Spotlight on city manager’s response to Chief Meehan

Christine Daniel, Berkeley's interim city manager

While eyes across the country are focused on Berkeley’s City Hall to see how it responds to Police Chief Michael Meehan’s attempts to get a reporter to change his story, the eyes at City Hall are all focused on Interim City Manager Christine Daniel.

With just a six-month contract that is due to expire in May, the way Daniel handles the Meehan matter may play a large role in whether she gets the job permanently.

Daniel learned on Friday March 9 that Chief Meehan had sent Sgt. Mary Kusmiss to the house of Oakland Tribune reporter Doug Oakley at 12:45 am that day to ask that he change a story on a community meeting about Peter Cukor’s murder. But Daniel did not issue a statement on the matter until around 2:20 pm March 10, hours after the story garnered significant airtime and play in regional publications.

And since then, Daniel has been quiet.

In her statement, Daniel said she “took the situation very seriously,” and that “there was no justification for contacting the reporter in this way.” But she did not then – and has not yet – say she would conduct an investigation into the situation.

Daniel’s silence may be because she considers Chief Meehan’s actions to be a personnel matter and not subject to public scrutiny. But since she is the police chief’s boss and has the power to hire, fire, or reprimand him, her relative silence has created a communications vacuum that others are rushing in to fill.

So far, the most “official” comment has come from the 160-member Berkeley Police Association, the union of the rank and file. (It represents virtually everyone but the police chief.) Tim Kaplan, the BPA president, released a statement Sunday March 11 saying that officers are “gravely concerned” about Chief Meehan’s action.

There may be other factors at play as well. San Francisco Chronicle reporter Henry Lee, quoting sources inside the police department, wrote recently that many officers feel that Meehan is looking after himself rather than his officers. “Many are privately grumbling that the former Seattle police captain is more worried about burnishing his image and spinning the story instead of responding to concerns about whether police staffing was adequate the night Cukor was killed,” wrote Lee.

While police officers are upset about Meehan’s misstep, which has drawn unfavorable attention from around the globe, there are other reasons why they may not be pleased. Meehan has made numerous operational changes in the department, most notably clamping down on overtime, according to City Councilmember Kriss Worthington. He is also helping negotiate a new police contract.

“Someone who is losing thousands of dollars in overtime isn’t going to be happy about it, but taxpayers are,” said Worthington. “There is a whole lot of reform for one department, and reform is controversial.”

Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan

The union and city officials, including Meehan, are also in the middle of negotiating a new police contract and many tough issues are on the table, including larger contributions to pensions.

City Councilmembers have been careful in their remarks about whether Chief Meehan’s misstep is significant enough to put his job at jeopardy. The City Charter only gives the council the power to hire and fire the city manager and has penalties for other types of meddling. So it is Daniel’s job to formulate Berkeley’s response, but city council officials are keenly interested in how she approaches the matter.

Still, Chief Meehan seems to have widespread support from the council. Many are impressed that violent crime has dropped and that Berkeley seems to be on the right path.

Susan Wengraf called Meehan “the most responsive chief we have had in 20 years.”

Jesse Arreguìn has expressed his support of the chief:  “It is a hard lesson learned for Chief Meehan, but in light of his sincere apology and self-recognition of his error, it is time to move on and move forward as a community,” Arreguin said in a statement. “Acknowledging that press intimidation –intended or not — is unacceptable and anathema to Berkeley’s values, I offer my continued support of Chief Meehan to serve and protect our city.”

Mayor Tom Bates said at a council meeting on Tuesday that he agrees with the statement Daniel put out that criticizes Meehan’s action but does not call out for any particular action.

City Councilmember Darryl Moore said he would welcome a chance to learn about the facts of the case.

“It would be helpful for the council to hear from the police chief himself what he was thinking,” said Moore.

Daniel was hired as the interim city manager on Nov. 24. Her contract runs for six months. Her annual salary, if she is permanently hired, would be $225,000. Once she is permanent, the City Council also agreed to pay her one year’s severance if she is fired or let go.

Daniel came from Fremont in 2007. Part of the reason she was only offered a six-month contract to start is that she has not been with Berkeley a long time, said Worthington. Phil Kamlarz, the previous city manager, had already been working for Berkeley for decades by the time he got the top job.

