E-Mail Forum
City Slow To Discipline Despite Multiple And Continuing Violations
November 3, 2001
Despite multiple violations of regulations prohibiting campaigning in uniform and an election season that is rapidly drawing to a close, city officials charged with enforcement appear to be paralyzed and either unable or unwilling to act. City Manager Isiah Turner, on leave due to the recent death of his mother, specifically charged Assistant City Manager Leveron Bryant, Human Resources Director Cedric Williams and City Attorney Malcolm Hunter to take appropriate action concerning the uniform violations.

With only two days left in the campaign and similar violations occurring every time a new mailer lands in mailboxes, City officials are having a hard time finding the decisiveness they found in 1998 when Brad Baxter was ambushed by some of the same city administrators. In 1998 when Parks and Recreation Director Brad Baxter was forced to resign because his job application said he had a master's degree and the resume attached to the application explained that he had completed the coursework but his thesis was still in progress? In that instance, action by the administration was swift and decisive.

In the current situation where uniformed officers of the Fire Department have repeatedly appeared in campaign mailers, disciplinary action is slow to emerge, if at all.

It actually seems pretty simple. A warning about campaigning in uniform was given by the city manager in April of this year. It reviewed Section 3(d) of Article XII of the City Personnel Rules, Section 11 of Article XIII of the Richmond City Charter and Government Code Section 3206, which prohibit an officer or employee of the City from participating in political activity while in uniform.

Despite that warning, it was politics as usual in Richmond. When a fire captain violated the rule in October, he was once again reminded by the city manager.

As the campaign draws to a close, violations are occurring wholesale while city administrators continue to study their options.

The City Personnel Rules are pretty clear. Rule X states: "The city manager may suspend, demote, reduce in pay, otherwise discipline or discharge any employee in he Classified Service, provided the provisions of Article XIII, Section M., of the City Charter and of these rules are adhered to."

The aforementioned Section M states: "For removals, demotions, deceases in pay, suspensions without pay and other forms of discipline of employees whose services are not satisfactory or who violate the provisions of this Article. Employees so discharged or disciplined shall have the right of appeal as outlined in this Article, and under the procedure outlined in the Personnel Rules," City officials are similarly reluctant to take responsibility for enforcing violations Chapter 2.42 of the Richmond Municipal Code, entitled Fair Elections. This RMC Chapter is where the campaign contribution limitation of $2,500 occurs. It is frequently violated when so-called independent committees collaborate with individual candidates to publish mailers. Recent mailers promoting Nat Bates and Lynn Wade are examples. These pieces typically cost $10,000 to $15,000 to implement, including photography, artwork, printing and mailing. The benefiting candidate should report that amount as a campaign contribution, but the magnitude would exceed the limitation, putting both the independent committee and the candidate committee in violation. The specific law states: (2.42.050 Campaign contribution limitations) " Limitations on Contributions. No person shall make to any candidate or independent expenditure committee and no candidate or independent expenditure committee shall solicit or accept any contribution which would cause the total amount contributed by that person to that candidate or independent expenditure committee to exceed $2,500 in each election cycle." The law also charges City officials with enforcement (see below), but this has never occurred. No City official charged with enforcement of any of these campaign regulations has ever taken enforcement or disciplinary action.
2.42.080 Enforcement.
a. Campaign Statement Review.
1. The City Clerk shall monitor all campaign Statements and shall notify the candidate or committee of any of the following apparent violations of this chapter:
(a) Whether the required Statements have been timely filed;
(b) Whether the Statements conform on their face with the requirements of this chapter;
(c) Whether any reported contributions exceed the allowable maximums established under this chapter. 2. The candidate or committee shall be allowed to correct any reports within five (5) days after receipt of notice of an apparent violation sent by the City Clerk. b. Violations. 1. In the event that a candidate or committee fails to correct any reports within five (5) business days after receiving a notice of apparent violation under Section 2.42.080(a)(2) of this chapter, the City may bring a civil action against the candidate or committee for injunctive relief to enjoin violations or to compel compliance with the provisions of this chapter."

