Photo: FLLewis/A Writer’s Groove — Burbank Police and Fire Headquarters at Third Street & Orange Grove Avenue.
Burbank Police Commission meetings at police headquarters are getting more and more interesting. Last night’s meeting brimmed with drama including verbal fireworks and one commissioner abruptly walking out in a huff. The way I see it, these are the growing pains of commissioners who are struggling to break out of an old sedentary model and leave a “do nothing” reputation behind, or as new Commissioner Ray Adams put it,”… beef up our strength…be more valuable to the community.” To this I say, right on!
This kind of change isn’t going to come without heated debate and ah, plenty of drama. The first one to get pumped up last night was James Etter, who quickly lost patience with his fellow commissioners and the meeting procedures. Etter pleaded for a period of discussion before an item could be voted on for a future agenda. The Boy Scout leader/entertainment industry pro, was upset that it appeared commissioners were voting down certain agenda items he suggested without a clear understanding of the issues involved.
Assistant City Attorney/Police Department Counsel Juli Scott kept interrupting to remind the commissioners they could not discuss new issues unless they had been “agendized.” This Catch 22 frustrated Etter to the point he scooped up his laptop computer and other belongings and headed for the door, threatening to make his exit permanent. Etter charged the commission was stuck in the past and “… going nowhere.”
Scott, who tries to control the commission meetings with long rambling and often confusing legal explanations or opinions, probably thought things would settle down after the renegade Etter left. No way. Gutsy Commissioner Elise Stearns-Nisesen stepped up next to ask a series of probing questions about a new controversy over single officer patrol units, as well as those lawsuits and investigations swirling around the city.
Oddly, sometimes when Police Chief Tim Stehr would attempt to answer a question posed to him by Commissioner Stearns-Niesen or one of the other commissioners, Scott would explode with some long-winded response. A couple of times, I saw the chief’s mouth open to speak, but the words we heard were from Scott. It was a strange sort of ventriloquist act that was annoying rather than amusing. Why is Scott talking so much at these commission meetings? It’s like Scott views the commissioners as jurors in a trial she is trying to win.
No matter, these commissioners appear to be determined to move away from business as usual. Commissioner Ray Adams commented that he “…could relate to the frustration of Mr. Etter.” Adams said the commission needs to become more involved and relevant so it can “…help the police department … help the community.” The other commissioners, Stearns-Niesen, Robert Frutos, Nathan Rubinfeld, Claudia Bonis, and Hagop Hergelian agreed.
Those commissioners voted unanmously to meet on Wednesday, October 28, 2009, for the specific purpose of drafting a letter to the city council requesting new powers and responsibilities. This is a welcome surprise and I applaud their efforts.