $50,000 to $75,000 and the stipulation is that the project will not exceed the $75,000 (unless the council approves such a bid).

Everyone loves parks, so this is not a knock on parks, this is an argument about the allocation of very scarce city resources.

The main argument for this project is that the parks' master plan is well out of date. I do not disagree with that. Nor do I disagree that it needs updating. However, Mayor Sue Greenwald made a very important argument that we are in the process (and just beginning that process) of updating the General Plan. The General Plan update will take a considerable amount of time. Once the new general plan is approved, we will have a good idea about where the new growth will occur and the new developments that will take place.

So why would you expend money on a parks' master plan when we do not know where the new growth will be and what the future usage will require?

Secondly, if we look at the list of the items that this will include--there will be data collection. What will be included in that collection? Site maps of all parks. Park and facilities inventories. For these types of things, we need an outside consultant? A major part of this expenditure will be a community survey.

I understand that the master plan needs updating. But I think we need to prioritize the expenditure of scarce resources.

Let me put it to people this way: would you rather the city staff and city council pay $25,000 for a community survey or use that money to fix existing problems and upgrade or repair existing infrastructure?

City staff and the majority of the city council want to spend money on demographic trends and analysis before they update their master plan.

On page three of the city staff report they list a number of either unbuilt amenities. City staff makes the argument that the consultant will need to include analysis of unbuilt or unfinished facilities to determine if they are still needed. Again, this begs the question--do we need a consultant to figure that out and can we not put some of this money toward just building the facilities rather than toward a consultant to make a determination as to whether to build the facilities?

The city has scarce financial resources and we need to really scrutinize some of these expenditures that seem to pile up piece mail.

We all favor parks, the question is what is best for the parks--consultants or construction. Let us do the new general plan and in the meantime complete the unfinished projects that are determined by staff to be needed.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

District Takes First Step Toward Tough New Anti-Harassment Policy

The People's Vanguard of Davis first reported on this incident on November 10 involving the harassment of a Harper Junior High School student based on his perceived sexual orientation. Since then, there has been a second student at that school who has come forward with complaints about harassment and the district handling of that policy. Now over two months later, the district is taking very strong steps toward remedying that situation.

Last night, the Davis Joint Unified School Board approved language for a strong new anti-harassment policy. One of the chief complaints made by the Fischers was the discrepancy in the punishment for racially based harassment versus harassment based on sexual orientation or the perception of sexual orientation. The direction taken last night by the school board goes a long way toward remedying that situation.

All of this will need to be heard again, perhaps as soon as next week for final approval, but the first steps taken last night were very important. The direction set by the board was crystal clear--the administration knows exactly what the board wants on this matter. All civil rights type harassment were subsumed into a single category in the district's punishment matrix. That includes sexual orientation and also gender identity. There is still a sliding in terms of punishments depending on the number and severity of the offenses, but the language in the code was shifted from "may be disciplined" to "shall be disciplined." This eliminates any ambiguity. Students know that if they engage in harassment using epithets that are racial or based on sexual orientation there will be immediate and severe penalties, including suspension. Suspension is the penalty with the teeth.

But Board President Jim Provenza went even further. First, he proposed language changes that directed staff to be responsible to monitor and report such incidents. There is some question as to whether this constitutes new duties that would have to be handled under the collective bargaining agreement. However, the direction from the school board on this issue was very clear and now it is up to the Administration and their legal team to write up a policy that will fit.

The most impressive part is that there came a point when Superintendent David Murphy seemed to be hedging in terms of the clarity of language and both Provenza and Keltie Jones pushed him very hard to ensure that any ambiguity was taken out. Murphy suggested that the Principals already knew these rules, but Provenza and Jones really forced him to make the language strong and unambiguous so that there could be no mistake what the board's policy and direction were.

Moreover, the board was giving direction to give very strong advertising of the message that this behavior is unacceptable. It will be written into the student handbook and to some extent into the employee handbook as well, however, again that issue is a bit more tricky due to collective bargaining agreements.

One of the things that upset the Fischer's was the ambiguity of the current policy and the discrepancy between the punishments for smoking pot, calling someone a racial epithet, and calling someone an anti-gay epithet. They saw that there was very serious harassment that seemed to be punished very lightly.

I have been very critical of the school district's handling of this matter, but what I saw last night was very positive and very impressive. All five members of the board of trustees were in strong support of these changes. Mr. Provenza and Ms. Jones were very strong and forceful advocates for this policy and it was impressive to watch them press this issue home.

This was a much needed policy change. It puts harassment based on sexual orientation, perceived sexual orientation, and gender identity into a class of civil rights offenses. It differentiates the use of these words as epithets versus merely saying the words. And it gives district personnel strong guidance as to how to handle such future incidents.

