Photo: FLLewis/A Writer’s Groove — Burbank City Hall
That discrimination lawsuit filed by five members of the Burbank PD last Thursday, popped up several times at the Burbank City Council meeting last night. First, it was on the written agenda as having been discussed with legal counsel earlier in the afternoon during the council’s closed session. Also seven, yes that’s right, potential cases against the city were brought up in that behind-closed-doors discussion as well.
The present lawsuit alleges a pattern of discriminatory hiring and promotional practices, harassment, retaliation and other offenses in the Burbank PD. It was brought up or alluded to by several speakers during the public comments. Both City Manager Mike Flad and Councilman Dave Golonski reiterated Burbank’s policy for zero-tolerance when it comes to discrimination. Neither spoke directly about the allegations.
Although the council would not discuss the lawsuit pubicly, it was definitely at the core of a new controversy that flared up at the meeting. The council decided to reconsider its vote of four applicants to fill vacancies on the Burbank Police Commission. A visibly upset Councilman David Gordon was the only “no” vote out of five, and he called the action “wrong,” and “a reshuffling of the democratic process.” Even though none of the applicants were mentioned by name, it was clear during the heated debate who was the target of the re-vote campaign.
The unidentified applicant is apparently on some form of probation from a DUI. The police commission application did not ask about criminal background, so how did this become an issue? Police Chief Tim Stehr admitted at the council meeting that someone in his department brought it to his attention. Stehr passed on the information to the city staff and the city attorney then informed council members.
Chief Stehr is one of the defendants specifically named in that Burbank Police discrimination lawsuit. The unidentified applicant reportedly has stellar credentials for fighting racism — one of the main accusations in that suit. You gotta wonder, if Stehr and his sources in the police department came up with that DUI information in an attempt to get the unidentified applicant removed from the police commission.
Councilman Gordon was clearly uncomfortable with the timing of the DUI revelation and how the information came to the council. However, other council members appeared to be more concerned with creating a police commission with a certain image, during what they frequently referred to as this “sensitive” time. By the way, Mayor/City Council member Gary Bric has disclosed in the past and did so again at last night’s meeting, that he got a DUI, 13 years ago.
So who would the proponents of the re-vote campaign like to see on the police commission? Well, probably Joe Gunn, the chairman of the police commission, who did not get a seat on the panel during the first vote. Gunn wrote that infamous e-mail to fellow police commissioners dated May 13, 2009.
In the e-mail, Gunn asked police commissioners not to talk to certain city officials about, “…a major investigation going on within the Burbank Police Department.” Also, Gunn wrote: “Please refrain from asking city council members and the city manager about this investigation. They also do not have all the facts at this time and repeated requests for information keeps stirring the controversy and gives ammunition to those who wish to do the Department harm.”
This Gunn e-mail outraged some locals who feel the police commission’s job is to provide oversight for the police department and to be first and foremost, looking out for the best interest of the residents of Burbank. I agree with that, but believe the police commission’s effectiveness in carrying out its duties is now hampered by its own controversy.