New Probation chief cleans house, police put PERF in the contract

Fresh cups

For some employees within Bexar County Adult Probation, the New Year couldn’t come fast enough. As January approached, former Probation Chief Bill Fitzgerald, ridiculed by the more uncouth elements of the San Antonio media family (read: us) as a paranoid, out-of-touch, union-busting, foot fetishist overflowing with blind faith in poorly performing piss sniffers (read: Treatment Associates), was ambling toward resignation and a string of court appearances. After shameful, closed-door votes violating the spirit of Open Meetings law, local judges at last agreed to rotate 16-year felony case manager Jarvis Anderson into Fitzgerald’s seat. `See “Test-tube maybes,” October 3, 2008, et al.`

And so with the Arctic chill that swept San Anto last week, Anderson blew in. On day three, he ousted his predecessor’s (mostly) loyal companion and legal advisor, Kathy Cline, who had been likewise painted by El Que2 (and the department’s former IT director) as a paranoid union-buster with a penchant for late-night email snooping.

Jehovah may have rested on the seventh day, but Anderson is far from ready to kick back and sedately survey his domain. Instead, he’ll be receiving a “blow-by-blow” briefing from the Texas Attorney General on the slurry of lawsuits naming Fitzgerald, Cline and his department. “We have to come to some kind of resolution quick, where we can still function as a department,” Anderson said.

As new hopes spring with these titular changes, local labor attorney David Van Os says he is close to submitting a settlement offer for one of his suits against Fitzgerald. Its terms call for reinstating Sheri Simonelli, head of the Central Texas Association of Public Employees, in her former position as a Bexar County case worker. Simonelli was fired after publicly blowing the whistle on Treatment Associates. Though he didn’t name Simonelli specifically, Anderson said he hopes employees that left under Fitzgerald will consider returning to work.

Then there’s the contract with Treatment Associates, which is still in place. Drug-testing TA has had a rough time expanding from drug counseling into fluid dynamics. Strike One immediately followed Bexar County’s contract with the company as a rash of false positives swept the department, results that, according to at least one lawsuit, sent innocents back to the cooler and caused some local judges to swear off their readings entirely. Strike Two came when a TV crew caught TA employees dumping client records into public dumpsters. Finally, allegations of employees charging probationers for guaranteed clean results surfaced, prompting a District Attorney

But Anderson’s first priority will be bringing the computer network into the 21st century. Representatives of Bexar County Juvenile Probation, Bexar County Information Systems, SAPD, and the DA’s office have expressed interest in linking up, a move that would vastly improve the ability of his case managers to do their jobs, Anderson said. “The system is long overdue, especially for a department this large,” he said. “Right now we have a system that’s kind of old. If you are not a part of that system … you can’t share it, you can’t send it, you can’t receive it. … That’s my number-one priority.”

Dragnet SA

More than a year has passed since Dana Clair Edwards’s parents found their daughter’s strangled body on the second floor of the family’s condominium in the early-morning hours of January 2, 2009. Edwards, 32, was last seen a little more than 24 hours earlier leaving a nearby New Year’s Eve party where she’d played board games with friends and an ex-boyfriend, who has been the focus of the police investigation and public rumor. `See “Missing pieces,” October 7, 2009.` Her dog Grit, a Jack Russell terrier, was found dead in Olmos Basin two weeks later. There was no sign of forced entry or theft at the Edwards’s condo, and according to the Medical Examiner’s report, she was not sexually assaulted.

Officials close to the investigation confirmed in November that the ex-boyfriend — a member of a prominent Alamo Heights family who has retained a lawyer and refused to cooperate with the police beyond an initial statement — has not produced his clothing from that evening, saying that he donated it to charity.

Police have announced little in the way of progress on what was the first murder of last year. The wait has been interminable for Dana Clair’s parents, who were very close to their daughter; she returned home to work in the family business in 2005 when her father was diagnosed with cancer.

“The time’s been an eternity in the days I go by,” Darrell Edwards told the Current just before the holidays. “We’re not psychologically prepared to go through another year like this.”

Hopefully they won’t have to. An official with knowledge of the investigation says the case has not gone cold, and the police have made recent forensic progress. The formal word: Nothing new to report. Not for attribution: They believe they’re getting close.

More lip than hip

Mayor Julián Castro convened an Eastside Revitalization Summit last weekend, and every major elected official in town showed, from City Manager Sheryl Sculley to County Judge Nelson Wolff to Precinct Four County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson. Eleven-year incumbent Adkisson must have been mindful of another Eastside gathering scheduled for the following afternoon: On Sunday, former District 2 Council Member Sheila McNeil formally announced her run for the Precinct Four seat. Former District 2 Zoning Commissioner Barbara Hawkins introduced McNeil to more than 40 supporters gathered in a stripmall at Rigsby and Loop 410. McNeil promised to capitalize on the growth of Fort Sam Houston under the Base Realignment and Closure act (SA should be a “health-care hub and model for the nation”) and to bring new infrastructure and economic opportunity to some of the most neglected areas of town.