The result is that Richmond continues to be City with Bay Area-wide reputation for dirty campaigns, lax enforcement, posturing rather than substance and a tolerant electorate that endorses, if not relishes, all this.

The following story appeared in the November 3, 2001, West County Times:

CITY MAY DISCIPLINE UNION OVER PAMPHLET : Firefighters Local 188 counters that Richmond is retaliating for being identified at the center of pension fund allegations

RICHMOND -- City officials are considering disciplinary action against the International Association of Firefighters, Local 188, for picturing uniformed city employees on election-related materials.

Contrary to city regulations, Richmond firefighters and police officers appear on numerous signs and mailers promoting Local 188-endorsed candidates.

City personnel rules and the Richmond City Charter prohibit an officer or city employee from engaging in political activities while in uniform.

Last week, City Manager Isiah Turner sent union President Jim Russey an ultimatum demanding Local 188 stop violating the charter or face punishment.

Thursday afternoon, many residents found in their mailboxes a four-page, union-generated flier for City Council candidate Lynn Wade featuring two pictures of Russey in full firefighter regalia.

"Russey was just thumbing his nose at the city manager and he needs to be disciplined more than with just a slap on the wrist," Mayor Rosemary Corbin said.

Assistant city manager Leveron Bryant said Richmond's human resources department is investigating the alleged violations and would report findings before the election, which is Tuesday.

"The appropriate actions will be taken within the city's personnel rules and policies," Bryant said. "Beyond that I can't go into detail because this is a personnel matter."

Local 188 recently distributed a flier along 23rd Street -- Richmond's Latino district -- featuring Wade standing with seven uniformed Latino firefighters. Local 188 also pictured Russey and retired police Officer Lisa Pheil in a piece aimed at City Council candidate Corky Boozé.
Richmond Police Officers Association officials, who endorsed Boozé, distanced themselves from the mailer.

Uniformed officers have appeared frequently on political mailers in the past, said Darrell Reese, a consultant for Local 188. The city is contemplating punitive actions now only because the firefighters have unearthed a major City Hall scandal, Reese said.

Local 188 is alleging the city stole $11 million from the firefighters/police pension fund and funneled the money through the Redevelopment Agency into the city general fund.
The accusation is the driving force behind Wade's campaign: She is a Chevron auditor and the wife of a firefighter.

"They got blood all over their hands and the city manager is just going up the wall," Reese said. "We're blowing the whistle and doing a public service."

Turner has been out of City Hall all week on bereavement leave.

Neither Wade nor the firefighters has provided the Times with documentation to back their claims regarding the $11 million. Reese said materials have been withheld from the public out of respect for the Police Officers Association, which he said is contemplating a lawsuit.

Mike Rains, an attorney for the police officers, said the POA-sponsored review failed to turn up conclusive evidence of city wrongdoing, and the political debate hasn't made negotiations any easier.

"I continue to be disturbed and disappointed that issues we have raised have become fodder for the firefighters to try to get candidates elected," Rains said.

Anna Vega, Richmond's financial services agency director, has said the accusations are completely false. According to Vega, the City Council approved the refinancing of a loan to the Richmond Redevelopment Agency and Port Authority at a lower interest rate in 1998.
The action resulted in an $11 million adjustment to the pension reserve portion of the general fund, Vega said.

The election-year back and forth is taking place against the backdrop of intense negotiations between the city and its public safety unions over a new pension package called "3 percent at 50."

Without the unions sharing some costs, city leaders believe the plan could have grave effects on Richmond's budget, especially in light of prevalent economic uncertainty after the terrorist attacks.

Firefighters and police officers are arguing Richmond leaders have underplayed the city's ability to pay for the benefit.

Reach Peter Felsenfeld at 510-262-2725 or pfelsenfeld@cctimes.com .