Daniel declined a request from Berkeleyside for an interview.

Related:
Few comments on Chief Meehan before Council session [03.13.12] 
Questions remain about Berkeley police chief’s actions [03.11.12]
At 12:45 am police chief demands reporter make changes [03.10.12]
Community gathers in wake of murder: quizzes Berkeley police [03.09.12]

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  • bgal4

    12 officers on the street ( one officer offered to respond and was told not to) what CFS were the other 11 answering

    12 officers suiting up coming on duty

    12 officers coming in being briefed for OT support of protest

    The dept is obliged to monitor protests, this is a given.

    But UCPD and OPD were also cooperating.

    The citizens needs were compromised. This happens more often the chief, council and city manager are willing to say.

  • The Sharkey

    The reporter uploaded the story at, what, 11:30pm?
    Kusmiss went over to his house at, what, 12:30pm which would be about an hour later?

    Sending over someone Oakley works with regularly and sees frequently to his house to ask him to correct a clear misquote is intimidation? Have you never had a client or co-worker contact you after hours to discuss something you’ve worked on?

    I’m surprised that someone who keeps trumpeting their credentials as an attorney is willing to make such wild speculation about what other people are doing at night.

    You act like Meehan did nothing wrong in your comments, Sharkey.

    Horse crap. You know that’s not true and it’s pathetic and ridiculous for you to say it. I’m shocked that you’d even try to make such an asinine statment.

    I’ve said repeatedly that Meehan made a big mistake. My opinion is simply that his mistake isn’t so severe that the City needs to go through the pain in the ass of and waste of money of trying to find a new Chief right now.

  • The Sharkey

     

    Hell no I won’t give him a call.

    Why don’t you?

    Why would *I* call him? I’m not the one repeatedly screeching that he’s refusing to speak to anyone and that he needs to be fired. If you want to talk to him, call his office or go to a meeting he’s at

    Seeing a grown woman – an attorney no less – act like such a hysterical child is pathetic.

  • deirdre

    In my experience, using written questions gives me more confidence that my concerns will be heard.  In less moderated situations, I resent the people who comment endlessly and dominate the discussion.

  • BHills

    Am I the only one thinking this could be an honest mistake where “Interview” means discussion with a reporter to one person and discussion with a potential employee to another?

  • The Sharkey

    Who the heck do you think you are talking to when you say ‘you Occupy folks’? You sound ignorant when you write like that Sharkey. Are you suggsting
    commentators have to be Occupy folks . . . and what question is being
    dodged?

    I am referring to the people like “CKD” who are using throw-away accounts to make make one-off “F-The Police” comments. I am obviously not referring to all commentators who think Chief Meehan should be fired. Stop being purposefully obtuse. If you want to know what question’s being dodged, why don’t you read the comment you’re replying to? I state it plain as day.

  • The Sharkey

    If you don’t want to talk to Meehan, why do you keep whining that he won’t answer questions? In order for him to answer a question, someone has to ask it.

    It is patently ridiculous for you to attack someone for not answering questions you haven’t asked.

  • The Sharkey

    Oh wow. Just… wow.

    ANYONE COULD HAVE LEFT THAT MESSAGE.

    If I called someone and left a weird message along with your number as a call-back, would that mean that you should be fired?

  • cl3

    I appreciate the ongoing coverage. It seems that the City government isn’t going to do anything unless residents are persistent. 

    The salary numbers and arrangements continue to be sickening. In the last 10 years, there’s an entirely new ruling class of grossly overpaid government employees, employees who are paid in real terms salaries far in excess of the earnings of the typical resident. The rank and file is very well paid, and they’re complaining they don’t get enough overtime? And look at the ‘executive’ salaries, $400K for a narcissistic police chief? $225K for a city manager? $200K for a sergeant? How can these people possibly represent the interests of the average resident, who makes around $60K?

    Why should the city manager, or any city employee, get a one year severance if she becomes a “permanent” employee? Nobody in the real world get that kind of severance. 

    It’s clear paying high salaries does not provide for high quality city services. Very soon the city will be unable to pay for essential services because existing salaries are too high and promised retirement benefits are under funded. The point of the city government is to provide essential services, not provide for luxurious benefits to the select few, who are not in any way unique or essential to providing those services.

