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Hardy L. Brown

City Attorney Penman Tries To Bully The City Council

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As an observer of the San Bernardino City Council meetings and the actions of City Attorney Jim Penman, I have drawn my own conclusions on his ongoing behavior. This past week was no exception as he rambled on one of the agenda items, he was requesting more money to contract with outside legal firms. He carried on for one hour and fifteen minutes repeating himself over and over again. He managed to insult the mayor, council members, city manager and budget director for the city. He called them stupid, bullies and used the term ‘shame on you’ as he pointed at city council members and called out each one of them by name. And he once again referenced the city manager’s annual salary which the council approved at least two years ago. None of those remarks had anything to do with the item so the mayor let him ramble on until Penman lost all the votes except one who would vote for anything that Penman wants.

Several things became clear to me and that is Penman does not like people who talk back or stand up to him. He also has in my opinion, the late J. Edgar Hoover syndrome of being power hungry and untouchable by others. Also like Hoover, Penman, born in Mississippi, has a touch of anti-Blackness in his blood towards Charles McNeely the City Manager. Hoover went after our beloved Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. because Hoover thought King was too powerful as a Black man. Penman would be alright with McNeely, if McNeely was one of those who would not look him in the eyes and talk back. Some Southerners have a problem with Blacks who stand their ground, ask Trent Lott a former senator or Lester “Ax Handle” Maddox, George Wallace, Governor of Alabama or Bull Connor.

It also became clear to me that Penman is jealous and envious of the prestige and honor given to Judge Pat Morris, the mayor, by some members of the council and the community at large. Penman wants that so bad but it seems to escape him. Penman is also frustrated with the council that does not give him everything he wants, especially to question his requests. Now mind you the council, not the mayor, is responsible to the taxpayers for all of the money that comes into the city and how it is spent. The council took an oath to that effect, yet Penman questions them like a spoiled child that would say, you gave Johnnie some candy where is mine. My mom would say, boy, you had better be satisfied with what you got or I will take what you have back. In Penman’s case every department in the city including every employee has given up something on the city’s bad budget situation so this is Penman’s way to get back what he gave up earlier, according to the budget director. That is why he was angry with the director, she pulled the covers off his scheme and shell game.

Penman at one point suggested the council give him the money his private investigators took in from private citizens, banks and mortgage companies. Councilmember Tobin Brinker responded, Penman that would be like police officers saying to the council can I keep my job using the money from traffic tickets. Penman has this program of enforcing code enforcement violations for the purpose of collecting money for the city and the council called him on it. The same would be true if police officers were allowed to keep the money from traffic tickets, no citizen would be safe but we would have a rich police department.

Councilmember Rikke Van Johnson, stated to Penman all I ever get from you is political chatter and no legal opinions on anything, plus Johnson gave a list of cities in California large and small with similar circumstances with smaller budgets.

Councilmember Fred Shorett the new mayor pro-tem requested Penman to fall in line with other city departments and manage his department and reduce staff.

Chas Kelly who usually sides with Penman said very little and voted with Marquez, Brinker, Shorett and Johnson to give Penman his request but as a loan to be repaid out of next year’s budget.

During Penman’s hour and fifteen minute long dissertation, he recited all the mayor’s, councilmembers and police chiefs that have come and gone. I took that to mean I, (Penman) was here before you got here and I will see all of you gone like Chief Kilmer who just resigned because of me. That is why Penman took up time to swipe at city manager McNeely. What Penman does not know is that Black men like McNeely are used to guys like Penman. If you are familiar with the cartoon Dora the Explorer, there is a character named Swiper who is a fox. Now whenever the fox is around they say Swiper no swiping because he is always doing something he should not be doing. Well in the case of Penman around McNeely I would warn Penman no swiping before you get embarrassed.

