Tuesday, April 2, 2002
LAPD Panel Closes Parks Hearing on City Attorney’s Advice
By ROBERT GREENE, Staff Writer
The Los Angeles Police Commission interviewed Chief Bernard Parks behind closed doors yesterday after Chief Assistant City Attorney Patricia V. Tubert advised members that the law permitted them to keep the public out of discussions on the chief’s reappointment.
Tubert said she told panel members they could opt to close their session and that if they didn’t, the city could face substantial liability by publicly discussing officer-involved shootings, complaints, and other issues that affect the privacy rights of people other than Parks.
“They have a right to have it in closed session under the Brown Act in order to have an open and candid discussion with the chief,” Tubert told the MetNews.
Tubert cited Government Code Sec. 54957, which states that open meeting requirements do not prevent closed sessions with public officials “to consider the appointment, employment, evaluation of performance, discipline, or dismissal of a public employee or to hear complaints or charges brought against the employee by another person or employee unless the employee requests a public session.”
Parks requested a public session, but Tubert said it was the rights of victims and of other officers, including those subject to disciplinary proceedings, that were being protected.
The commission’s decision to proceed in closed session rankled a small crowd of Parks supporters gathered at police headquarters, who charged that they were being shut out of the process. Tubert appeared at the Parker Center auditorium to explain the legal reasoning, but was unable to speak over the voices of the protesters and left.
Danny Bakewell of the Brotherhood Crusade said the closed session violated the public’s right to hear the discussions.
“It’s a cover-up,” Bakewell said.
The activist called on members of the public to show up at police headquarters for today’s session, also expected to be closed, to “just physically let people know” of their opposition to keeping out the public.
Parks last week asked the panel considering his reappointment to open up the meeting, which ordinarily would be closed to the public under the Ralph M. Brown Act because the subject under discussion is a personnel matter. The embattled chief said he was willing to waive his right to privacy and allow the discussion to be heard.
Allowing the public into the meeting is “necessary for a fair proceeding and to the important public issues raised by the reappointment process,” Parks said in a letter to commission President Rick Caruso.
The commissioners never appeared at the auditorium yesterday, but heard from Tubert in closed session and took their vote to proceed with the evaluation hearings in closed session at their chamber in the commission office at the other end of Parker Center.
The session was scheduled for 3:30. Commission Executive Director Joe Gunn came to the auditorium to announce the decision to keep it closed shortly before 4 p.m., and Parks, in uniform, strode through the commission office at 4:10 to begin the session with panel members.
Tubert did not remain for the rest of the meeting. Deputy City Attorney Mark Burton, the lawyer regularly assigned to the commission, participated in the session.
“But he has my cell phone number” in case concerns arise about the Brown Act or other legal matters, Tubert said.
City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo announced his support for Parks’ reappointment in February, shortly before Mayor James Hahn shocked his supporters in the African American community by saying he did not want Parks to stay.
Caruso criticized Delgadillo for his public statement, saying the commission would have to hire an outside lawyer to remove any suggestion that the city attorney’s advice on legal questions—such as whether to keep evaluation meetings closed—was politically motivated.
Delgadillo denied that his support of Parks tainted his office’s legal advice. But he recused himself and any of his appointees from all decision-making on the Parks reappointment and empowered Tubert, a municipal law expert and longtime veteran of the office, to advise the commission.
Tubert is protected by a city charter provision that provides a civil-service-type system for deputy city attorneys. She said her staff was made up of lawyers in a similar position and included no one who could be removed or demoted by Delgadillo without cause.
Tubert formerly headed the branch of the City Attorney’s Office that advises the airports department, one of the nation’s largest revenue generating public entities.
Parks was appointed by then-Mayor Richard Riordan in 1997 to a five-year term. Critics say his tenure has been marked by a precipitous drop in officer morale, a steady decline in the number of uniformed personnel and the Rampart scandal, which turned into a threatened suit by the federal government and a consent decree requiring reform.
Supporters cite a drop in crime and a continued effort to crack down of officer misconduct.
The chief is eligible for a second term, but must win commission support. The panel’s five volunteer members were appointed by Hahn and can be removed by him at any time.
More meetings are scheduled for today, tomorrow, and next Tuesday.
Caruso has committed publicly to a fair process of evaluation. But the panel is not required by law or the city charter to weigh Parks’ achievements or cite any reasoning for its decision.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company