    If the city manager wants to keep her job, she should fire the chief, and not replace him, and cut all city salaries, and get realistic about the city budget. THAT is something I’d be willing to pay for.

  • bgal4

    From an anonymous officer, excerpt:

    “Meehan arrived and was literally handed an emotional blank check by the
    BPA- people were SO desperate for a real leader. I even challenged him
    with this at a Squad room meeting. Time went on and there was little to
    show. Finally, it was felt that he was just playing it safe for his
    first year. That anniversary came and went. Still, maximum safety and no
    real action on topics that were important. This safe mediocrity has
    remained the same ever since.

    So, the bottom line is that he is essentially a nice guy, with
    some quirks, but has chosen safety over service. He has been a big
    disappointment to the rank and file. It’s very sad, as I was among the
    hopeful. The recent adage “Rearranging the Deck Chairs on the Titanic” would be most descriptive when applied to his tenure.”

  • Charles_Siegel

     It sounds to me like a prank.  The most plausible explanation is that someone saw your email and decided to leave you a message telling you to call back Mary Kusmiss’ number.

  • Bruce Love

    And if the account is accurate, that “prankster” either is a city official or was improperly provided with the email by a city official or improperly accessed the city’s records.    And if the account is accurate, that person wanted to make Kusmiss look bad and perhaps to intimidate a resident who spoke up against the chief.

  • Charles_Siegel

     The fourth amendment says:

    The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and
    effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated,
    and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or
    affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the
    persons or things to be seized.

    I have not heard anything about an illegal search being performed. 

    I think people who say this is a violation of the fourth amendment have only read as far as “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and
    effects…”  and do not see that it involves the right to be secure “against unreasonable searches and seizures.”

  • bgal4

     Agree, and I would go further.

    I think state, county  and local public employees should be compensated in a structured code similar to GS payscale, this would also address pay inequities between school districts, municipalities and county governments state wide, the pay scale would be  based on specific job requirements, not backroom deals.

    If you check retired public employees salary databases it is appalling, who needs $20,000 a month to live on after retiring as school district Supt. ( I am not referring to Huyett in this case).

     

  • bgal4

    and the prankster is in Bates, Anderson or the CM office.

  • Charles_Siegel

     When I wrote it was a prank, I was not clear on this statement by Rebecca R:

    “Also, to be clear, the person didn’t leave “Mary Kusmiss” as their name. I just don’t want to publicly disclose it at this time.”

    It sounds like this means the caller did leave a name, the name they left was not Mary Kusmiss, and Rebecca R is not disclosing the name they left.

    I don’t think we should jump to any conclusions about this until we hear the name that the caller left.

  • Bruce Love

    Here is some video of the BPD stonewalling the Police Review Commission on the question of whether or not the chief told bald faced lies at the public meeting that preceded his sending an officer to a reporter’s home in the dead of night.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R-49Ta89MB8

  • cl3

    Yes it is appalling. What’s immoral is shifting the burden of paying for retirement to current operations & younger generations. 

    I don’t mind people being paid well and earning a good retirement, so long as the retirement is fully funded while they’re employed and consistent with the kind of returns available to anyone. 

    The city government doesn’t appear to be able to focus on anything that actually addresses any of these very significant problems. What they appear to be doing is sitting on their asses protecting themselves.

  • The Sharkey

    I think most people who fall back on the “Constitutional rights” garbage are just trying to exaggerate things to get Meehan canned.

  • The Sharkey

    Not necessarily. There are a lot of people who work in those offices who might have come across it (interns, who knows who else) and I doubt the e-mail chains are particularly secure.

    Beyond that, who is “Rebecca R” anyway?
    I’m not willing to damn a public figure because somebody whose account I’ve never seen before and who I don’t know says something that can’t be proven.

  • The Sharkey

    You call it “stonewalling.”
    I call it “not answering questions about his boss that he hadn’t been authorized to answer.”

  • cl3

    It may well be a prank, and I don’t wish to contribute to paranoia. I think this highlights why the police chief needs to be fired. Citizens can’t feel safe (especially if reporting police misconduct) when it’s clear the chief is predisposed to think of himself and not the community. 

    I’m not a paranoid person, but the thought crossed my mind I could be subject to retaliation if I spoke at a public meeting. Meehan needs to go, and the sooner, the better.

  • Bruce Love

    I call it “not answering questions about his boss that he hadn’t been authorized to answer.”

    You’re talking about Captain Harris, a woman?   The woman in the video on which you are commenting?  A woman sent in lieu of the chief and allegedly ignorant of the facts, not unauthorized to speak to them.

    At the now infamous public meeting the chief made a very specific claim about the F- the Police march:  that it was intended to “take over” UCPD HQ and that this was public information.   He was immediately called a liar, at the meeting.

    As far as I can tell so far, it was absolutely not the case that the march was advertised as a take-over of HQ.   As far as I can tell, the F- the Police organizers would not and did not have any such intention.   Like the Police Review Commission, I’d like to know the chief’s alleged sources.

    As I watch video of the chief at the public meeting, making this startling claim about the march — he does not come across to me as credible.   Like the P.R.C. member doing the questioning, I would like to see some positive evidence that the Chief was speaking truthfully and accurately on that important question.

  • Charles_Siegel

     But this message clearly was not left by the police.  It was in response to an email sent to Christine Daniel, Max Anderson, and Mayor Bates.

  • Charles_Siegel

     It is odd that Rebecca R made this post and then disappeared.  Why hasn’t she responded to the questions people have raised about her post?

  • Bruce Love

    That doesn’t follow (the inference from the email “to:” line to who “clearly” did not place the call is bogus).

  • Bruce Love

    We should also ask ourselves:

    If it is true that BPD feared a take-over of UCPD HQ that night, and thus reduced service to non-emergency calls:

    What was UCPD’s own readiness posture?   What was the communication between the two departments prior to the event?

  • Charles_Siegel

     Seems to me that, if Rebecca R did in fact send this email to Christine Daniel, Max Anderson, and Mayor Bates, it is most likely that someone in their office saw the email and made the phone call.  Otherwise, there would have to be collusion to commit a prank between someone in one of their offices and someone in the police force, which seems unlikely.

    If there was, in fact, a phone call. 

  • Bruce Love

    How about:  Various public officials are getting *lots* of email and other contacts about the Chief Meehan issue.    A lot of that email circulates widely, including over to the BPD.

    If there was, in fact, a phone call.

    Very important to remember.    If the account was accurate generally.

  • Charles_Siegel

     “Various public officials are getting *lots* of email and other contacts
    about the Chief Meehan issue.    A lot of that email circulates widely,
    including over to the BPD.”

    A good point, which means that maybe the whole thing was done in good faith.  Eg, maybe the CM forwarded the complaint to the police, and someone from the police phoned and left a message saying that Rebecca R should phone Mary Kusmiss’s number.  Or maybe someone from the CM’s, Mayor’s or Councilmembers office phoned Rebecca R and told her to phone Mary Kusmiss’s number. 

    It would be natural enough for anyone to tell Rebecca R to phone Mary Kusmiss number to get more information about the police, since she is their public information officer.

  • http://twitter.com/ArwenLothlorien Arwen

       All of the members of the City Council should be thrown out of office if they believe Meehan should stay on as Police Chief after his latest act of intimidation and coercion against a resident of Berkeley, the journalist Doug Oakley. Moreover, the City Manager, Ms. Daniel has got to go.

        Mr. Oakley is well within his rights to sue the city of Berkeley naming Ms. Daniel as City Manager and Meehan as defendants for a violation of his constitutional First Amendment Free Speech rights as well as his 4th Amendment right to be secure in his home without government (i.e. police) intrusion. Police are not legally allowed to go to your home after 10 p.m. without a warrant. The only exceptions are a “fleeing felon” or if the police has “probable cause” to believe a felony was being committed. Since these exceptions do not apply, Oakley would win his law suit and the taxpayers of Berkeley would end up paying the judgment.

         It appears to me every member of the City Council and the City Manager, Ms. Daniel, should sign an agreement to pay out of their monies and assets the judgment that Oakley could attain.

         Also, it has been reportednot only did Meehan send over his sergeant at almost 1:00 a.m. to demand Oakley change his written story, but he called Oakley the next morning at 7:00 a.m. and continued to call him all that day and sent him emails demanding more changes. This is felony stalking under anyone’s definition of the law.