Another thing became clear is that everytime he has a conflict, taxpayers are penalized because he has to hire outside attorneys and he has not learned how to try court cases that involve police officers by his own admission. In his twenty-three years as city attorney with over 50% of his case load being officer involved, he has not hired or trained one attorney with that specialty nor has he tried to gain the expertise in that area himself. To paraphrase Cheryl Brown, President of the NAACP, if Penman spent as much time on lawsuits filed against the city as he spends on trying to embarrass the council members, mayor and staff at council meetings we could move forward as a city and not need so many outside attorneys.

If Penman had not said enough during the regular meeting when it came to public comment, Penman got up for another three minutes in the capacity of a private citizen.

In my opinion the council is correct in demanding accountability from Penman even when he calls them names and tries to bully them.

Is Moreno Valley For Sale By The City Council?

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In the United States of America our democracy is built on the premise “…of the people, by the people and for the people.” Thus we elect our fellow citizens to do our bidding when setting policies on behalf of the public. A large number of our elected officials who seek office do so with every intention of being objective and fair when they take the oath of office. However, some officials’ good intentions and vision become clouded based on campaign contributions once the election is over. That is okay when no rules or laws are broken but when their decisions or actions become tainted or appear tainted the public has a right to seek clarity on those decisions to maintain the integrity of our governmental institutions.

Having said that, we have a situation brewing in the City of Moreno Valley that, in my opinion, has reached the point where outside legal government agencies need to be brought in to clear the air on various decisions taken by the city’s elected officials. It appears from the excellent investigative reporting by the Press Enterprise journalist Duane W. Gang that such an investigation by the state’s Attorney General, local District Attorney, or county Grand Jury would be in order.

It was reported in a 2010 Press Enterprise article that Iddo Benzeevi, a developer in Moreno Valley, has given at least $425,000 to help elect council members to the Moreno Valley City Council and contributed substantial other monies to defeat incumbents and city measures that were not in his business interest.

On one occasion, council members, of which Iddo had given campaign contributions, were publicly cautioned that it is against state law to approve building permits that do not have maps. This approval was for one of Iddo’s projects. In that instance, the city council went against their appointed planning commissioners’ recommendation and approved Iddo’s project anyway.

It was also reported that Iddo was a part of the decision to select the newly appointed city manager who is now in support of giving the developer exclusive rights. In another report Iddo gave the city $250,000 to hire staff members to work in the planning department so his plans could move at rapid speed for approval. Now that is enough for the citizens to be suspicious of the decisions being made in favor of his development projects. And it is also reported that Iddo did buy some property for the Moreno Valley City School District and this is a good thing, but it is also reported that he now wants that to be given as a credit towards something else.

I know the city leadership is eager to bring employment opportunities to help decrease the unemployment numbers in the area, but I would caution them to not break the law, bend the rules, or sell the city to the highest bidder. Any city government that would reduce itself to the person with the deepest pockets is on the brink of undermining the very foundation of our government. Instead of a government “of the people, by the people and for the people” it becomes “of the developer, by the developer and for the developer.” When that happens the people always lose.

So what should the people do? I would recommend they write letters to the Riverside County Grand Jury, Paul Zellerbach, Riverside County District Attorney and State Attorney General Kamala Harris and ask for an investigation. These city officials need to be questioned under oath to see if their acceptance of financial support from this developer or any developer has any influence on their decisions on any project. All city employees in the planning department who had anything to do with the building permits should be asked the same questions as well as planning commissioners.

I am not saying that anyone has done anything wrong, but as we’ve seen in the City of Bell, these actions as reported and documented do not pass the smell test of being completely ethical or transparent. In this way the citizens of Moreno Valley can have the assurance that their elected officials have their best interest in mind in all decisions.

Riverside Charter Committee Does not Reflect City’s Population

One of the staples of Riverside City is the diversity of its people as so often talked about by city leaders and written about in its literature. It is like red beans and rice to the people of Louisiana, like collards greens and sweet potato pie to Black Americans and refried beans to Latinos, yet the elected officials decided that not one Latino, Black or Asian should be on the Charter Review Committee. Now mind you regardless of the educational level or income status of either group these foods are still a part of their menus.