It is unfortunate that it took an incident such as this to call the board's attention to the holes in their policy. That is the nature of government it appears, changes only occur when there are problems that arise. It is unfortunate that Mr. Fischer and his son had to suffer for these lack of policies. However, last night was definitely a good night for them. The school board came through with some very important measures and I believe, only as the result of the actions taken by Mr. Fischer and the attention that he drew to this issue did these changes occur.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Sacramento Bee Covers the People's Vanguard of Davis

This past Sunday, January 14, 2007, the Sacramento Bee had a feature article on this blog. I thought that reporter Erika Chavez did an excellent job on this. I thought it was a good article and also a balanced article in that, they had a number statements from people that this blog has criticized in the past. I absolutely welcome that, as I want this blog to be a way to facilitate open and honest discussion for the community.

By now the vast majority of my readers have read this article:

I did want to point out a couple of interesting comments in the article.

First of all, I said:
"The blog is not a tool to vindicate his wife, Greenwald said."
This point needs clarification. The purpose of this blog was to present information to the public that in my opinion and I think the opinion of others was not getting told by the local newspaper and some local officials who have a vested interest in outcomes favorable to their politics and public policy positions. Certainly, some of that revolved around issues that arose from the Human Relations Commission (where my wife served for over four years as chair) including the need for police oversight and racial profiling. But, as anyone can see by reviewing the many articles written and posted on this blog most issues and subjects covered have had nothing to do with the HRC or specifically my wife. This blog was founded to help disseminate information to the community about issues which are misreported, underreported or not reported on at all by the Davis Enterprise. This blog has focused on issues such as the lackluster as well as the biased reporting or omission by the Davis Enterprise on government malfeasance and misfeasance at both the city and county level, the aborted attempt to disband the Senior Citizens Commission, the Target and SMUD vs. PG&E election, misconduct at the District Attorney's Office, gay-bashing in the DJUSD schools etc. Those issues are what drove the creation of this blog and have built its readership over the past six months.
"Born and raised in San Luis Obispo"
As my mother pointed out, she was there when I was born and I was not born in San Luis Obispo. This is a slight correction, I probably was not that clear during the interview. I moved to San Luis Obispo with my family when I was 10 months old. I was born in Los Angeles county and lived in Santa Ana. I also briefly lived in St. Louis, Missouri.
While [Stephen] Souza supports blogs as a form of expression, "the problem is there doesn't necessarily have to be factual content," he said. "I appear to be the target of many close-to-defamatory statements. You don't have to get personal; I think that takes away from the credibility of his position, so I have personally chosen not to participate in that discussion."
The defamation charge is interesting--while I have been very critical of Souza's policies, I'm not sure any of them rise to the level of defamation if he were a private citizen, let alone a public official.

If he takes it personally that I question his positions, statements, and actions, then I say welcome to politics. I also note that he responded to the MLK thread and I hope he will continue to do so.

Chavez also interviewed Debbie Davis who had mostly kind words for this blogger.
"Our news coverage is fair and accurate"
That sounds like a Fox News self-description to me. I will point out that the very day this article was published, the People's Vanguard of Davis had an article that demonstrated that the Davis Enterprise coverage was neither fair nor accurate with regards to the police public records audit story and their failure to disclose some key information about the tipping off of interim Chief Steve Pierce to the study.
"Steven Pierce, the Davis Police Department's interim police chief since June, said Greenwald is entitled to express his opinions, whether he agrees with him or not.

But he cautions readers who would take any media, be it television, newspapers or blogs, at face value.

"It's certainly not without its own political slant," said Pierce, who said he has read the blog on several occasions. "To assume that it's neutral and without its own bias is naive and inaccurate."
I have never claimed to be neutral or without bias, I think that's pretty clear from the People's Vanguard of Davis site description.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Still Questioning the EAP Provider Switch

Council decided to turn away from a 23 year relationship with Psychological Resources and Associates (PRA), a local EAP (Employee Assistance Program) provider of short-term psychological services in favor of the national provider Cigna Behavioral Health.

As we've discussed previously, there were a few reasons why the staff recommended the switch. One was to reduce the number of visits from 8 per year to 6 per year on any one issue. The second was a savings of around $24,000.

However, at this meeting, the third time this item has been on the agenda and the second time the item has been heard, a new issue came up. Melissa Chaney, Human Resources Administrator for the City of Davis, cited a 1975 law, the Knox-Keene act, that requires all California EAP providers to be licensed. She claimed that PRA was not licensed. If a provider is not licensed under Knox-Keene, they cannot provide more than three counseling visits per six months, according to Chaney.

This was a 1975 law that original applied to HMOs, but began to be applied to EAPs in the late 1980s.

So the city of Davis apparently just became aware of this law.

When asked by Mayor Greenwald, Chaney said, "we didn't realize that this provision was even in effect, that this license was mandated until we went through the RFP process."

Greenwald continued to press, "and you didn't discuss this with the 23 year local provider?"

Chaney responded, "No. During the RFP process we just followed the process of going through the RFP."

