Chief Lewis Defends the SVPD

I’m used to taking the unpopular position, so I’ll go ahead and say this: I don’t believe the SVPD has done anything wrong in their handling of the Takasugi fraud case, the controversial criminal complaint regarding Mayor Huber’s former law associate. And these aren’t just my miscellaneous thoughts on the subject. I believe I have asked the right people the right questions to better understand the situation as well as the investigative process and required resources for such cases.

Even though I was on vacation last week, I was still tuned in enough to be thoroughly disappointed when the Ventura County Star decided to run another story on the SVPD where the City Council requests a third party investigation on their handling of the Takasugi case. The story shed no light on any new facts or information and seemed to only keep the topic fresh on the minds of Simi Valley readers. I wasn’t the only one who saw it this way.

Chief Mike Lewis has drafted a response to be published in the Ventura County Star. He lays out the facts regarding the timeline of events as well as the resources allocated to the investigation. Understandably, his frustration is evident regarding the story’s constant revival in our local paper.

When we’re not in the midst of an election cycle, I’m proud to say that I’m a supporter of our City Council. But I don’t always agree with every stand they take, either as a unified Council or individually. I hope that our City Council can let this issue rest for now and I think they really have since mentioning this issue several weeks back. Even better, I’d hope the Ventura County Star can ease up until there’s something new and relevant to report. There’s an awful lot we don’t know about how these cases are investigated, not to mention an even bigger issue regarding available resources and concerns about mandatory job rotations. Rather than open Pandora’s box, I propose we all rest easy and let this play itself out.

Here are Chief Mike Lewis’s thoughts on the matter:

Every Cloud has a Silver Lining

For many weeks now, the 195 fine men and women of the Simi Valley Police Department have been maligned regarding the alleged delay of a complex fraud investigation.  Normally, our internal review and a subsequent request for an investigation (which was declined) by the District Attorney’s Office would be sufficient to quell any questions regarding the allegation of an inappropriate action, in this case the intentional delay in completing an investigation.  However, this particular issue seems to have taken on a life of its own, and I will not silently stand by while the integrity of my officers and support staff is continually impugned for questionable purposes.

A review of the facts are as follows:

Beate Kirmse, administrator for the estate of Oscar Muro, filed a criminal complaint on October 19, 2010, alleging attorney Russell Takasugi, embezzled funds from the estate of Mr. Muro.  This was 14 days before the recent City elections.  An article reporting this criminal complaint appeared in the Ventura County Star on October 25.  This was one week before the election.

When this complaint was filed, our lead expert economic crimes investigator was out of the office for an extensive training class to prepare him for a new position as the Department’s lead homicide investigator.  A law enforcement agency must constantly review its workload and allocate resources based upon priority of the type of investigation and our detectives’ current caseload.  Based upon this review, our Investigative Unit made the decision to wait until our lead investigator returned from training to assist a newer detective with the investigation of this particular case.  There were no exigent circumstances requiring immediate action such as the destruction of evidence.

Fraud and embezzlement cases are very complex and require hundreds of records, including bank statements and other types of documentation, which must be subpoenaed from banks, trusts, estate attorneys, etc., before a case may be presented to the District Attorney’s Office for review. Investigations of this nature typically take many months, even years, to complete based upon the complexity.  Only after an investigation is complete would there be any information released to the public.

We are now a full six weeks into this investigation, and it will probably take several more months to complete.  If I had put my entire Investigative Unit on this case when it was first received, there would have been nothing to report before the election and this investigation would still be ongoing.  As the head of this agency, it is my professional opinion, based upon knowing all of the facts, that the Department took the proper steps in an appropriate timeframe.  For some to suggest otherwise is nothing more than an attempt to keep this “story” in the news with unfounded claims of biased policing.

The constant rehashing of this story smacks of Police Department bashing.  In fact, much of this story is attributed to second hand comments reportedly made by a civil attorney during a probate hearing in Superior Court.  The repeated assertion that there is a “black cloud” over our Department comes from not knowing all of the facts and not allowing the City Manager to complete his review and report back to the City Council with his findings.  I have already stated my desire to have full transparency on this issue and once again pledge to the community of Simi Valley that a review is welcomed.

As the Chief of Police, I am proud to state that I stand with the investigators who are diligently working this investigation; unequivocally support their decisions made, and the Department’s handling of this case.  As with all of the calls for service we receive, this case will be handled with the highest degree of integrity and professionalism because this purported dark cloud truly has a silver lining composed of the 195 dedicated staff who make up the Simi Valley Police Department.