Mind you Whites make up only 34% of the city’s population, while they want 100% of them to write up the governing rule that every one must play by. He who makes the rules are the one in charge and tell the others how to live, where to go, what time to come in, how to behave, where and what to eat, you get the picture.

Now I am not advocating some type of equal representation but at least two Latinos, one African American and one Asian should be on the committee.

If the truth be told of Police Chief Keith Kilmer Retiring

In my opinion, if the truth could be told, Kilmer is retiring because of the political jockeying of elected officials at city hall. Any time you have a city attorney always challenging every one and some council member demanding non-essential reports and micro-managing or second guessing the chief over police officers, what do you expect? Kilmer was good for the city and will be sorely missed.

Has San Bernardino City Hall become like the O.K. Corral of Tombstone?

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I know you have heard of Tombstone, Arizona and the historic gunfight at the O.K. Corral between the Earps and the Clantons back in 1881 that left three dead in just thirty seconds. The story is that Ike Clanton made several threats on Wyatt Earp’s life which turned into a feud between them and Doc Holliday. The Earps put into law no guns were to be worn in the city limits but Ike and his boys came to town and waited for the Earps to come and take them off at the O.K. Corral. No one on Earps side was killed nor was Ike and two others from his side so the feud continued until Wyatt got Ike.

In San Bernardino, there has been a feud going on for some time between the city attorney and the city council for over twenty years, regardless of who sits on the council or in the mayor’s seat. Recently during the budget crisis facing the city every department has been requested to cut deep into their budget to fit the deficit. Every department has complied but on Monday, the city attorney came back with a request for funds to contract with outside law firms to handle some court cases. On the first go round the council said yes you can contract with outside law firms but you must do so with funds from the city attorney’s office. This did not sit well with city attorney Jim Penman because he saw this as retaliation on him by the city council as taking away his power to run his public duty. Of course the council sees it as their duty to handle the business of taxpayers in a prudent manner with everyone contributing to the solvency of the city. Penman of course re-hashed everything that had happened to him since he was elected over twenty years ago including court cases. This did not move four members of the council one bit as they blasted away at Penman telling him to use his current budget.

As the meeting wore on into the evening, other council members got in the battle with Rikke Van Johnson informing the public that Penman had orchestrated this whole incident for more funds. Johnson read a quote from one of the officers that told him Penman had talked with him about the plan. This did not sit well with other members on the council but then Councilmember Chas Kelly decided to talk to the city manager in a demeaning manner about finding the funds to help solve the problem. Of course the city manager, who is Black, fired back to Kelly in the same manner and this prompted Penman to quip in a derogatory tone about the city manager’s salary.

In the Black community we know of many whites who do not believe Black’s should make more than them, have nicer homes, wear better clothes even if the Black person has the qualifications to justify that salary. This is what Penman was saying and Kelley was reminding the city manager that even with the position, he was still a boy to him.

This exchange forced the mayor pro-tem Tobin Brinker to call for a break in the meeting so things might cool off. Later in the evening another opportunity came up for Penman to request the council to reconsider his request, if not, the city would surely lose current cases costing the city more. However, one thing was different in Penman’s tone of voice so Van Johnson put the funds for one case back on the table for reconsideration and the council did give him the funds.

Now there were more dynamics going on in the meeting than I have time or space to expound on but like the fight at the O.K. Corral, no one on the council (the Earps) were injured in the fight and Penman (Ike Canton) got away to fight another day. One thing is clear to Penman, the council is clear in its determination to do the business of the taxpayers and hold all other departments to the same financial standards.

The fight in tombstone lasted just thirty seconds as compared to seven hours at city hall. But, I am happy I watched all of it because I got to see not only the feud but witness Chas Kelley’s disdain for Black people in his treatment of the city manager and Penman’s jealousy of the city manager’s salary.

Rev. Benjamin Inghram Made A Difference in People’s Lives

The African Methodist Episcopal Church lost another pastor last week, who was a friend of mine, in the name of Rev. Benjamin Inghram. Rev. Inghram sheperded the flock of Bethel AME Barstow for over forty years.