Despite City Manager Bill Emlen insisting that we might need more information on the Knox-Keene act, it was clear that both Greenwald and Mayor Pro Tem Asmundson positions were swayed by this particular issue--the lack of license for PRA. Asmundson stated a preference to give the process more time given the length of the relationship and the fact that PRA was a local provider. However, the concerns about Knox-Keene licensing finally swayed her to support Cigna. Greenwald remained ambivalent about it, in the end voting for both the "take no action" substitute motion made by Councilmember Lamar Heystek (to allow for further fact finding) and then finally approving of Cigna. Heystek was the only dissenter in the end.

Councilmember Don Saylor:
"I find this highly unusual. We've had a reasonable process of RFP. We've had several providers have responded... The current provider had every opportunity to participate in the process. He wasn't even in the top three in terms of the price and performance. We have relied on our... human resources director to provide us with a significant amount of information. And over the past month, we've asked them to go back and review this... I have no idea of why we are considering going back to a provider that we've now heard does not have the proper certification for the service..."
What I think Councilmember Saylor fails to consider is the concern over the termination of a long term relationship with a local provider and the price that was bid by Cigna as well as whether or not PRA is certified to provide this service. In the original staff report and at the prior two city council meetings in which this issue was discussed no mention was made of the certification issue. In fact it was not an issue. Regarding costs, it appears, and we did the math on Tuesday, that Cigna would lose a small amount of money in their bid if the same number of people requested the same amount of service as they did last year. That was never explained by staff or the council, how the math added up.

Furthermore, it seems rather surprising to a number of people I talked to about this subject after the meeting, that the staff never asked the local provider who the city had a 23 year relationship with about their alleged lack of certification. To this layman who is not a staff member or on council, that would seem the next obvious step. It seems that the staff was very quick to end a long time relationship over what really amounts to a small amount of savings in the scope of the city yearly budget.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Council Adopts Weak Disclosure of Financial Interest in General Plan Steering Committee

Early on Wednesday morning, the City Council moved forward on their plan to update the general plan. Each member nominated three regulars and one alternate to a 15 member steering committee that would be charged with overseeing the re-writing and drafting of the general plan.

While I am not going to go through a person-by-person analysis of the people named to that committee, it is noteworthy to mention that many of the council members chose people who were their strongest political supporters and allies rather than people with particular expertise in land use.

Several people have pointed out that there are a few developers named to this group. There are several developers named to this committee including Luke Watkins and Maynard Skinner. Watkins is co-principal for the Neighborhood Partners who have created a number of affordable housing developments in town including the Eleanor Roosevelt Circle project. Maynard Skinner, a former Davis mayor, is an agent for at least two developers holding land on our periphery. This is nothing personal against either Watkins or Skinner, whom I both like. At times they have been very supportive of some our goals not pertaining to land use. However, they are developers and would stand to at least potentially gain financially from some of the policies on whose board they serve.

One issue that arose at the council meeting was the issue of the level of financial interests by steering committee members that needed disclosure. The reason that this is such a concern is that you have people named to a committee responsibile for land use planning into the future that may or may not stand to personally gain financially from the policies that they help to enact.

The city staff recommended the following:
The Steering Committee is established for a temporary, ad hoc purpose to steer a citywide general plan update process and make recommendations to the Planning Commission and City Council at public hearings. Committee members may have significant interests in real property and business entities. This ultimately should not be a problem of conflict in that the Council would make the final policy decisions, not the Steering Committee.

Staff does not recommend such disclosure be used for any purpose such as a criterion in an application or to require members to recuse themselves from discussions. Therefore, the information would only be filed and made available for public information.
I strongly disagree with staff's assessment.

First, while it is true that council and not the committee members make the final decision--the committee will play a very large role in shaping that final decision.

Second, even if the information would "only be filed and made available for public information" that would be a valuable piece of information for an informed public so that they are fully aware of just who the council has selected to update one of the most important documents for future land use.

To the credit of the city council, they adopted Mayor Sue Greenwald's substitute motion which basically endorsed an alternative level of disclosure:
Require a simple statement disclosing interests in real property and business entities. Retain as a public record which may be disclosed or released upon request pursuant to the California Public Records Act. Do not require as part of an application process.
This addresses my point No.2 above--that at least now the public can have some information about the property holdings and business entities that the individuals on this committee have.

While this is most definitely better than city staff's recommendation, Councilmember Lamar Heystek favored a third alternative, a much stronger disclosure. However, he did not push a substitute motion realizing that Mayor Greenwald was in favor of the weaker disclosure.
Require a full “Statement of Economic Interests” (Form 700) used by city commissions and employees, but do not require as part of an application process. Issue guidelines for when members should recuse themselves.
This would have been ideal in my estimation. It is what is required not only for employees but also members of other commissions. It would have provided issue guidelines for when members should recuse themselves. I disagree with staff, people should not be part of deliberative process that they would directly and personally gain from financially. On a general basis it is disturbing but at the specific level in terms of deciding where development should occur in the future, it is even more so.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

MLK Day in Davis

One of my first memories of MLK Day was actually before it became a national holiday. I was in grade school in St. Louis, Missouri in 1981. There was an assembly and we watched a video on Martin Luther King, Jr. Then at recess we had a fire drill--which we all thought was strange. It turned out it was an actual fire. Someone had set fire to the MLK Day display. This was at a school that was majority African-American and I was in the minority. I didn't understand why someone would do that, but it has stuck with me all of these years.

