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Thursday, July 03, 2008

Commentary: City's Response to Grand Jury Report Disappointing

Vanguard Calls For Independent Investigation of Grand Jury Report on the Davis Fire Department

While the report released on Monday from the Yolo County Grand Jury regarding the Davis Fire Department was disturbing, many wanted to wait to see what the response from the city would be.

Unfortunately, the statement released by Davis City Manager Bill Emlen undermines any value that response might have.

The City Manager's statement basically said that they respect the work of the grand jury, will take its findings serious, however:
"We believe the grand jury report includes several statements that are factually incorrect. Taken together, they contribute to a less than accurate picture of the Davis Fire Department."
Frankly that is the kind of statement that we would expect from the Fire Chief or the Police Captain, people actually accused of wrongdoing. That is not the kind of statement that we would expect from the City Manager.

Some people are taking this as evidence that there is no wrongdoing, but really how would the City Manager know if the crux of the report is correct or factually incorrect at this point? Has he interviewed the people that the Grand Jury has interviewed? Seems doubtful, especially after the Grand Jury explained how many precautions they took.

Simply put the City Manager has not had time to do his own investigation, so his response seems premature at best. What the City Manager should have said was the cursory, We respect of the work of the grand jury, we will take the findings seriously. We are looking into the allegations made in their report and will respond accordingly.

Unfortunately, that is not what happened so far. The City Manager is in full denial mode once again. This is reminiscent of the handling of the Buzayan Case by the City. Instead of investigating the complaints, they are in full damage protection mode, trying to avoid the appearance of impropriety. The City's response to the Buzayan Case has actually put the city in jeopardy of a multimillion dollar judgment with the case pending in federal court.

Based on the statement by the city manager, we have no confidence anymore in anything the city has to say on this matter. The response is simply not credible and the credibility of any future response is now in severe question.

What I find particularly disturbing is that buried at the end of the story, the City Manager acknowledges that he does not have all of the information at hand.
"Many of the allegations in the report do not include sufficient detail or background information for the city to investigate fully."
This is a particularly curious statement in light of the fact that the Grand Jury managed to do their own investigation over the course of two years to uncover these findings. If the city is serious about getting to the bottom of this, they would have access to the exact same people as the grand jury. Then again, the city would have to have the level of trust that the grand jury gained by taking precautions to insure that those coming forward would be protected. Given the fear of retribution, it is difficult to believe that the city would be able to get to the bottom of it without an independent investigator to handle the matter in a thorough and professional manner.

For the sake of all involved there needs to be an independent investigation of these allegations.

Some will suggest we have already had that--i.e. the grand jury report. But the grand jury report is not actionable as such. The city now needs to conduct its own investigation to determine whether or not wrongdoing occurred and if it did occur what the consequences should be.

And if the investigation vindicated the fire chief and captain, then they should be vindicated by a process that people will regard as fair and transparent. This is not such a process.

We have concerns that one of the accused, Davis Fire Captain Bobby Weist who is the president of the Union was not interviewed by the grand jury. Most of these situations come down to different points of view, and if his view was not included in the report, that tends to caste some doubt.

The story run in the Davis Enterprise interviews the principles who were accused, particularly Captain Bobby Weist, in addition to the City Manager Bill Emlen and Police Chief Landy Black. What the Enterprise does not do is interview anyone who agrees with the grand jury report. On the other hand, Rose Conroy, the fire chief, was advised against commenting before the response was issued.

Moreover, they quote Police Chief Landy Black who tells us there is no problem between the two agencies:
"Davis Police Chief Landy Black said the relationship between the two safety agencies is strong.

'The police officers and the firefighters in the city of Davis consider themselves allies, if you will, in public safety here for Davis,' he said."
What they do not do is quote the head of the Davis Police Officer's Association. One might suspect there would be a somewhat different answer once you get below the level of Police Chief.

The bottom line here is that at this point, there is no confidence that the city can handle this matter internally in a fair and judicious manner. Furthermore, if the Grand Jury did not interview Bobby Weist we believe that they should have. However, we are not going to believe the city manager's office stating this.

We need an independent investigator. The police ombudsman, Robert Aaronson would be a good place to start--someone who can be independent and fair to all involved.

We ask the city council to demand an independent investigation and allow the process to go forward from there.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting