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Sunday, September 21, 2008

City Responds To Grand Jury Report

As we reported last week, the City of Davis has asked Police Ombudsman Bob Aaronson to investigate the findings of the Yolo County Grand Jury's Report that reviewed the Davis Fire Department. The city had 90 days within the receipt of the report to respond to the recommendations. This week's council agenda contains the city's formal response to the Grand Jury's recommendations.

The city has taken the extra step of examining the veracity of the findings. As Mr. Aaronson told the Vanguard last week:
"My hope at this point is to be done within the next 30 to 45 days. How it plays out after that isn’t my call."
In a follow up, Mr. Aaronson informed the Vanguard that the city did not need his report in order to respond to the recommendations which are fairly basic and routine.

The city's staff report fully lays out the process.
"As we began evaluating the overall report, it became apparent that the investigation would take longer than the 90 day timeframe mandated for a City response to the recommendations. Our response to the City Council is thus a multi-step process."
It should be both noted and applauded that the city has decided to go above and beyond the statute requirements by actually investigating the findings at which point there will be a report made public.

According to the staff report:
"Responding to the Grand Jury’s report is challenging, as the Grand Jury process necessitates that the City receive only minimal background information about the concerns and/or specific events from which the Grand Jury bases its findings and recommendations. The conclusions drawn by the Grand Jury are serious, and the City has responded accordingly by hiring an independent investigator in an attempt to gain a better understanding of the underlying basis for the Grand Jury findings."
The staff report acknowledges that this response is neither detailed nor lengthy:
"The first step is to fulfill our legal obligation to prepare a response to the Grand Jury, based on the direction given in their report, as has been accomplished by the attached letter. Although Council may have anticipated a more detailed and lengthy response, we want to assure Council that we feel this letter relays to the Grand Jury that we are taking their findings and recommendations seriously and that we have begun steps to implement change where appropriate."
The second step involves the independent investigation by Mr. Aaronson.
"The second step is currently in process: we have hired an independent consultant to gather information related to the Grand Jury report and anticipate formal feedback within the next several weeks. The independent investigator is proceeding with a thorough review and will be preparing additional information emerging from his review. We hope that this information will shed additional light on the underlying allegations in the Grand Jury Report and provide a clear path to make any improvements or changes. Staff will share the information that can be made public and subsequent recommendations with the Council once the review has been completed. We hope to have the overall investigation complete by the end of October."
According to Bob Aaronson there will be two different versions of a final report on this incident:
"One that I will anticipate being released publicly and one that I will anticipate being held confidentially."
The city responds to the five recommendations in the Grand Jury report in a formal letter.

Recommendation 08-15: "Revise the promotion testing and selection process to identify and promote the best qualified candidates. Post promotion selection criteria in a public area of the firehouse as well as in the announcement of the promotional opportunity."

City's Response:
"The City is re-examining the promotion testing and selection process used by the Davis Fire Department and anticipates implementing refinements to improve the process and the accountability of the relevant decision makers. We are working on putting guidelines into place that will better assist both existing employees interested in promotional opportunities, as well as senior management making decisions on promotions.

For promotional positions citywide, the City's Human Resources Division ("HR") sends hard copies of all promotional position openings to all departments, including the Fire Department, and hard copies of the notices are posted in each department. In addition, HR sends an e-mail to all employees with city e-mail accounts notifying them of the promotional opening. The promotional position notice includes the job qualifications and criteria for the opening. The promotional opportunity is also posted on the City's website. The City has, and will continue to, make available its promotion criteria to applicants, potential applicants and the public at-large, through internet posting and City bulletin boards, including the bulletin boards at the Fire Department."
Recommendation 08-16: "Develop and publicize criteria for selection to special committees, projects and education opportunities for DFD firefighters.

City's Response:
"Similarly, the City is reviewing the manner of, and criteria for, selecting Fire Department employees for various employment-related opportunities to make sure that they are in the best interests of the City and fair to its employees."
Recommendation 08-17: "Publicly post copies of the revised City of Davis Drug and Alcohol Administrative Policy, 3.4B in the City of Davis Personnel Rules and Regulations handbook. Further, require all current and new DFD personnel to read and sign-off that they have read these documents."

City's Response:
"The City will continue to work to insure that all employees are conversant with the City’s Drug and Alcohol policies. The City has provided its Drug and Alcohol policies to all of its employees. New employees are provided with the policies during orientation and are required to acknowledge receipt of these policies. The City posts the policies on the City's internal employee intra-net. Hard copies of memos describing policy updates are sent to all employees and the employees are directed to the City's employee intra-net to review the entire, up to date, policy. The City is considering additional training for all employees on the City's Alcohol and Drug policies, as part of the City's on-going training program."
Recommendation 08-18: "All City and DFD policies related to drug and alcohol use should be enforced."

City's Response:
"The City does and will continue to enforce its Drug and Alcohol policies. In this regard, the City will redistribute its drug and alcohol policies to all employees to ensure that everyone abides by the same policies related to drug and alcohol use and that all managers and supervisors are familiar with how to address situations where employees may be in violation of the policies."
Recommendation 08-19: "The successor Fire Chief should come from outside DFD with no personal ties to the DFD Union, in order to restore a balanced relationship between DFD administration and the Local Union and its Board."

City's Response:
"While the City understands the basis for this recommendation, the City is unable to artificially limit or circumscribe its employees’ rights to apply for vacant positions. The City will be mindful of the concerns raised by the Grand Jury nevertheless. When the City begins to recruit for a new Fire Chief, the City intends to seek qualified applicants from both outside and inside the City. The City Manager retains the right to choose the most qualified applicant for this position, regardless of whether that person is currently employed by the City."

There are several thoughts that emerged from reading the city's responses.

However, first, I want to begin on a positive note. Our counterparts in Woodland at the Woodland Journal have been focused heavily on the Woodland school district's response to the Grand Jury report. For those unhappy that the city of Davis is spending $35,000 on its investigation, the Woodland School District is paying about $80,000 according to one board member who characterizes the response as: "Half of the responses are lies. The other half doesn’t make sense." The Woodland Journal believes that the findings have been whitewashed.

Thus the city of Davis seems to be at least on the surface taking this far more seriously than the Woodland school district. The city after initially having a response that suggested complete denial of the charges in the Grand Jury report is taking things very seriously and there will be a full and fair investigation.
The Vanguard fully understands that this response is preliminary. The Grand Jury's recommendations frankly were too modest to begin with and thus could be responded to prior to a full investigation. While these are good recommendations to follow regardless of the outcome, they are not sufficient if the allegations are shown to be accurate.

Even to those very basic recommendations, I do not feel that the city's initial response goes far enough.

Let me provide one basic example--one of the recommendations is that "all City and DFD policies related to drug and alcohol use should be enforced." The city's response to this is that it does and that they will "redistribute its drug and alcohol policies to all employees." That does not seem to go far enough. The real question is how they are going to enforce their drug and alcohol policies. Granted that if there is shown to be a problem with drinking specifically, the city may take additional steps, but it seems even in the interim the city could have had a stronger response than the one they gave.

The real test for the city will obviously occur once the report by Bob Aaronson is complete. At that time we will see how if the city is willing to take strong actions, should they be warranted. In the meantime these responses seem to be a formality designed to technically response to the Grand Jury without any kind of substance or initiative. From that standpoint, it seems the city could have done a bit more even at this time in response to very serious allegations.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting