Between the public comment in the general session, the interim auditor’s item and the recommendations by the police oversight consultants, the night was long and tiring and contentious.
But, while it was contentious, it really wasn’t that bad. As Will Arnold put it, “The only use of swear words were by a comment that was objectively hilarious.”
Context is everything in situations like this. I have been coming to the council pretty much every meeting for the last 13 years. I have seen the council almost get shut down when a community member protested the Target decision.
I saw Ruth Asmundson end up in the hospital after a confrontation with Sue Greenwald and I then held off City Manager Bill Emlen from going after Sue Greenwald in the hallway. Even recently, the council at times has had to call a break when members of the public refused to yield.
It is not that everything was bunnies and rainbows on Tuesday, but I truly believe that the steam was taken out of the room because (A) the city manager showed leadership, (B) the police chief took responsibility for mistakes, and (C) because even though we didn’t get to see the McGregor Scott report, Mike Gennaco made it almost a moot point.
The reality is that there have been far more contentious meetings and there is a good reason for that – from the report by Mike Gennaco and the adept handling of the situation by the new city manager and city council, they were really able to diffuse the worse of the public anger, even if that anger was only from a portion of the public.
In my view, the city council for much of this time was caught in the middle, but Mike Webb and Mike Gennaco managed to fix in the last two months or so most of what went wrong for seven to nine months in – and that fact is rather remarkable.
One of the most remarkable things that occurred on Tuesday is what didn’t happen. In 2006, when there was a push for civilian review, it triggered every single rank and file police officer and the Davis Police Officers Association (DPOA) President publicly opposed a civilian review board.
This time, just 12 years later, there was no one from the DPOA that spoke. There were a few officers there, but mostly it was the leadership of the department and they watched. The amazing thing is that what the council approved on Tuesday, was remarkably similar to what the Human Relations Commission had pushed for in 2006 on their way to being shut down.
Mistakes were made in this process. The police did not handle the situation at Picnic Day well, and the council has a list of recommendations that are already being implemented.
There was bad process a year ago. The press release was never believable – at least to me and many other community members. It was compounded when the chief made the decision to hire John McGinness to be the investigator. Fortunately he was so transparently bad, we got him to withdraw less than a week later.
To be honest – that decision mattered greatly because Mr. McGinness told the Bee later on that he saw nothing concerning. Well, McGregor Scott – who is now the US Attorney here in Northern California – saw it differently and sustained three complaints and Mike Gennaco agreed with those findings.
But the problems went beyond the cops on the scene and beyond the chief’s ill-advised press release and hire of Mr. McGinness.
There was also the failure by the city manager and city attorney to vet the hire of John McGinness. As I have said before, it was not a long search to find problems with Mr. McGinness, whether it was his failure to oversee his own department’s problems, his views on racial profiling, or the thing that finally got him in hot water, his comments on the Civil Rights Act.
Harriet Steiner and Dirk Brazil discovered none of this, and I wonder, without the work of the Vanguard, what would have happened.
They also made a crucial error in failing to anticipate the non-release of the Scott report.
Finally, as Mr. Gennaco’s report attests, there was even the Scott report itself that was lacking, and he spent an extra month bolstering it.
And so there was an angry council and city manager in December. Mike Webb had this mess dumped on him in December. As planning director, he likely wasn’t paying attention to any of this.
This could have been a problem. It could have been explosive. And yet he managed to clean up the mess rather quickly.
The hiring of Mike Gennaco saved the day. He was quick to praise the city for giving him unparalleled cooperation, but Robb Davis got this right: “The Gennaco report was the open window that we were looking for into the Scott report. I didn’t expect it to be what it was, but I’m thankful for it.”
Instead of lamenting the fact that we didn’t get to see the Scott report, we are discussing what went wrong and how to fix it, and that’s what Mike Gennaco fixed.
And the council needs credit. They stayed quiet. Some thought they should speak earlier, and frankly I agreed with their decision.
Will Arnold said, “Still to this day, I don’t know if I’m stepping beyond of things a councilmember ought to say about an incident like this, about judg(ing) professionals in a profession that I cannot even pretend to understand their day to day.”
Councilmember Lucas Frerichs said, “Regarding my silence over the course of the past year, I erred on the side of caution.
“I certainly feel like I no longer have to remain silent,” he said. “This event should never have happened in the first place.” He added, “It entirely could have been avoided.”
I know some criticized the silence of the council, but, as a legislative body, they had to wait for the results of the investigation before weighing in. Now they did.
Let me say this as well that of course I criticize Darren Pytel for his press release, for his failure to come clean sooner, and his hire of John McGinness.
But I think in the end he redeems himself. He came forward with an apology. Maybe it didn’t go so far as some wanted, but it is a lot further than most chiefs would go.
Mike Gennaco has worked with a lot of departments and communities, and he said on Tuesday that this was the most cooperation he had ever received.
The council is quick to point out that Darren Pytel never told them not to pursue stronger police oversight.
I think in this situation we have seen the worst of Chief Pytel, and the best of him, and now we hope that he has learned from this experience – because the next time he has an “oh sh-t moment” he is going to not have as long a leash to make a mistake.
But for the first time since I started doing the Vanguard, because of similar concerns over the police as arose this time, I feel like there is support from the city manager to the council to the police chief to go forward with a stronger and more robust form of oversight than we had in 2006.
That is all I can ask for.
—David M. Greenwald reporting