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Monday, December 08, 2008

Why is the City Still Sitting On the Independent Investigation into Grand Jury Complaints?

On July 14, 2008 the city of Davis official named Bob Aaronson, the city's police ombudsman, as the independent investigator looking into grand jury complaints that the Davis Fire Department had engaged in a variety and string of misconduct over the previous several years. The charges ranged from drunkenness on city property to a hostile work environment and a host of problems in between.

By all accounts Mr. Aaronson completed his investigation and turned in his report around four weeks ago, the second week of November. However, a scheduled city council report has been postponed. Originally scheduled for this week, it was nowhere to be found on this week's agenda.

In addition, it appears that Bob Aaronson will not even be in town to report to the council and hopefully the public on his findings and to be available to answer questions that will inevitably arise.

Why the delay? The Vanguard unfortunately was unable to connect with City Manager Bill Emlen last week. However, one suggestion that has surfaced is that they simply have not figured out how to handle the report given the sensitive nature of it.

More alarming is the apparent factor that the city council members have not been allowed to view it yet. Thus the elected officials of Davis have yet to make any sort of assessment of the severity of the report.

In part, we can sympathize with the city manager's dilemma. After all it is a tricky situation given the fact that people have come forward as whistle blowers and these people are in need of protection from potential retaliation.

On the other hand, the delay at this point is largely inexcusable. City Manager Bill Emlen was not suddenly dumped this report in early November, he had almost four months prior to work out the end game here--the end game being how to take a raw report and turn it into something the city council and the public could get in an expeditious fashion.

The longer this process continues, the more speculation will build and the messier this situation will become.

At this point, we have to believe that the news cannot be good for the department. If this were a mere exoneration, the city clearly would have released this report already.

We are left to speculate that perhaps the city is trying to bury results in the doldrums of the holiday season. A December 16, 2008 release might suggest that the city is hoping that people will see it and forget about it over the Christmas and Holiday season. On the other hand, it is perhaps more likely that this is just being mishandled. The resolution to this situation is likely not going to occur at a single city council meeting and therefore the situation will drag out beyond the holiday season anyway.

At this point, I want to pose two ideas for the public to think about.

Bob Aaronson's report in Santa Cruz criticized the police for spying on protestors and they also criticized the police department for a conflict of interest relating to the fact that the very official who ordered the spying, was the one who conducted the initial report. The decision in Santa Cruz was made early on based on that the report would be a public report, available for anyone. If you google it, you can find the report even now on the web. Why was this important? It insured transparency in the process. The public knew the outcome of the investigation and could draw their own conclusion.

This decision was made in advance. What appears to be happening in Davis right now, is that no decision was made prior to Mr. Aaronson completing his report. Now the city is bogged down in figuring out what to do about it.

What should have happened? Bill Emlen assigned this to Bob Aaronson in mid-July. When he did, he should have directed City Attorney Harriet Steiner to evaluate the legality of a variety of options given a number of different contingencies ranging from full-vindication of those mentioned in the grand jury report to full-validation of the report. In advance, the city should have made the determination of how to release the information whether it be the full-report, a summary, a redacted report. They should have already known when and how the city council would get to view the info. They should have already known when and how the public would learn about the results of the information.

From all indications, this has not happened. At this point in time, not only is the public in the dark about the fate of this report, but so is the city council. There appears to me to be no excuse for this.

The public deserves to know the outcome of this investigation, and so does the city council.

---David M. Greenwald reporting