The last year in Davis has been marred by at sometimes a bitter divide in this community. The Human Relations Commission, as everyone knows by now, continued to push the issue of civilian police oversight past the point that the City Council wanted to hear it. They dismissed all the members and put the commission itself on hiatus.

In September, they appointed new members to the commission. But things were different. The commission previously had been the most diverse in this city, representing at times six or seven or even more ethnicities and religious groups. On the other hand, the new commission is nearly devoid of any minorities.

I have been to many MLK Days in the past in Davis; they are a time of great joy and celebration in this community. They bring out large and diverse groups of people with powerful messages of hope and progress but also the message of an unfinished journey--that we still have work to do.

And I say today that here in Davis, California we still have work to do.

This was the first time in some time that I did not go to the Official City Event. I was not the only one. Most of the minority community stayed home, the fights from last year too bitter and the wounds too fresh. And while it appears that the speakers at the event--Retired Police UC Davis Chief Calvin Handy and Author and Activist Sandy Holman--delivered outstanding speeches, there was something missing. Observers describe it devoid of the soul and culture that has come with past events.

There was no planned boycott by those in the minority community. Most folks just stayed home. This city has a lot of work to do to rebuild those bridges. Unfortunately, at the council meeting last night, Councilmember Stephen Souza spoke about what a great event this was. Perhaps to him it was. To many in the minority community, who angrily called me yesterday, the picture on the front page of the Davis Enterprise spoke louder than any word. Go look at it yourself; it is a beautiful picture of the future of Davis marching for Dr. King. There is just one thing missing.

For those who like me, skipped the day time event and went to the evening's award ceremony organized by Mel Trujillo, you saw a very different picture. At the Cantina Del Cabo, there were at least 300 people that evening raising money for a scholarship fund to put young minorities into college. There is something very special about young minority students and their drive to go to college, and the pride that they take in being able to get an education.

Eleven students received scholarships and eleven adults from a wide cross-section of people received awards.

This was the MLK event. Little black boys and black girls sat down with little white boys and white girls (okay some weren't so little but you get the picture).

While I am certain I will miss someone (and if I do please let me know), but there were many public officials at this event including Assemblywoman Lois Wolk, two Supervisors--Helen Thomson and Mariko Yamada; three city councilmembers including Mayor Sue Greenwald, and councilmembers Lamar Heystek and Don Saylor; three school board members Jim Provenza, Tim Taylor, and Gina Daleiden. There were many former officials--too many to name (and I don't want to miss any). Also there was former Police Chief Jerry Gonzalez as well as former UC Davis Police Chief Calvin Handy.

There were some touching awards and outstanding speeches. This was the true spirit of MLK day and the minority community came out in mass.

Finally, I must say I agree with Bob Dunning's column--I wouldn't say as he did, that it was the only thing missing from the Varsity Event (as my friend so aptly put, it was a little melanin deprived). However, the crux of his message was correct. "Honor Martin Luther King Jr. and not utter a simple prayer? … you may as well rewrite history … it's like honoring Babe Ruth and not mentioning baseball …" Exactly Mr. Dunning.

The nice thing about MLK Day is that for once we do not need to fight over religion. At most events, I think prayers can be divisive (as much as they could be made inclusive) since they will argue as to why we favored one religion over another—but when you are honoring a Reverend, prayer is in order. And you solve the question about whose prayer to use. I'm Jewish, but guess what, it is perfectly appropriate to have a Christian Prayer in order to honor the great Martin Luther King, Jr. Those who want to re-write history need to remember that the civil rights movement was not possible without the mobilization ability of the black churches in the south or the leadership of the black clergy. That the very foundations of civil disobedience derive from Christian origins. The ideal of loving one's enemy comes from Mathew. "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you." The ideal of love in this sense was so powerful that it changed the hearts and minds of America. The ideal of turning the cheek and not returning hate with hate, but instead, returning it was love and understanding was so powerful that the forces of hatred were beaten back and none of that was possible without the religious convictions and faith of Martin Luther King, Jr. and many of his followers. And so when we honor Martin Luther King, Jr., it is perfectly appropriate to honor his religious foundation.

The City Council of the City of Davis spoke of the need to heal this city and bring unity. However, they have a long way to go. You do not create unity by stifling dissent. You do not create unity by dividing and conquering. You do not create unity by trying to get rid of the problem. Instead, you need open and honest discourse with all sides. You need inclusion. You need to bring the minority community back into the fold and you cannot do that as things are current situated. The divide in this town has grown greater, not smaller. We saw the power of the diversity of this community on Monday night and we saw the strength of their convictions that each person voted with their feet which event embodied the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Commentary: Council to Decide on Change in Employee Assistance Program Provider

In December 2006, we had an extensive article on the proposed change in the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) provider from the locally owned PRA to the nationally based Cigna.