I first met Brother Inghram at Muscott Elementary School, now Dr. Howard Inghram Elementary, where he was custodian with the San Bernardino City Unified School District and I was a meter reader with Southern California Edison. Inghram would have to let me into the electrical room where the meter was located and of course that would give us a few minutes to share the latest news of the day. During the sixties it was not too often that I would see someone of color with keys to the electrical room and I guess the same could be said about the one reading the meter.

He shared with me his calling to preach and his journey to spread the word to his loving congregation. During that time I was a member of Delman Heights Four Square Gospel Church so when I moved my membership to St. Paul AME we often visited him in Barstow. After he retired we got to see each other on a regular basis because he called St. Paul his home. I loved having him in my bible class because he always brought a different view to the discussion in his low voice. His low voice is one reason for getting your attention because in order to hear him you had to be quiet.

He loved talking politics with me each Sunday after church and would urge me to write more hard hitting editorials. Most people do not know it but my readers like Rev. Inghram are the reason I have to stay abreast on local and national issues and incorporate their thoughts into my editorials. He told me one Sunday the outer society needs to know and understand our plight and what we have gone through as well as our aspirations. He wrote two books during retirement because he wanted to make a difference in the lives of people, and that he did. I know he did mine.

Dismantling Collective Bargaining will not Solve Budget Problem

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It appears that every since the Republican Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin has grasped the spotlight on the national news network with his effort to dismantle collective bargaining contracts it is becoming a popular thing to do. That notion is being discussed at the University Of California Board Of Regents by David Crane a member, who should not be approved by the senate for permanent membership when his appointment comes before them.

Now while I believe that the pay structure and retirement benefits of public employees are a big financial drain on the public annual budget, the employees did not get there by themselves. It was egotistical elected officials who wanted the support of the employees and the money given to their campaigns helped them at election time. Having said that, we the voters are now trying to correct a problem we helped to create by believing everything these politicians and groups sold us. So the question or solution is how do we correct the problem without throwing the baby out with the bath water?

Let me digress by describing a situation that happened to me while I was still a teen. The church was having its annual trip to the beach and all of us were on the bus when a White farmer, came to us saying he needed some people to help him take in his tobacco. It was urgent to the farmer because if his tobacco was not harvested that day, it would burn up in the hot sun over the weekend. I asked the farmer how much he was paying and he replied the regular $8 a day. I countered for $10 a day and that I would also convince some of my friends to help. The farmer agreed with the ten but at about eleven o’clock during a water break he said to me that ten dollars seemed a bit high. In other words, he did not want to pay three Black boys that kind of money. So I said to my friends, George Dempsey and George Henry, let’s go because the farmer wants to go back on the agreement. The farmer said don’t go, I’ll pay the ten. I said you have to pay us half now and the other half when we are almost finished.

I shared that experience because I know what some “Big Boss Men” will do to people who do not have a voice or might be afraid of losing something they think they have. Now the public sector is different because the taxpayer paying the bill, does not want the servant to live better than them. In many cases, the employee is not paying taxes in the same jurisdiction that they are employed in. This is the current situation and the taxpayer is saying, “wait a minute I am not going to pay higher taxes for less service, inferior education for our kids, overcrowded public health care facilities and in some cases outright discrimination in employment and procurement opportunities when it comes to African Americans.”

In Wisconsin, the governor has excluded two groups of collective bargaining from his union busting legislation, police and fireman. These groups have an underrepresentation of women and African Americans employed in them from years of legal discrimination and grandfather clauses. His targeted groups are educators and other workers where women and minorities are concentrated. Now in California, the same conversation centers around the everyday workers and not the higher paying positions in our UC system. One thing I have noticed about some Republicans is they do the collective bargaining for those who have; and demonize the other workers. On the other hand, we have Democrats who want to give everything away without asking the question, “who is going to pay for it?”

