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City Attorney's Continuous Abuse of Power

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The City of San Bernardino recently launched its Hometown Heroes Military Banner Program with unanimous support from the City Council. On Tuesday, September 6th a press conference was held to introduce the program that would recognize and honor the brave men and women of San Bernardino currently serving in the United States Armed Forces. In an event which should have been above politics, politics non-the-less was introduced by the City Attorney’s office. At a time when a nation stopped to recognize the ten year anniversary of 9/11, the day that forever changed America, the City Attorney stooped to a new level of political deception and chicanery.

Since an item regarding the Hometown Heroes Military Banner Program was to be heard on the council agenda following the press conference, the City Attorney’s office waited until two hours prior to the press conference to issue a legal memo citing potential “Brown Act Issues”. The memo stated, “Had this office been consulted beforehand, we would have recommended adding the press conference to the agenda, thus starting the meeting thirty minutes prior to the commencement of closed session. Had that been done there probably would have been no Brown Act issue.”

The merits of his memo could be highly debated on its loose interpretation of the Government Code. But that’s another point entirely. The fact of the matter is the City Attorney’s office had enough time to positively intervene if it felt the press conference was in jeopardy of violating the Brown Act.

On Thursday, September 1st at 11:59 a.m. the Assistant City Attorney opened the ‘military banner press release’. Later that same day at 3:22 p.m. the City Attorney opened the press release. Somewhere between those two ‘learned’ attorneys the potential Brown Act violation red flag should have went up.

The City Attorney’s actions or lack of righteous actions caused some Council members not to attend an event that all members enthusiastically supported. If the man who brings up the Brown Act at almost every meeting wanted to really be of assistance, he had a day and a half to work preemptively instead of destructively.

This leads me to three conclusions. One, the City Attorney and his staff do not communicate well. The Assistant City Attorney knew around noon of potential “Brown Act Issues”, having been well versed regularly on a multitude of Brown Act violation scenarios. If the lines of communication flowed without blockage, then the press release legal issue would have been shared with the City Attorney.

Two, the City Attorney is an obstruction to good government. The San Bernardino City government is not often viewed in a good light by our neighbors, in which the constant shenanigans of the City Attorney factors immensely into that perception. This was an opportunity to shine, collectively, as a body. But the City Attorney worked passionately to disintegrate any opportunity for unity.

And three, the City Attorney made a conscious decision to behave un-patriotically at a time when our nation was honoring our heroes patriotism. Having observed numerous times first-hand, the City Attorney’s penchant to operate as the ‘Brown Act Police’, this malicious action cannot be perceived as a mere oversight.

Rikke Van Johnson is the 6th Ward Councilman of San Bernardino.

New Report Highlights Social Media, Other Consumer Habits

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By Cheryl Pearson-McNeil, NNPA Columnist –

(NNPA) Time for you to confess: How many Facebook friends do you have? How many people do you follow on Twitter? How many follow you?! How about LinkedIn connections – how many of those do you have? Don’t act as if you don’t know what I’m talking about. My 71-year-old mother is even talking about the number of friends she has and she can barely use the computer (Sorry Ma, but it’s true).

Social networks have exploded in popularity. Social networks and blogs reach almost 80% (4 in 5) of all active U.S. Internet users – and account for most of the time Americans spend online, according to Nielsen’s latest State of the Media: The Social Media Report, African-Americans spend 37% of their smartphone time on social networking sites. (Of course, none of us actually visit these sites during work hours, right? Shhhhh, I won’t tell a soul.)

I’ve been sharing various African-American consumer habits with you for a while now. The Social Media Report is an example of the type of study I pull information from to share with you. But, I have a secret (well, it’s a secret at least until Thursday, September 22 anyway). On that day, Nielsen will release, for the first time, The State of the African-American Consumer Report. Yes, that’s right – it’s a report focused exclusively on the buying and viewing habits of African-Americans. It’s the first time Nielsen has released a report solely devoted to a multi-cultural audience.

We’ve collaborated with The National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) to be sure it is included in each Black newspaper – like this one you’re reading now because it’s a big deal. Just like this column, the purpose of the report is to further raise awareness in our community of our considerable economic clout – to the tune of $967 billion a year, and that figure is expected to reach $1.1 trillion by 2015. Both NNPA and Nielsen believe that when you as consumers are more aware of your buying power, it can help you make more informed decisions about the companies you support – or don’t support. You know my mantra: Knowledge is power.

