Vanguard Commentary: McGinness’ Withdrawal is Not Enough

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In a way, the outrageous comments made by John McGinness on Friday’s radio show made it easy.  We are told that even by Friday a majority of the Davis City Council, maybe even all five, had complained to city manager Dirk Brazil about the appropriateness of the choice of the outspoken former sheriff turned conservative talk show host to head up the investigation into Picnic Day.

The chain of events, however, no doubt brought this to a head much more swiftly.  On Monday morning, the Vanguard’s column focused on Mr. McGinness’ Friday radio show, where the KFBK contributor stated, “If you look at certain groups within our broad population, for example, African-Americans in this country did much much much better before the Civil Rights Act.”

He added that “prior to the 1960s when the Civil Rights Act came into play and there were efforts specifically undertaken to theoretically prop up one race of people, African Americans in this country were doing much much better.”

This prompted first term Davis City Councilmember Will Arnold just before 10 am to go public with what several of his colleagues had already communicated to the city manager.

He told the Vanguard, ““I have thus far remained silent regarding the Picnic Day incident in hopes of allowing an independent, unprejudiced investigation to take place. But the recent on-air statements of former Sheriff McGinness are beyond the pale, reveal an ignorant and insensitive view toward African-Americans, and threaten the very independence and lack of prejudice we must preserve.

“Therefore, I am calling for the immediate replacement of Sheriff McGinness to lead this investigation.”

The writing was already on the wall at this point – it seemed only a matter of time.

That time came at just before 5 pm when the Vanguard received a text from Police Chief Darren Pytel, “John McGinness has withdrawn from his engagement with the City regarding the inquiry into events on Picnic Day.

“Mr. McGinness does not wish for this matter to become about him as opposed to about the substantive issues being investigated,” he said.

The city is in the process of contacting alternative investigators to provide an independent outside investigation of the events on Picnic Day.

The Vanguard’s coverage, both on Thursday and Monday, clearly played a critical role in hastening the demise of the former sheriff.

But the key question that remains unanswered is how John McGinness, who seems contrary to Davis community values, came to become named the investigator and why the city manager or city council didn’t immediately flag him as a poor choice.

Part of this is rooted in the nature of a city manager model of city governance structure.  Mayor Robb Davis declined to comment on the departure of John McGinness specifically, but explained, “Since the events of Picnic Day I have had an ongoing discussion with the City Manager about the best way to move us forward to analyze what happened, determine what might have been done differently, and draw lessons for future action.”

He said, “In our form of government the City Council must give the City Manager latitude to work with his staff to obtain adequate resources to address events like this one.  This case is no different.”

The mayor continued, “I will continue to rely on Dirk to work with the DPD to determine the best way to conduct an investigation that will enable us to analyze this event and take corrective action. I believe we will find the right person or people to do that work. I can be patient as I await a positive outcome.

“In the meantime, I will continue to strategically work with my colleagues and staff to analyze all elements of our police oversight policies and procedures–something I have been committed to strengthening since I was elected,” he added.

While we are supportive of whatever decisions took place to convince John McGinness to withdraw as investigator, we nevertheless believe that his hiring was inappropriate in the first place, and not simply because his values are antithetical to Davis values – of social justice and fair and impartial transparent oversight of the police – as well as that of all government agencies.

Put simply, the city of Davis already has an independent police auditor on contract.  And, while he is leaving at the end of June, Bob Aaronson remains contracted until that time.

We reject the narrative put forward by the Police Chief who said that Mr. Aaronson “was not an appropriate choice to conduct the internal review because his role is to audit completed investigations — not perform them — to ensure that they were handled properly and reached reasonable conclusions.”

“If Bob does the investigation, who is going to audit his work?” Chief Pytel said as quoted in the Davis Enterprise last week.

In fact, the Vanguard has learned that Mr. Aaronson has never been allowed to review external personnel investigations performed by outside contractors.  So the idea that this is a reason for him not to investigate the matter is a fabrication.

In a comment on the Enterprise site, Rich Rifkin pointed out, “There is nothing in the City’s job description of the “Independent Police Auditor” which restricts Mr. Aaronson’s role to not perform investigations. He, in fact, investigated the Davis Fire Department and the activities of the Davis firefighters’ union.

He writes, “What the job description does say is the Independent Police Auditor was ‘hired to assist with concerns about the police department’ and he can ‘take citizen complaints about the Police Department.’”

Mr. Rifkin concludes, “Insofar as there have been concerns raised and complaints lodged about the behavior of the plainclothes officers on Picnic Day, it seems like Mr. Aaronson would be the perfect choice to investigate those concerns and complaints.”

In our view, the city is inexplicably making this decision more complicated than it needs to be.  This should be Mr. Aaronson’s investigation and if Mr. Aaronson cannot complete this by June, the city can make the call to temporarily extend his service contract or ask his replacement to continue reviewing the incident.

Either way, the city has an individual with the experience and training needed to conduct this investigation in a fair and impartial manner.  If the city did not trust him to do this, they should not have had him on contract for 11 years.

Our concern now is that the city will hire another impartial investigator, but this time one who is less transparent about his biases.  That is not why we created this police oversight model – the city and police department need to adhere to community wishes here and grant us the kind of investigation that will give us confidence that any conclusion is based on the facts at hand rather than bias and personal politics.

—David M. Greenwald reporting



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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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One thought on “Vanguard Commentary: McGinness’ Withdrawal is Not Enough”

  1. Tia Will

    I am surprised at this approach on the part of Chief Pytel. I am thinking that in view of the seemingly obvious choice of the already contracted Mr. Aaronson, there must be some other consideration that is not being dealt with transparently on the part of the police. While I am not sure that it is critical that we, meaning the readers of the Vanguard and Enterprise know what that issue is, I am equally sure that the city leadership in the form of the city manager and city council members most assuredly should know all of the relevant considerations if they do not.

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