As is often the case, trying to pin the city down on these types of issues is tantamount to trying to hit a moving target. The original proposal was a Consent Agenda Item schedule for December 5, 2006. Upon being alerted that a councilmember intended to pull the item for discussion at the December 5 meeting, City Manager Bill Emlen announced that this item was being pulled by staff and would be brought back at the next meeting on December 12, 2006. At that point, the majority of members on the council had questions about the item and so it was postponed until this week. Each time the staff report has changed which reveals some new information about the plan.

It has now on this evening's agenda as a regular discussion item—which it really should have been in the first place. The consent agenda should be limited to items that truly are non-controversial.

The purported "significant fiscal savings" described by city staff appears to come at the cost of a great loss in service provided to the employees. There are currently 51 employees receiving this service from the City of Davis. Because these are people receiving counseling and psychological services, they are unlikely to come forward and complain about the change in their benefits plan. This appears to be yet another example of the city being able to cut benefits to a group that is likely to not attempt to fight back.

One key area of note in the new report is this:
“The proposed EAP contract allows employees up to six visits per incident per year; our current EAP contract allows employees eight visits per year, with no per issue cap. This has allowed employees to use the current EAP provider for long term psychological counseling. The City’s desire is to only offer short term counseling for employees to help them through a traumatic event that is causing problems at work, home or both. The City has no desire to pay for employees’ long term psychological counseling.”
How exactly a shift from eight visits per year to six visits per incident per year, constitutes a shift from long-term to short-term counseling is unclear. That seems a very arbitrary distinction. If an individual met once per week, you are talking the difference between six weeks and eight weeks. In either case, it does not seem to be long term counseling.

But that changes the calculations we performed in our previous article.

The city staff has proposed a shift from the locally based PRA to Cigna based primarily on the differences in their quotes. PRA is quoting $38,500 while Cigna is quoting $14,500--$24,000 less than PRA (and nearly a third of the cost of PRA's quote). That’s a tremendous difference percentage wise, which leads us to question how exactly Cigna derives that figure. (Again I refer you back to the original article, the numbers are slight different with the now known cut in number of visits).

If we do the math on this, we realize that the city saves a lot of money primarily through a cutback in services.

PRA pays its psychologists $70 per hour while Cigna pays $62 per hour. (This is for psychologists who have a master’s degree rather than a PhD).

Last year the EAP program helped 51 employees. At 8 visits, PRA provided employees with 408 hours of care whereas the new plan would allow only 306 hours.

If we do the math:

PRA: 408 x 70 = $28,560
Cigna: 306 x 60 = $18,972

Now if we compare the profit we notice even with these revisions that while PRA is turning about a $10,000 profit, Cigna would be about $4000 in the hole. Obviously that cannot be accurate since Cigna would not accept a bid where they lose money.

Apparently that is made up for by cutting back on the number of employees that the plan actually helps get treatment. According to PRA's figures, they serve between 9 and 13 percent of the cities employees. On the other hand, the average large company serves a much lower figure of 2 to 3 percent. That means that Cigna would actually cover on average three or four times fewer employees than PRA.

That represents a large cut in the scope of the service, not just a cut in the number of visits allowed.

As we suggest in great detail in the original article, Cigna makes their profit by creating a burdensome and intrusive referral process whereby a number of employees get weeded out just by making the process for getting treatment exceedingly difficult.

So while the city has spent tremendous amounts of resources on the employee benefit packages of some employees, they have been quietly cutting the benefits of others by changing providers. And of course they attempted to do this through a consent agenda item.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Reisig's Failure to Disclose Exculpatory Evidence

Part of the current controversy swirling around Michael Nifong and his prosecution of the Duke lacrosse players on what now appears to be trumped up charges of rape, was his failure to disclose exculpatory evidence. He basically failed to report DNA results that demonstrated that there was no evidence that the Duke lacrosse cross players had raped the victim. More damaging is the charge that he did so knowingly. What may be of concern to Yolo County residents is that the newly elected District Attorney of Yolo County has had previous rulings against him for the exact same charge--failure to disclose exculpatory evidence.

A recent article in the People's Vanguard of Davis, scrutinized the Yolo County District Attorney's Office what appears to be malicious and discriminatory prosecution of a Clarksburg Farmer. This case coupled with the Duke allegations remind us that it was a previous case where we discover the very serious misconduct on the part of Mr. Reisig.

In 1999, a jury found a Woodland man guilty of using a firearm in the commission of an a threat to commit great bodily harm. The man was sentenced to five years in prison but had that sentence suspended and was placed on probation under a variety of conditions including that he serve 250 days in the county jail.

However, the defendant challenged that sentence on the basis that the prosecution knowingly withheld material exculpatory evidence. Mr. Reisig's defense was that this was inadvertent.