Mike Lewis, Chief of Police
Simi Valley Police Department

Williamson Resigns as Chair of Task Force

Barbra Williamson has officially resigned from the Simi Valley Landfill Expansion Task Force, according to this news release distributed this morning by the Task Force:

*** UPDATE: Barbra Williamson has resigned as Chair of the Task Force, but still remains a member of the group. ***

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Resignation of Barbra Williamson, Chair of the Simi Valley Landfill Expansion Task Force

Simi Valley, CA (December 8, 2010) – Barbra Williamson announced today the resignation as Chair of the Simi Valley Landfill Expansion Task force effective immediately.

Citing the perception of a possible conflict of interest due to her recent appointment to the negotiating committee with Mayor Huber and City Manager Mike Sedell on discussions with Waste Management and the proposed landfill expansion, Williamson thought it best to step down.

SVLET member Louis Pandolfi will take over as acting chair.  “The Task Force has exceeded my greatest expectations and I know it will continue in its professional investigation of the impacts of the landfill expansion on the residents and businesses in our Community”, Williamson said.

“Task Force members will surely miss the leadership that Barbra has provided for over three years, during which she has worked tirelessly to protect Simi Valley from the negative environmental impacts that will result from the proposed landfill expansion”  said Charles Blaugrund Task Force Member. “We wish her success in her new assignment with Mayor Huber.”

WM at City Hall

Mike Smith of Waste Management put it simply during the Council Meeting. “What have we done? Everything,” he said, elaborating that Waste Management has done everything that was asked of them. He went on to explain how we got to the point where discussions came to a halt, pointing to the lawsuit of the County and WM by the Landfill Expansion Task force. Additional Waste Management representatives spoke, pointing to their openness with the community regarding communication and expansion plans, as well as the benefits to the community regarding jobs and a willingness to reopen communication with the City.

Various members of the community showed up to speak. Ben Gilbert, owner of Welcome to the Neighborhood Magazine, spoke about the positive benefits of Waste Management as a contributing community member. Others spoke favorably about Waste Management’s processing of waste, turning the methane gases into electricity. Former Council Candidate Ken Sandberg chose to speak about what he refers to as lies and deception on the part of the Landfill Taskforce.

Mark McDonald, owner of SiteServer in Simi Valley, spoke of the green nature of Waste Management’s business. He talked about Waste Management’s business being under strict state and federal regulations regarding the every day operations, suggesting that WM’s business will not be harmful to the community. Other speakers discussed air quality not being a significant issue, also detailing proactive measures to counteract the emission of greenhouse gases.

Harry VanDyck represented the Simi Valley Chamber of Commerce, indicating the Chamber Boards favorable position for the expansion of the landfill.

But it wasn’t all sunshine and roses…

The President of the Big Sky association put it simply enough. He likes Waste Management as a business, he believes they do a good job and that they should be allowed to continue to do a good job. However, he just doesn’t want the landfill to get any bigger than it already is. He commended Barbra Williamson for her work on the Landfill Expansion Taskforce, but also expressed concern that Big Sky home values will not recover from the expansion on the landfill.

Alice Sterling of the Landfill Taskforce indicated that the expansion benefits are rare, if not non-existent. She clearly made the point that she and the Taskforce are against the landfill expansion as proposed. She asked the Mayor to take the high road and to work with the County to ensure that the landfill expansion does not proceed as proposed. Also from the Taskforce, Louis Pandolfi spoke about other situations where Waste Management was made to make-up the difference in home sale prices where it was deemed that their landfills impacted property values. His point: Waste Management can be made to make things right when community leaders require it.

I’ll reach out to Councilwoman Barbra Williamson for a transcript of her statement on the expansion agenda item. Her statement details the points of compliance requested by the Taskforce of WM. More to come over the next several weeks…

UPDATE: The Committee assembled to resume negotiations with Waste Management will consist of Mayor Huber, Councilwoman Barbra Williamson and City Manager Mike Sedell.

New Planning Commissioners

New Planning Commissioners were appointed this evening. Councilman Glen Becerra reappointed Mary Bibb to the Planning Commission. Newly elected Councilman Mike Judge nominated Kenneth Rice, long term Simi Valley resident. Both were unanimously voted in to the Planning Commission.

Mayor Bob Huber nominated Scott Santino who was his Campaign Chair during the Mayoral campaign. The Mayor introduced Santino, discussing his background as a businessman and long time contributor to the community through various community organizations. Scott Santino’s appointment was not unanimous, with votes of opposition from Councilman Glen Becerra and Councilman Steve Sojka. No official word from either on why they voted no, but I suspect members of the press will chase them down for questions and publish something official later in the week.