Be sure to read the report, because I’ll be delving into specific areas of it in upcoming columns for the rest of this year. We’ll be discussing African-American population trends (e.g. income, education, marriage/divorce and children), media habits (e.g. television viewing and mobile phone usage) what we watch and how we watch it) and our shopping habits. It’s a lot to look forward to.

Okay, back to this week’s topic: social media. The top 10 U.S. social networks and blogs are: Facebook, Blogger, Twitter, Wordpress, MySpace, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Six Apart, Typepad, Yahoo!, Pulse and Wikia. (Don’t feel bad if you haven’t heard about all of these, some of them were even new to me!) Here are some stats you might find interesting: 33% of all African-Americans own smartphones.

  • Americans spend more time on Facebook than they do on any other website (140 million visitors and 53.5 billion minutes in May 2011 alone).
  • African-Americans are 30% more likely to use Twitter than any of the nine other social networks.
  • Nearly 40% of adults (2 in 5) who are social media users access their sites of choice on their mobile phones.
  • People over 55 are driving the growth of social networking on their mobile phones. This group’s visits are up a whopping 109% this year over last.
  • Although all age groups visit social networks and blogs, the most frequent visitor is female and is 18-34 years old with a Bachelor’s degree.
  • 47 % of men are more likely to visit LinkedIn and Wikia.
  • 32% of adult social networkers follow a celebrity.
  • 28% of African-American social networking fans engage in giving advice or their opinions on entertainment

The bottom line: Your use of social media, as with your use of any other product, has tremendous influence and impact on the people and companies who want to reach you, either with their messages or for your business. I think you will find The State of the African-American Consumer Report, empowering as well as fascinating. So, read it from cover to cover and after you’ve read it, say it with me: “I’ve got the power.”

Cheryl Pearson-McNeil is senior vice president of public affairs and government relations for Nielsen. For more information and studies go to www.nielsenwire.com.

The Long, Vicious Assault on Voting Rights in America

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(NNPA) The attack on voting rights for people of color in the United States of America is as old as the Republic itself.

While Thomas Jefferson penned egalitarian words around the world against the tyranny of the oppressed, he ruled over forced labor and the enslaved at his home in Virginia. Under “Jefferson Democracy” only White men who owned land had the legal right to vote. By denying poor Whites the exercise of their vote and denying White women and all African Americans (men and women) citizenship the so-called “Founding Fathers” set the foundation for today’s attack on voting rights.

The United States Constitution had to be amended to permit people of color and women to vote under the 15th and 19th Amendments (1870 and 1920, respectively) amidst massive resistance from those who agreed with the founder’s view of voter suppression.

After 95 years of dirty tricks at polling places the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was enacted to outlaw all practices and procedures that affected a citizen’s right to exercise their vote based on race, gender or other protected classes (Section 2). The Act also included a provision for areas that had a bad record of racially discriminating against people of color to pre-clear their voting plans with the United States Department of Justice. Both Section 2 and Section 5 have been under attack since the 1960’s. Go figure!

The Black robes of bigoted judges in 2011 have replaced the White robes of domestic terrorists in the Ku Klux Klan, of the 1800’s.

Today’s policy debate over voting rights can be broken down into two camps. In one camp are those who believe that states have the right under the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to control voting laws for state and federal elections, however restrictive the laws. In the other camp are those of us who believe in federal enforced voting laws where every citizen has an individual and equal right to vote enshrined in the Constitution. I fight for the latter.

Thus, 13 states have approved new obstacles to voting:

Kansas and Alabama – would-be voters must provide proof of citizenship
Florida and Texas – New obstacles for non-profit groups to register voters
Georgia, Ohio, Tennessee, and West Virginia – Reduced early voting period
Iowa – Barred all ex-felons form voting
Maine – Repealed Election Day voter registration
Hawaii, Idaho,, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, South Carolina – Require photo identification at polling places

The effect of onerous voter suppression laws is real. Most American voters remember the presidential election of 2000 where state officials in Florida used suppression schemes to steal a federal election (ex-felon roll purging, absentee ballot tampering, voter intimidation, and outright vote theft). Likewise, in the presidential election of 2004 Ohio schemes such as private tabulators on public voting machines and voting machines designed and operated by political partisans again decided the federal election for George W. Bush. The same un-American activities may well occur in 2012, but if so many more states rather than one.