The basic problem was that in this case, the victim never saw a gun when the defendant threatened to shoot her and yet the prosecutors sought a firearm enhancement charge. The jury during the court proceedings twice sent notes to the court concerning the question as to whether the object was actually a firearm (a necessary conditions of this enhancement is that the object actually be a firearm).

One of the key questions that arose after the trial by the jury was whether or not a vehicle had been searched for the gun in question. This only surfaced after the trial in an inadvertent conversation between a juror and Mr Reisig. The juror asked him if the car had ever been searched and Mr. Reisig said that he believed so. The defense attorney came out about the same time and heard that the car had been searched and no gun had been found.

It turns out that the vehicle had indeed be searched and that no gun was found. This information never made it to the jury during the trial. Nor was it given to the defense.

Based on this new evidence, the defense requested a new trial on the grounds of newly discovered evidence and prosecutorial misconduct--the withholding of exculpatory evidence. The trial judge denied this motion arguing that there was no probability that the jury would have come to a different result "even if this additional information had been presented."

This decision was appealed and the appellant judge overturned the ruling and the conviction.

According to the law, the prosecution must disclose evidence favorable to the accused regardless of whether or not the defendant specially requests the evidence.

Moreover, the evidence must specifically be material to case--in the sense that its suppression potentially changes the outcome of the trial. In this case, the victim never saw a gun but only an object and at least one of the jurors questioned whether even the current evidence was sufficient to prove to prove that the defendant actually possessed a gun (a necessary condition for the enhancement).

The judge ruled that "the duty to disclose this evidence was the exclusive responsibility of the prosecution..., whose failure to do so violated defendant's right to due process of law."
"In sum, the prosecutor violated defendant's right to due process by failing to disclose to the defense the existence of material exculpatory evidence pertaining to the issue of whether defendant used a firearm while threatening to shoot the victim."
The judge ordered that the firearm enhancement was to be reversed and a new trial. The prosecution then dropped the firearm charge at the subsequent trial and the defendant was given probation.

Unfortunately, this is just another example of how the Yolo County District Attorney's office operates and unfortunately this was a case involving the newly elected District Attorney Jeff Reisig.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Monday, January 15, 2007

MLK Event Tonight

Time: 5:30 to 9 PM TONIGHT

LOCATION: Cantina del Cabo

ADDRESS: 139 G St.

COST: Tickets are $25 and can be purchased at the door

In honor of the civil rights activist, the Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Fund will present $500 scholarships to 11 students and recognize 11 community members for leadership and achievements at a dinner and awards ceremony.

Achievement awards will go to:

Joe and Corrine Singleton, Lifetime Achievement Award; Helen Thomson, Outstanding Elected Official; Janice Bridge, Outstanding Volunteer; Bill Calhoun, Outstanding Human Rights Advocate; Patricia Lenzi, Outstanding Children's Advocate; Cruz Reynoso, Outstanding Citizen; Jerry Kaneko, Outstanding Community Services; Mel Ramey, Outstanding Educator; Marty West, Outstanding Legal Scholar; and Halema Buzayan, Outstanding Young Citizen.

Special Thoughts on Martin Luther King Jr Day

The following is the closing remarks in a speech called "Our God is Marching On." It was delivered on March 25, 1965 in Montgomery, Alabama.
How long? Not long, because "no lie can live forever."
How long? Not long, because "you shall reap what you sow."

How long? Not long:

Truth forever on the scaffold,
Wrong forever on the throne,
Yet that scaffold sways the future,
And, behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow,
Keeping watch above his own.

How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

How long? Not long, because:

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He has loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword;
His truth is marching on.
He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment seat.
O, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! Be jubilant my feet!
Our God is marching on.
The vast majority of the people who talk about Martin Luther King and his legacy will focus on the "I have a Dream" Speech. That is a speech that is by now familiar to all Americans. It remains a work that embodied the civil rights struggle and placed the common person into the shoes of the African American. Some remember nothing more than the call for a color blind society--mistaking the statement "judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character" as opposition to affirmative action. King in fact long favored affirmative action.

As I think about the struggle for social justice in 2007, the thing that comes to mind is how much Martin Luther King, Jr, who was a radical for his time has become the mainstream. That is a good thing and a bad thing. It is a good thing in that we have somewhat internalized the values that King stood for and a bad thing in the sense that we have forgotten those values expressed by King that are not at the immediate forefront of our collective consciousness in mass media depictions of King.

People forget that King fought against poverty for all people because he understood that you could not have social justice if you divided poor white men from poor black men. And that is exactly what we have done. King fought against war because war traps those unable to escape its grasp. War begets only hatred and never love.

The words of Martin Luther King, Jr uttered in 1965 seem to me as radical today as they did over 40 years ago.

His were always words of optimism and hope. How long will this struggle last--not long he says. Why? Because we have collectively been instilled with a sense of justice and righteousness.