          Meehan is a loose canon and has not demonstrated ANY respect for the people of Berkeley or the press. Moreover he could very well be a criminal. He should resign immediately!! If he does not turn in his resignation then the City Manager should fire him. As for members of the City Council, they should be thrown out of office. They were elected to be city leaders. They are a disgrace! 

  • The Sharkey

    Until I hear otherwise, I’m lumping this in with the other comments from throw-away accounts that I’m assuming are from groups like CopWatch and anti-Police Occupy supporters.

  • The Sharkey

    Yes, thanks for making a big deal about getting a pronoun wrong.

    People on Occupy message boards have talked about taking over buildings in the past, and I would not even question the possibility that some rogue protester made a comment about taking over the UCPD HQ on an Occupy message board.

    I’d also like to know the Chief’s sources, but if it was a post on a message board it could have very easily been deleted by moderators and no longer be available as a reference.

  • The Sharkey

    Hey Arwen, were you in the “F- The Police” march?

    Be honest.

  • The Sharkey

    Police are not legally allowed to go to your home after 10 p.m. without a warrant.

    [citation needed]

  • bgal4

     Because obviously she has a real day job, which does not allow her to post comments during the work day. 

  • bgal4

     That would be foolish, I know RR as one of south Berkeley competent parents and a serious person.

    knock these mean spirited  character attacks off.

  • EBGuy

    The fun is just beginning.  The CalPERS board adjusted their investment target downward from 7.75% to 7.5%.  That giant sucking sound you hear is city services being cut to fund someone’s early retirement.

  • Charles_Siegel

     Good point.  She posted yesterday evening after 9PM.  Let’s see if she posts again this evening.

  • The Sharkey

    Sorry Laura, but I don’t take anything said on the internet at face value.
    Thanks for confirming that Rebecca R. is a real person.

    That still doesn’t mean that the BPD or anyone in the City Government had anything to do with the phone call she says she received.

  • Bruce Love

    I would not even question the possibility that some rogue protester made a comment about taking over the UCPD HQ on an Occupy message board.

    Well, can you produce any evidence that occurred?  It seems possible to me as well but:  where’s the beef? 

    And, given that BPD was prepping for the threat of a UCPD HQ take-over, how was UCPD postured?   Can we see the communications between the two departments leading up to the event?

  • Heather_W_62

    I am privvy to more information about R.R.’s post, and I believe that the phone call to her office was directly related to the email she sent in confidence to the three recipients mentioned. She is not a drama-queen nor does she make shite up. She is a highly intelligent, intellectually astute person who I hold in high regard. I don’t always agree with her, so don’t think I’m pushing any particular agenda, but I respect her.
     

  • Heather_W_62

    She posted b/c I suggested she might add it to the conversation, since this event was so odd and seemed connected to her opinons of the Meehan/Oakley debate. She does not regularly post on B-side and is often very busy. 

  • Heather_W_62

    Leaving a phone call at her place of work would be a very strange and inappropriate thing to do. I guess you’ll have to take my word for it since I can’t disclose her personal information.

  • bgal4

     not a problem,

    I have received a totally inappropriate ugly email from one of the three offices RR emailed.

    so it does not surprise me in the least.

  • Charles_Siegel

     ” It appears to me every member of the City Council and the City Manager,
    Ms. Daniel, should sign an agreement to pay out of their monies and
    assets the judgment that Oakley could attain.”

    You think that every member of the city council is personally responsible for this, and that they should pay the liability out of their own personal assets?

    You discredit your entire position when you make this sort of outlandish statement. 

  • Charles_Siegel

     It doesn’t seem very constructive to post a cryptic message that has just left everyone guessing what really happened.

  • The Sharkey

    Thumbs up on the last paragraph. If there was any sort of attempt at co-ordination between the two departments, I don’t understand why the BPD wouldn’t be willing to release the e-mails.

  • The Sharkey

    http://www.sfgate.com/profile/?User=rebren&plckUserId=rebren

    Looks like someone is posting the same story on SF Gate, too.
    Interesting to note, the person posting the story on SF Gate is an anti-Police Occupy supporter who refers to Police as “pigs” in several comments.

  • The Sharkey

    Any idea if this person, who is pushing the same story, is her?
    If so, it would have been nice for her to admit that she’s an Occupy supporter who refers to the police as “pigs.”

    http://www.sfgate.com/profile/?User=rebren&plckUserId=rebren