Letters for the Week of October 1, 2014

Readers sound off on the Oakland Police Department and compassionate healthcare.

“Why Oakland Can’t Fire Bad Cops,” Feature, 9/17

Barbara Parker Responds

After speaking to your reporter and responding to all of his questions, I was disappointed to see that the story “Why Oakland Can’t Fire Bad Cops” contains numerous factual errors. I request that you correct or clarify a number of points in the online version of the story and in next week’s paper, and that you post this letter online and publish it in your next week’s paper.

This is a list of some errors and other problems regarding information about the City Attorney’s Office; it is not a comprehensive list of errors in the story.

1. You report that in the [Robert] Roche arbitration case, an outside attorney was assigned sometime after March 19 to handle a hearing on April 7. Your reporter included this in the story without asking me whether it was correct. The attorney, Stephen Roberts, actually was assigned in February, about a month and a half before the hearing. As I told your reporter, timing of the assignment was not a factor in the outcome of this case. Please correct this point in your story.

2. You report that we “switched attorneys at the last minute” and “changed lawyers just before the arbitration hearing” in the Roche case. Again, it is not true that the attorney was assigned at the “last minute.” And there was no change of attorneys on the case. Nossaman, a highly qualified firm that went through a public RFQ [request for qualifications] process, was hired to handle the case. The case was not “reassigned” from a different attorney, it was assigned to Nossaman, and they worked closely with the head of the City Attorney’s Labor and Employment Unit on the case. This is standard practice when we use outside counsel on any matter. Again, the reporter never asked me whether the case was reassigned. Please correct this in your story.

3. To be clear, Mr. Roberts, the outside counsel who handled the Roche case, is not a “new” attorney. As we told your reporter, he is a partner at Nossaman, has been a litigator for three decades and has handled dozens of arbitrations, including police arbitrations.

4. The story states: “In an interview, [Scott] Olsen questioned Parker’s decision to switch attorneys at the last minute, and believes it likely played a role in the arbitrator’s ruling in Roche’s favor.” The quote from Mr. Olsen is based on incorrect information given to him by the reporter. It should be clarified.

5. The Franks case never went to arbitration. The reporter calls it “another arbitration case” and uses it as evidence to support his theory about arbitrations not being handled correctly, so this should be corrected.

6. The City Attorney never withheld any evidence or anything else in the Franks case. The story states “Franks’ attorney Michael Rains uncovered an expert analysis of video footage from Franks’ chest-mounted camera that had been withheld from Franks and OPD investigators by the Oakland City Attorney’s Office.” In fact, we gave the reporter a copy of a letter including a timeline of that case that clearly shows we did not withhold the report in question, or anything else, period. In fact, as I wrote in the letter, the City Attorney’s Office advised Internal Affairs to produce the report when Mr. Rains brought it to our attention that he had not yet received it from IA [internal affairs] as part of the administrative process. This is a serious accusation, and our explanation that it was totally baseless should have been included in the story.

7. Likewise, the story did not include our response to Mr. Rains’ claim that he filed a bar complaint against a member of the City Attorney’s Office. In the letter provided to the reporter, I wrote that Mr. Rains’ bar complaint was “baseless and seemingly malicious” for the above reasons. That response should have been included in the story.

8. You quote me in the story as saying that budget cuts have “hindered (our) ability to handle cases.” At no point in my conversation with your reporter did I say anything like that. I pointed out the loss of in-house staff to explain why my office has relied more on outside counsel for arbitrations. The quote about layoffs hindering our ability to handle arbitrations is completely out of context and should not have been attributed to me. This absolutely warrants a correction.

9. I began the interview with a caveat that because arbitrations are personnel/disciplinary matters, I cannot discuss or reveal facts or evidence in particular cases. I want to repeat that point so readers understand why we can’t comment on these matters, even when opposing counsel is saying something inaccurate or misleading in the newspaper. I told the reporter that many factors determine the outcome of arbitration proceedings, and that arbitrators have the power to substitute their judgment for the City’s, even when they agree with the City’s facts and evidence, and agree that the officer was not subject to disparate treatment. This is not a correction, but I think it’s an important point for readers to know.

Barbara Parker, Oakland City Attorney

Ali Winston Responds

Ms. Parker, as you know full well, the City of Oakland retained attorney Nikki Hall to re-investigate the Olsen case in 2012 because OPD’s Internal Affairs did not handle the case properly. Your office then chose not to retain Hall for the arbitration case, even though she has worked for the city in the past on personnel matters. OPD terminated Robert Roche on August 6, 2013. Roberts was retained in February 2014, and told people he interviewed before Roche’s arbitration hearing that he did not have sufficient time to prepare the city’s case, according to sources I spoke with.