It is that unyielding faith in God and faith in human destiny that imbibes the entire civil rights experience. A few years back I read David Halberstam's "The Children" which chronicled some of the lesser known civil rights activists including John Lewis who was nearly killed on the bridge to Selma and who is now among the ranking Democrats in Congress. It was their sense of faith and conviction that allowed them to turn the other cheek as they were beaten and to love their enemy as their adversary tried to break them down and destroy their spirit. And it is the ultimate story of redemption when John Lewis' oppressor in Selma comes back to him years later in Lewis' congressional office and the two grown men break down in tears because words could not express the passions of the moment.

It is this sense of faith and hope that empowers the message in ways that modern and contemporary political discourse just fall well short.

King was a man of profound optimism, faith, and love and those traits carried him through at the worst times and the best times.

And yet as we look upon our world in 2007, we see not much room for optimism. Poverty still plagues humanity. Global warming and pollution are killing the planet. War still rages. Racism and hate still thrive.

How would Martin Luther King respond to our modern condition--with a message of hope and faith? A message of encouragement? A note of progress? And a word about the struggle to come?

We go back another 100 years for a message about struggle from Frederick Douglass:
"If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will..."
During difficult times every person questions themselves. Why am I fighting for justice? Shouldn't someone else carry that torch? Will I win? The words of Douglass ring out to me like a beacon of hope. He was calling out for agitation. It was a necessary condition for progress. We do not achieve progress by playing it safe. We do not achieve progress by sitting down in the back of the bus. And we do not achieve progress by failing to speak out and help the least of our neighbors. We do not achieve progress by simply showing up to the polls on Tuesday and hoping against hope that someone else has done it for us.

In 2007 the struggle continues. The struggle for the hearts and the minds and the souls of well-intentioned people will continue this year and into the future. We can only hope to shed light where there is darkness and hope where all seems hopeless.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Senior Citizens Commission Moving On

The Senior Citizen's Commission met last Thursday for the first time since the Davis City Council dropped their proposal to merge the Senior Citizen's Commission with the Social Services commission.

(For a more lengthy discussion of the misleading tactics employed by City Councilmember Stephen Souza and Mayor Pro tem Ruth Asmundson please click here)

One of the frustrating aspects for the commission was that they were in many senses chasing a moving target in terms of both the actual proposals and the rhetoric used by City Councilmember Stephen Souza and Mayor Pro Tem Ruth Asmundson to justify their position.

Originally, the council proposed with a full resolution to immediately merge the two commissions. This was placed on a consent agenda item. The consent agenda is generally used for non-controversial matters that need council authorization but do not require great or lengthy discussion.

It was only because Councilmember Lamar Heystek requested the item be first pulled and then postponed, that some of the details of the proposal began to emerge. The subcommittee composed of Souza and Mayor Pro Tem Ruth Asmundson, proposed a wide variety of changes simultaneously for a large number of commissions. However, when this proposal drew some apprehension and criticism from fellow members of the council, they agreed to meet with the respective commissions to gauge their support for such a move (why they did not do this prior to the proposal is an open question).

The Social Services Commission never had a problem with this merger and they agreed overwhelmingly to do so. However, the Senior Citizens Commission had a large number of concerns that ranged from the meeting time being changed from a daytime meeting to a nighttime meeting--at time that many seniors would have trouble making because they cannot drive after dark. (City Staff's response was carpooling or public transportation). Also there were questions about the watering down of the Senior Citizens agenda and influence. (Souza somehow believed this would make them more powerful--an argument the Seniors did not accept). Finally there were concerns about the compatibility of the two commissions. It was pointed out by Mayor Sue Greenwald among others that it is not clear that these two commissions have any more overlap that several other city commissions not being considered for merger have.

When the Senior Citizens commission balked at the merger, according to several witnesses, Councilmember Souza became hostile and aggressive, chasing the Mayor Sue Greenwald, who is the liaison to that commission, from the meeting, and then proceeding to browbeat a group of seniors, several of whom were not in the best of health. This served to further strengthen the resolve of the Senior Citizen Commission to fight the merger. Angry words were exchanged in the newspapers and at council meetings.

Eventually the political pressure mounted on the City Council and the proposal was dropped.

(Click here to view a speech by Chair Elaine Musser who lays out in great detail the greviences and concerns of the Seniors.)

Last Thursday, the Senior Citizens Commission met and discussed some of the fallout of this move by Souza and Asmundson. At one point, the Chair read from a statement from this blog that outlined some of the concerns about the process. City Staff also conceded that this merger was not handled as well as it could have been handled. Several witnesses remarked that the staffer was noticeably uncomfortable when the statement from the People's Vanguard of Davis was read by Ms. Musser.

The more immediate concern for the Senior Citizens Commission is that they are down to just four members right now. One of the members had to resign due to health reasons. Obviously this is not uncommon as many of the members are in their eighties and nineties with a number medical ailments.

This situation has been a problem for the commission especially given health concerns with regards to meeting quorum requirements. This was the only commission whose membership was not restocked in September when the commissions were re-organized and the new members were appointed.

The council this week has an item on the agenda to appoint four applicants to fill the large number of vacancies.

The chair also confirmed one of our suspicions that the City Council majority (particularly in this case Souza and Asmundson) and City Staff believed that they could get away with this sort of procedural subterfuge because the Seniors would be too weak to fight back. This is a tactic that has been employed at other times, with other bodies.

Hopefully the Senior Citizen Commission will have a strong and productive year and they can put this behind them to carry out their duties on behalf of their fellow citizens. All the while, they will be a little bit wiser about the policies and politics of the City Council majority.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Davis Enterprise: Sabotage and Misreporting in Police Audit Study

In Friday morning’s Sacramento Bee—four Sac Bee staff writers composed a story on an audit of California law enforcement agency practices in response to public records requests. The audit was performed by a nonprofit group known as Californians Aware and conducted by reporters at 27 newspapers and three TV stations across the state. They visited 216 law enforcement offices in 34 counties on December 4, 2006. Overall, law enforcement agencies scored in the “F” range in terms of responsiveness to the compliance with the California Public Records Act.

The Sacramento Bee reported:
“The Davis Police Department earned a B minus, a low grade considering that a Davis Enterprise editor tipped the police chief to the audit on the day it [the requests] happened.”
In Friday’s Davis Enterprise, reporter Lauren Keene wrote a front page story on the audit. On the second page, she discussed in some detail the results from the Davis Police Department. In it she indicated, accurately,
“The Davis Police Department was the county’s highest-scoring agency, receiving a B+ from CalAware (which raised the agency’s grade from a B- in light of a scoring error discovered Thursday night).”
Moreover, she also reported that Interim Police Chief Steve Pierce was tipped off by a Davis Enterprise editor; however, Pierce “said it did not affect how his agency responded to the requests.”

This raised a number of questions about the efficacy of the scoring process and whether the Davis Enterprise had inappropriately sabotaged the process.

The Californians Aware website provides some of these answers. There is a detailed account of the audit conducted by Davis Enterprise reporter Corey Golden.

Golden provides us with detailed notes.
“On Dec. 4, just before 9 a.m., I went to the station. The front desk clerk recognized me immediately, though I'm not our regular police reporter. She accepted the requests but said the station was short-staffed. I offered to wait, but she said she would not be able to get to any of them that day. I was given the name of the head of the records department, Karen Berry, and was told she'd contact me. Within about two hours, the interim chief called my editor, Debbie Davis.”
Apparently Debbie Davis was supposed to stick to the script so as to not tip off the Police Chief to the fact that they were conducting an audit.
“Unfortunately, Debbie [Davis] did not stick to the script, explaining what was going on.”
Notice that Golden does not characterize this error as inadvertent or unintentional.
“The chief [Steve Pierce] said he'd fulfill the requests within 10 days. He later called and e-mailed me a couple of times with questions and in one voice mail mentioned that he and others were working on the requests.”
Contrary to the statement from Steve Pierce that “it did not affect how his agency responded to the requests,” Golden openly wonders whether an ordinary citizen in such a situation would encounter such devoted treatment from the interim Chief of Police and his staff.
“Certainly not the sort of situation a normal citizen would encounter, I'm sure. However, I suppose it says something that the interim chief knew exactly what these requests were for, but it still took until 12/13 -- nine days -- to fulfill them. What that says likely varies widely depending on your point of view.”
Golden does not jump to conclusions; however his questions—which were completely appropriate—are very telling.

More telling is that the Davis Enterprise never mentions Golden’s report nor his concerns about the process.

There are three critical concerns in this incident. First, the question has arisen in the past about the inappropriate collaboration between the Davis Enterprise and the Davis Police Department. Editor and Assistant Publisher Debbie Davis used exceedingly poor judgment in how she chose to handle this situation. Golden suggests that she “did not stick” to the script. The Davis Enterprise chooses to characterize this as inadvertent, but it is clear that Debbie Davis knew in advance the role that she was to play, so it is unclear how she could inadvertently disclose the reasons for the Public Records Act requests.

Second, there is an issue of reporting. Davis Enterprise reporter Lauren Keene does not disclose the misgivings that Golden expresses in his report. Instead she takes Pierce at his word that it had no effect on how his agency responded to the requests.

Finally, even knowing that the express purpose of the public records request was to test his department, Pierce could only score an 86 which was graded a B+. Pierce purportedly disagreed with some of the grading criteria:
“But Pierce took issue with some of the deductions, saying additional time was needed in some cases to properly fulfill the auditor’s requests. Collecting the desired crime and arrest reports was particularly time-consuming, he added.”
However, the bottom line is that this test and its purpose was revealed to Steve Pierce & the Davis Police Department and therefore loses any element of credibility that it might have had. Part of the test was to see how ordinary citizens are treated in response to requests for information. That test was sabotaged the moment Debbie Davis revealed to Steve Pierce that this was part of an audit and would be reported in the newspapers.

While Californians Aware was less concerned about any single department, this should have invalidated this examination of the Davis Police Department responsiveness and thoroughness as a part of the statewide study as soon as it was clear that the cover was blown and most likely intentionally so by Ms. Davis.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting