On Friday, June 2, at 1:30 p.m., the Riverside Board of Ethics held a panel in order to see if Riverside Mayor William “Rusty” Bailey violated resolution no. 22318 II (D), specifically the Brown Act, on September 22, 2014. The hearing was held in the Art Pick Council Chamber.
The ethics violations came after Jason Hunter, a Riverside resident, submitted a complaint stating that Bailey, Councilmen Mike Gardner, Andy Melendrez, Chris Mac Arthur and Jim Perry held closed-door discussion on how to investigate complaints submitted by former City Manager Scott Barber.
Barber’s complaint was against Councilmen Paul Davis and Mike Soubirous, stating that they created a hostile work environment and violated the city charter by giving orders to his employees.
The complaints against Davis and Soubirous did not result in any disciplinary action and cost the city of Riverside more than $130,000 in order to pay for an outside investigator as well as to reimburse Davis and Soubirous’ legal fees.
Director of the UCR Center for Sustainable Suburban Development and former Riverside Mayor Ronald Loveridge emphatically stated, “It was a bad idea (to hold the closed-door discussion), a bad judgment, I didn’t think that they looked at the consequences for this, the city has moved on. I don’t see an ethics violation when it is just a question of judgment.”
Earlier this year, the board determined that Gardner, Mac Arthur and Perry did not commit any ethics violations. Melendrez’s hearing will resume once the Riverside City Council answers the panel’s request to send a complaint to the state attorney general to investigate whether or not the entire council violated the open-meeting law.
The hearing started with public comment by Hunter. Hunter stated that Ethics Board Chair Jeffrey Wright was nominated by Bailey, who also cast the vote that confirmed Wright as being the chair of the board. Hunter then called for Wright to recuse himself from this hearing.
In response, Wright adjourned the meeting and told his colleagues, “I will submit my resignation effective immediately.” Wright proceeded to leave the hearing.
In order to proceed with the hearing, the council chose Gloria Huerta, a former member of the City of Riverside Community Police Review Commission, to become the acting chair in a 4-0-1 vote.
Once the meeting was called back into order, Bailey spoke for public comment and urged the council to simply dismiss the charges.
After a short recess, the council reconvened the meeting and allowed Hunter to present his testimony. Hunter called Bailey to the stand and proceeded to ask him questions based on the evidence that had been submitted prior to the hearing.
Councilman Wendel Tucker reminded Hunter on multiple occasions that he must keep his question solely about the topic of his complaint. “You are asking questions not relative to the decision (made in closed-door session),” Tucker stated.
After Hunter finished his testimony the council called for a five minute recess.
Upon returning, Hunter brought a section of the city ordinance to the attention of the council. The ordinance stated that there could be no hearing without at least five members of the council present. Since there were only four members present the council asked Hunter and Bailey if they would like to proceed despite there being only four members present. Bailey nodded his head in agreement while Hunter gave a verbal “no.” Since there was no consensus between Hunter and Bailey, the council moved to continue the hearing at a later time until a fifth member could be present for the hearing.
Bailey refused to comment when asked for a statement.
Hunter stated, “It’s obvious by what occurred here today, at the hearing, that there is a lot of work to be done on both behalf of the hearing panel and the process itself towards adjudicating these complaints expediently and fairly.”
The transcripts of the meeting will be made available for the fifth member that joins the hearing. The date and time of the next hearing has yet to be announced.