As the for Franks case, we corrected the story to note that it was still in the disciplinary process stage and had not yet gone into arbitration when the exculpatory information was withheld from Franks’ lawyers.

In terms of your other points, we stand by the accuracy of the story and do not plan to make any other corrections.

Excellent Job

Oakland city government, especially the City Attorney’s Office and the Oakland Police Department, is rotten to the core. Nothing any of them say should be believed, and nothing any of them do should surprise anyone who has been paying attention. The Express is pretty much the only newspaper that has been covering this, and it’s done an excellent job.

Jan Van Dusen, Oakland

“An Unsafe Move for Kids,” News, 9/17

OUSD Building Is Fine

Well, isn’t this opaque Oakland at its finest. Sure the RFP [request for proposals] is public, but not much else. What an airtight plan the Oakland Unified School District has hatched to upend Dewey and destroy 1025 2nd Avenue.

Not really. First, this whole scheme is based on the fallacy that 1025 2nd Avenue was irreparably damaged by a water leak. No, only according to OUSD is the building “presumed to be beyond repair.” Oakland city code enforcement has not tagged the building for any flood related structural deficiencies. Do OUSD staff know better than our city’s structural engineers? I’ll let you figure that one out.

Even more interesting is that in 2005 OUSD hired engineers URS Greiner Woodward Clyde to evaluate 1025 2nd Avenue for seismic integrity, and guess what? They declared it a fine candidate for seismic retrofit. How much would the retrofit cost … $50 million? $100 million? No, just $5 million to bring the entire structure up to seismic code.

Oh, but the water damage? Right, well, let’s take the circa-1916 brick and timber Mazda Lamps factory in West Oakland, vacant for twenty-plus years with windows, roof, and sections of wall completely missing. If that structure can be retrofitted and repurposed (for profit), then a weekend’s worth of water damage to a 1920s building that survived the Loma-Prieta Earthquake is absolutely not beyond repair.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Imagine the OUSD emails that must have gone around about getting rid of Dewey High School and why. I hope that all the various groups, from education advocates to historic preservationists, can organize on a common goal of blocking this scheme to rob students of their future and Oakland of its history.

Matt Chambers, Oakland

“When Liberals Take Control of Police,” Seven Days, 9/10

It’s Not About Liberals or Conservatives

Richmond Police Chief Magnus has been an excellent administrator. The police force has changed radically since his arrival but it has not been an easy adjustment. He was accused of racism by top-ranking officers two years after he arrived. When the charges were vetted in front of a jury, they were dismissed and the accusing officers had to pay for their attorneys. Most of the accusers retired.

As a gay man, he has been present during council meetings when some residents have expressed homophobic beliefs. Chief Magnus knows the community well, and realizes these views are not shared by the community he serves and appears to take these opinions in stride.

In my opinion, the key to his success is community policing, a concept that was being advocated by residents long before the chief or the mayor arrived in Richmond. Two resident activists, the recently deceased Peter Cleveland and his wife Sara, were lobbying Chief Magnus’ predecessor, Chief Joseph Samuels, to institute community policing to no avail, but they never gave up the fight. Today, we have a safer community thanks to Chief Magnus, community policing, a more responsive police force, and code enforcement. This is not about liberals or conservatives. It’s about a community working together.

Charles T. Smith, Richmond

“The Trouble With Kaiser’s Technology,” News, 9/10

Nurses, Not Technology

Kaiser is constantly trying to replace nurses with unsafe and unproven technology. Patients need registered nurses who have critical thinking skills because every patient is different and they respond to treatment differently. A computer or algorithm cannot adjust for variations between patients. Most importantly, patients need a registered nurse to act as their voice when Kaiser is not acting in their best interest.

Amy Glass, Manteca

I Fear for My Profession

Technology cannot replace bedside care. The first rule learned in nursing school is “look at the patient.” As technology proliferates, time spent at a counter is time taken away from the patient. A computer cannot hold a patient’s hand or rub his back. I fear for my profession as my practice morphs from caregiver to data collector.

Pat Tomasello, Vallejo

What About the Patients?

I have worked for ten years as a nurse in the ICU and then Post Operative Recovery and I get to see what the conditions are like on medical surgical floors. The electronic chart — which has some great benefits, like the ability to look at a patients history — is very time consuming to use. I previously did my charting on paper, which allowed me to spend most of my time with my patients, and to easily describe pertinent information along with vital signs.

Now, I am filling in boxes in an Excel spreadsheet that has preset descriptions and multiple selections that require me to scroll up and down for each box to find the right assessment descriptor. For each patient, I have to fill out fifty or more of these rows in one flowchart and they have also added additional flowcharts. If I want to add a comment to the flow sheet description, I am limited to five to seven words and I would have to write a note in another section of the chart, which would require someone to search through multiple notes to find the issue I was addressing.

This additional time has not been accounted for in our workday, and when we have asked to have additional time for charting, management has accused us of inflating the numbers.

Regarding the cardiac monitor system, it is written in the manual that the monitor is not even a first-line response system. The system sends alarms to the nurse as she is passing medications, speaking with families, ambulating a patient, on the phone with the physician, charting, or responding to a call light. Basically, the pager system goes off constantly while the nurse is trying to care for immediate needs. Most of the alarms are yellow, which means “not clinically dangerous,” and there is little you can do to prevent some of these alarms from going off because the system is already pre-set. The problem with this is that the system just causes alarm fatigue.

On chronic under-staffing, we have reached a point where we have not trained new staff for years and we are expected do more with less. Open positions, when nurses retire or transfer, are often not filled. They choose to use travel nurses who are from out of state and give them twelve-week contracts that get extended multiple times. Many of them do not pay taxes in our state or own homes so they do not invest in our communities. Yet even with them, we still do not have enough staff to take care of our patients.

So then management emails and texts staffers to come in for extra shifts, which many of them do because they want their colleagues and patients to have enough help. These nurses get tired and sick after being stretched so thin for so long.

I always thought when people paid for insurance they were paying for the “what if.” What if I get sick? I personally want to know my hospital is ready to take care of me and has the power to do so — especially when the company is so profitable.

The cost-effectiveness argument for why we don’t have the ability to provide staffing is not being backed up by a decrease in administration or decrease in patients’ premiums. Many hospital floors now employ three to five assistant nurse managers who do no patient care. I have witnessed situations where we have two managers on site for one floor while two bedside nurses are taking care of ten patients while the other nurse is on a break! How is it cost-effective to have two people combing through charts to tell someone they forgot to document a pain re-assessment while they are moving nonstop just to provide the care needed to their patients?

Kimber Wooten, San Rafael

“Zoo Gone Wild,” News Feature, 9/3

The Sierra Club Is Wrong

As I approach my ninetieth birthday and reflect on all of the changes I’ve seen in California over my lifetime, I can see how some would argue the Bay Area has grown beyond capacity, yet I still believe we live in one of the best places on earth! I first joined the Sierra Club as a child because, even then, I supported the organization’s mission to, among other things, “explore, enjoy, and protect the wild places of the earth.” Imagine my disappointment to watch as the organization — as well as others, like the California Native Plants Society (where I also held membership) — fell so far from its objective over the past nine decades, as evidenced by its strident opposition of the Oakland Zoo’s proposal for the California Trail Exhibit.

I have been honored to serve as a docent at the Oakland Zoo for 38 years, teaching schoolchildren and other visitors about our animals and educating them about our conservation efforts. During this time I have learned there is no organization more concerned with conservation and habitat protection than our zoo.

Both state and federal agencies that have oversight of our state’s natural resources have permitted the California Trail Exhibit, including requiring the City of Oakland to set aside a portion of Knowland Park for permanent conservation. Oakland Zoo’s California Trail Exhibit will integrate, enrich, and protect the park’s native habitat, while providing new educational opportunities for all ages. I am disheartened that groups like Sierra Club and CNPS would misuse their environmental credibility by suggesting, inaccurately, that the zoo would do anything not in the best interest of both the environment and our community.

The California Trail Exhibit was approved in 1998 and again unanimously in 2011. The proposed conservation easement is a last step in a very long public process and will ensure Knowland Park habitat monitoring and management in perpetuity. It is time for conservation organizations to get back to their mission and focus on ending true environmental injustices. What the Oakland Zoo is proposing will only enhance and protect our wild places, educate our young people about their role in nature, and provide opportunities for the next generation of docents like myself.

Bonnie Killip, Oakland

“Can Birdland Take Flight in its New Location?”
Music, 9/3

Thanks, Michael!

Michael Parayno’s quest is a worthy one — there’s a motherlode of terrific local musicians and a scarcity of venues, and Michael’s been wonderfully open about presenting a wide range of us. Here’s to many years of great live local music!

Anthony Corman, Berkeley


Our September 24 election story, “Stark Contrasts in EBMUD Race,” contained a typographical error. East Bay MUD has 4,000-plus miles of water pipes — not 400-plus miles.

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