There has been a lot of speculation from insiders during the past several weeks regarding Santino’s appointment to the Planning Commission. It’s widely believed that Santino intends to run for City Council in two years. Two years of service on the Planning Commission can be beneficial for a hopeful candidate for City Council. Councilwoman Barbra Williamson served on the Planning Commission before being elected to the Council, and former candidate Keith Mashburn was also a Planning Commissioner when he threw his hat in the ring last summer. Being a business owner and Planning Commissioner looks favorable on a ballot, not to mention the added benefit of two years of name recognition and experience in City business.

Though just a rumor at this point, the next election cycle could be just as interesting as the last if Scott Santino runs. He would likely draw the same support from the POA. I plan to stock up on blood pressure medication!

Landfill Expansion Taskforce Website

Minutes after I sent an email to Councilwoman Barbra Williamson offering to host a website for the Landfill Expansion Taskforce, she replied with a press release announcing the new website for the Taskforce! Obviously, she and the team have been working on this for a while and the website is a solid representation of data.

For information regarding the Landfill Expansion Taskforce, dates and schedules, as well as related documents, check out www.savesimi.com.

Simi Valley Landfill Expansion Task Force Announces Website Availability

Simi Valley –Barbra Williamson, Chair of the Simi Valley Landfill Expansion Task Force announced today that the Task Force has created a website available for viewing at savesimi.com  Responding to numerous requests by interested community members concerned about the negative impacts of the proposed Simi Valley Landfill expansion by Waste Management, Inc., Ms. Williamson states, “This website makes it easy for members of the public to contact the Task Force directly and share their points of view with us. I receive inquiries daily on how people can get involved in the Task Force and learn more about the landfill expansion. This gives them an opportunity.”

Found on the website is an overview of the landfill expansion, highlights of critical impacts effecting Simi Valley and neighboring communities, links to forward thinking waste-to-energy techniques and documents associated with the Task Force. Enlisting the aid of local college students, the creation of the website is one example of the commitment of volunteers to inform the community of the impacts resulting from a three-fold expansion of the landfill.

———————————————————————————————————
The Simi Valley Landfill Expansion Task Force is an independent community group formed in 2007 by Simi Valley City Councilwoman Barbra Williamson and members of the community. The Taskforce is not affiliated with the City of Simi Valley or any other government body. Its mission is to keep the public informed and engaged on issues involving the Simi Valley Landfill and Recycling Center’s proposed expansion currently under consideration by the County of Ventura.

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Oxnard’s City Manager Shake-up

Some signs are pointing to the end of the career for the current City Manager of the City of Oxnard. At least that is my interpretation of the most recent news on the Ventura County Star, indicating Oxnard Mayor Tom Holden is requesting a special meeting tonight to evaluate the performance and consider the possible dismissal of Oxnard City Manager Ed Sotelo. Consideration for dismissal by the Mayor appears to be as a result of a hiring decision that was made with the Council’s input.

According to the article

The agenda item reads: “Evaluate the performance of the City Manager; consider the discipline, dismissal or release of the City Manager; and consider the appointment of an Interim City Manager.”

Earlier this week, Holden cited a 1988 city administrative manual that requires the city manager to consult with the council and get its concurrence in the hiring of city department heads. But state law in Oxnard’s city manager form of government calls for the city manager to hire and fire all department heads. In practice, the administrative manual hasn’t been followed for at least the past decade.

It will be fascinating to see how this unfolds, especially after Simi Valley’s heated election and some of the remarks made about not only the Council, but also about City Management.

Though I could never get anyone to go on record, I frequently received anonymous notes from people detailing Simi Valley City Manager’s total compensation. The document was never on official City letterhead, making me unsure of it’s authenticity. Plus, the figure was different than what had been published elsewhere. Nevertheless, the very fact that the document was being passed around along with the very clear notes that accompanied the document sent a clear message. Some people out there believe City Manager Mike Sedell’s compensation is too high and they want something done about it.

Up until this week, it seemed pretty clear to me that our City Council was very supportive of our City Manager. In fact, if you take a swipe at him in the comments section of this blog, Councilwoman Barbra Williamson is often first to come to his defense, telling readers how hard he works for the Council and the City. Other Council Members have been equally complimentary about City Manager Sedell, in interviews and in conversation. This week, however, two new members have joined our City Council. I have no official word from either on how they feel about Sedell and its likely that neither will have an official opinion until spending more time on the Council.

The situation in Oxnard clearly demonstrates how a City’s management is accountable to the City Council. No decision to dismiss Oxnard City Manager Sotelo can be made without a majority vote from the Oxnard City Council, so it seems we’ll know his fate by the morning.