We must put an end to state-control of federal elections by calling on the White House and Congress to pass and enact a Constitutional Amendment for an individual right to vote protected by the U.S. Constitution. For those who believe such would take too long it is worth noting that of the 27 Amendments to the U.S. Constitution 7 were enacted into laws in less than one year. In fact, the 26th Amendment (granting18-year olds voting rights) became law in only 3 months. Why? There was a demand for the White House and Congress to do the right thing.

Politically, we have come to a place for which our fathers and mother sighed with the election of President Barrack Obama. Yet, their collective tears will flow from the Great Beyond if we do not electorally stand up against the tea-partying grandchildren of the Klan who and exclaim with pride, “we too sing America”, and have the right to vote with equality.

Gary L. Flowers is the Executive Director & CEO of the Black Leadership Forum, Inc.

Something is Strange at FEMA

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(NNPA) Hurricane Irene has come and gone. She left a trail of damage from North Carolina to Canada. The recovery phase has started with much anticipation. We ended the Hurricane Katrina recovery with important lessons learned. In all, Black contractors performed over $3 billion in contracts and I am most proud to have been a part of that. However, this Hurricane Irene recovery has started with unforeseen controversy already.

It has been reported to me that FEMA(Federal Emergency Management Agency) is demanding that contractors wait at least six months for payment of any work performed during this recovery. The only corporations that could survive that would be large, mega corporations. Small businesses and certainly Black owned businesses could not possibly participate in that arrangement and expect to survive. So why is FEMA doing this? Could they be trying to block out Black business participation? That is certainly the effect. Or maybe they are broke. That’s right. It is certainly possible with the lack of an official federal budget that they may have been caught unprepared. Maybe, they are “selling contracts” by eliminating competition from those who do not make sizeable political contributions.

Either way, it is a disaster that needs to be addressed immediately. It probably violates procurement law. We have started action through correspondence to federal officials and Congress including the Congressional Black Caucus. We pray that this will be addressed immediately and that our businesses will be included in the recovery. Small business is the biggest creator of jobs and jobs are in a serious downward spiral as you all know. The following is the letter I sent out to FEMA Administrator Fugate:

Dear Administrator Fugate:

I have received a complaint from a reputable member of my association. It is alleged that FEMA, in response to the recovery process of Hurricane Irene, is electing not to utilize the expertise of the Army Corps of Engineers in issuing contracts. Rather than that, they are sole sourcing private firms such as SAIC for recovery contracts within North Carolina. Allegedly SAIC is telling potential subcontractors that they will not be paid by FEMA for at least six months after completion of work. Therefore, all subcontractors should not expect payment for work done until sometime after that six month timeframe.

Requiring contractors to wait six months for payment eliminates any possibility of small businesses participating in this recovery. The seriousness of this matter is quite obvious. I, therefore, respectfully request answers to the following questions:

1. Is the above claim accurate?

1. What is the reasoning for sole sourcing and delaying payment of work for at least six months?

2. Is there a small business goal for this recovery?

3. Is FEMA working with the SBA in the procurement process?

4. Does FEMA have budgeted funds to manage this recovery?

5. What is the percentage of Black business participation with FEMA procurement fiscal year to date?

Your rapid response to this inquiry is dearly appreciated.

Harry C. Alford

Cc: DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, Congressman Darrell Issa, Congressman Peter King, Congressman Bennie Thompson, Congressman Emmanuel Cleaver, Congressman G. K. Butterfield, Congressman Mel Watt, Congressman Sam Graves, Governor Beverly Perdue, SBA Administrator Karen Mills

If the above is accurate, it is a sad turn of events for our nation. Scandalous at least and it screams for a major clean up in morals and in responsibility of federal officials. As I write this it is flooding in Louisiana and Mississippi. In addition to that, Hurricane Katia is gaining strength and is starting to move towards our east coast in a manner reminiscent of Irene. Hopefully, we can rectify the above and, if needed, FEMA will get additional funding before the next disaster.

What is most disturbing is that Black unemployment is approaching 18 percent; double that of the national average. This is not the time to start blocking more job opportunities. It is callous and irresponsible. Job opportunities are the silver lining in regards to disasters. Let us not waste this opportunity. Hopefully, our congressional leaders will step up and see that we don’t.