Let me suggest that some concessions be made by the unions with no attempts by legislators to decertify any collective bargaining groups. Groups of employees have a right to ask for the moon while any responsible boss has the right and responsibility to say NO. Let me suggest to the legislators that you refrain from making campaign promises you can not pay for and to the voters, you need to be more engaged in the election process on Election Day. There is no law or God given right that you have to give employees a raise every year and in the government we do not have profit sharing capabilities.

I do not have the time or space to offer all of my thoughts on ways to attack the problem we have created, but the current strategy of the Republicans is not the answer; nor is the divide and conquer approach of the Democrats. Speaking for some in the Black community of which no one seems to be speaking for, none of the proposed solutions have our best interest at heart so we need to get engaged in the collective bargaining process with our unions and legislators.

Wade Forde and LaKeith Clayvon

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“Well son, I’ll tell you life for me ain’t been no crystal stair. It’s had tacks in it and splinters. And boards torn up, And places with no carpet on the floor, bare. But all the time I’se being a climbin’ on and reaching’ landin’s and turnin’ corners, and sometime goin’ in the dark where there ain’t been no light. So boy, don’t you turn back. Don’t you set down on the steps, cause you find it s kinder of hard. Don’t you fall now, for I’se still going honey, I’se still climbin, And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.”

Langston Hughes pinned these words which I am using to introduce you to my adopted sons and now pastors Wade Forde and LaKeith Clayvon.

I remember when they were born because I knew their parents before they were married, so you see this family relationship goes back aways into the sixties. As a matter of fact, I know their grandparents. I got to know the boys because Wade is our godson and Keith was our neighbor.

Each of these fine young men have had a rough flight of stairs to climb down wi th a single parent to raise them. In the case of Wade, his mother Charlotte, bore that task along with the help of strong grandparents -- Charles and Madeline Seymour. And I cannot forget their tight knit support group of cousins and church members. Wade is the youngest of three boys with older brothers Wells and Weldon. That did not bother him one bit. It actually helped develop his confidence and ability to express himself very well. If you know his brothers you know why he had to develop those skills or be left behind. His mother and grandmother kept Wade in regular church attendance at 16th Street Seventh Day Adventist Church where he was exposed to good leadership from the pastors.

Wade is the same age as our youngest daughter, Regina and he talks fast with a philosophical point of view to back up his beliefs. This is one reason I believe God called him to preach His word. People need to understand why and how God relates to them.

Keith was raised by his father, Michael and later his stepmother Verna Clayvon. Keith is the eldest of three boys and spent many days and nights down at my house working and playing with our son Hardy, II. There were ten boys on our block and our challenge was to help them navigate this stairway of life by completing their education, staying out of gangs, away from drugs and other trouble. His father and stepmother worked out of town in Los Angeles so we became his go to parents. Keith followed us to St. Paul AME Church and joined the usher board with his buddy Hardy, II. I also hired Keith and the neighborhood boys to help mail and deliver papers. They would put on the address labels to our subscribers each week in our garage. Sometimes they would spend more time break dancing than putting on labels but they would always meet the deadline of getting the papers to the post office in Redlands. I just wanted to teach responsibility, accountability and reliability.

Now we have two fine young men trained in the Gospel. Both are well educated, married to wonderful women of God, have budding families of their own, and are now heading up churches in the Inland Empire.

Wade is the new pastor of Perris SDA Church in Perris and Keith is the pastor of Honor & Truth Church Of God In Christ in San Bernardino.

They both took charge of their church this past weekend.

Please join with me in welcoming pastor’s Wade Forde and LaKeith Clayvon to their life of community service in doing the Lord’s work. Help them as they walk down this Crystal Stairway, of life with its many splinters, twists and turns. Tell them your story of how God brought you over. Tell them who picked the splinters out of your backside and who picked you up when things got dark. Tell them of the days there was no carpet on the floor and no air conditioning in the building. Let them know how to work with the members of the church who know everything. Let them know that you have been where they are going and that you are still climbing and reaching to make it. Let them know that the good life you are now living has not always been a Crystal Stair.

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