Mr. Alford is the co-founder, President/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce®. Website: www.nationalbcc.org. Email: halford@nationalbcc.org.

The King Monument: Time to Revitalize the Movement

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(NNPA) The planned dedication and ceremony to formally consecrate the National Memorial Monument of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Washington, D.C. will soon take place after the recent postponement due to the challenging weather conditions resulting from Hurricane Irene. It is not that unusual, however, to now witness a growing chorus of people who are expressing their opinions on the stone structure’s style and architecture, the chiseled inscriptions of King’s quotes, and the overall intended tone that should exude from the moment.

I believe that we all should be very grateful to the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. and to Harry E. Johnson and the King Memorial Foundation for their outstanding leadership over the many years to bring this significant project to a permanent establishment. Of course, we also have to recognize and thank the King family for their long fortitude and steadfastness of commitment to keep the dream, legacy and spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King alive and well for millions of people in America and throughout the world.

As a former North Carolina state youth director for Golden Frinks and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in NC in the 1960’s under the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I would like to add just a word to enjoin the current public debate about the King National Memorial. I support the memorial. I believe that this monument in Washington, D.C. will not only stimulate a much needed review and broader comprehension of the leadership of Dr. King, but also even for those who have posited their criticisms concerning some aspects of the King National Memorial, this monument strategically located in the nation’s capital will bring renewed interests and involvement in the ongoing Civil Rights Movement. In other words, we all should be striving today to make sure that the “Monument” reflects and represents the “Movement” not just of the past, but just as importantly the “Movement” today for freedom, justice, equality, jobs and empowerment.

At a time in the United State when we are clearly heading into another difficult national political debate and polarizing crossroads on issues like voting rights, jobs, poverty, racial discrimination, immigration, environmental injustice, disproportionate incarceration, home ownership and land loss, and other severe economic inequalities impacting the African American community, we need the Civil Rights Movement today just as much as we needed the movement 40 years ago. Again we urgently have to ask, “Where is the Movement today that the King Monument represents?”

In an Op-Ed piece in The New York Times, the renowned scholar Dr. Cornel West emphasized, “King weeps from his grave. He never confused substance with symbolism. He never conflated a flesh and blood sacrifice with a stone and mortar edifice. We rightly celebrate his substance and sacrifice because he loved us all so deeply. Let us not remain satisfied with symbolism because we too often fear the challenge he embraced.” Dr. West affirms the liberation theology of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that necessitated a visible, audacious, challenging, revolutionary, and moral praxis that encouraged a massive and participatory grassroots Civil Rights Movement led in many instances by the Black American church in coalition with many others of conscience and spirit.

We should all recall that at one point in the movement, in spite of differences in ideology, age, class-orientation, political party or other social distinctions, the NAACP, SCLC, National Urban League, CORE, and SNCC all worked together in coalition with others in the Civil Rights Movement in the interests of advancing the cause of freedom, justice, jobs and liberation for all. Today we have more national organizations than we had in the 1950’s and 1960’s, but Black people in America are less organized and mobilized primarily because we have less unity and sense of purpose among us as a people. In 2008, the election of President Barack H. Obama was an important milestone in the history of our long struggle for freedom. 2008 also witnessed the largest voter turnout of African American voters in U.S. history. We have to rekindle that kind of voter mobilization across the nation once again. There are efforts in more than 20 states today to repress Black and Latino voter turnout. The forces of reaction and repression are at work to systematically prevent another large Black voter turnout. How is it that there are some who still say “Well, we really don’t need a movement today?” I am hopeful that the dedication of the new National Memorial for Dr. King will at least remind more of us that we still have a lot of work to do. We still have serious civil rights and human rights issues to be addressed and challenged.

In particular I see so many of our young people who cry out today for a deeper understanding and appreciation for what happened and how it happened 50 and 40 year ago in the movement for change. There is no better way to get that kind of an understanding than to simply join the movement and help to lead our struggle forward. I caution against the rise of cynicism and hopelessness in our community. You can be critical without becoming cynical. Constructive criticism always has its place. But we should not indulge in throwing stones of disunity at each other. Let’s show our love for the love that Dr. King gave to all of us by revitalizing the movement that he led: the Civil Rights Movement. Let’s build and expand the “Movement” that the King “Monument” reflects and represents.

Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr. is Senior Advisor to the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO) and President of Education Online Services Corporation and the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network (HSAN).

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