A woman who came to hear McNeil speak after the former District 2 Councilwoman visited her church that morning asked detailed questions about job-training partnerships, and later said she was impressed by what she heard.

“Let me tell you some things I won’t do,” McNeil told the audience, which included many young African-American women and several prominent community members, including retired St. Philip’s Professor and former Brooks Air Force Base scientist Lloyd Foster and former DA candidate Eddie Bravenec.

“I won’t raise your gas tax,” she said, referring to MPO Chair Adkisson’s opposition to toll roads.

“I won’t build prisons in the middle of your neighborhoods,” she added, drawing applause and a shout-out from the audience. McNeil was a vocal opponent of the 100-bed transitional housing facility City Council approved last fall for a former convent on the near East Side. In an article in the Express-News, the developer and former District 5 Council Member Patti Radle accused McNeil and Hawkins of opposing the deal for their own ends.

McNeil has already garnered some business support in the formidable persons of Red McCombs and Bartell Zachry. When the QueQue inquired what their backing might mean materially for Precinct Four if she wins, McNeil said, “More of what Zachry has already been doing,” and mentioned development along Walters Street, which will be Fort Sam’s new front door, and the Friedrich Building. “I hope we can work together to get investment in the community.”

McNeil supports the proposed land swap that would give a Zachry subsidiary ownership of most of the buildings in historic St. Paul Square in exchange for land adjacent to Palo Alto College — a deal opposed by some members of the black community who worry that its historic significance will be erased. McNeil said any deal should specifically protect St. Paul Square as an historic area, but she said, the East Side needs the parking garage that would be built as part of the deal.

Mr. Foster asked the audience to pass a hat for McNeil (a plastic catering-tray lid sufficed). “It takes an individual who has the education to really do it well,” Foster told the QueQue. “Her home is here, her schooling is here ... and she has the willingness to fight.

“`Adkisson` has taken little interest in and done little for the black community,” Foster added. “He’s more lip than hip.”

The high-risk insurance pool

According to City officials, the police union’s unwillingness to give an inch on its health-care benefits has brought the collective-bargaining contract talks between the City and the San Antonio Police Officers Association to a “temporary standstill,” with no immediate resolution in sight.

“Police officers have a very good plan, they don’t want it to be reduced, and they don’t want to pay more money for it,” attorney Lowell F. Denton, the City’s chief negotiator, told the QueQue. “That’s what we’ve been arguing about for the last two or three months.”

SAPOA president Michael Helle told the QueQue that the City’s insistence on making changes to the officers’ health care is unnecessary.

“For the last two years, our health-care has seen less than 1-percent growth, and there is no reason to change our plan,” Helle said. “Considering national health-care trends, our growth is well below average.”

Even if the city had a case on the health-care issue, Helle sees no reason to delay the new agreement because the existing contract (which expired on October 2009 but has a 10-year evergreen clause) allows the City to renegotiate with the police association. ”It’s certainly not the position of our organization that, if the city is in financial crisis, we’re going to take that arm and twist it even further behind their backs,” Helle said. “No, we’re in this together.”

Local human-rights activists are more concerned with unadopted PERF recommendations than with the health-care negotiations, and the good news for them, Denton says, is that “four or five” recommendations from the 2008 Police Executive Research Forum report were being discussed in the contract talks — including increasing the number of civilians on the Chief’s Advisory Action Board, which reviews and makes recommendations on internal investigations, and the removal of the so-called SAPOA veto provision, which allows the union to reject civilian board nominees.

“From the City’s perspective, the four PERF recommendations that we brought forth to the table were pretty straightforward,” Assistant City Manager Erik Walsh said. “If you ask the police association you might get a different answer, but I don’t think it was complicated.”

Of the PERF recommendations that the SAPD declined to adopt when the report was initially issued, three are particularly troublesome to civil-rights advocates: the fact that the SAPD does not give citizens who file complaints copies of their reports, the use of tasers, and the fine print on complaint forms that warns complainants that perjury is a third-degree felony.

“The city must find a way to put `the recommendations` in the contract and fight very aggressively for transparency at Internal Affairs. There’s like … a cult of secrecy around that place,” said former Councilman and PERF committee member Mario Salas.

In a statement sent Friday to the QueQue, Castro said he is all for the PERF recommendations, “especially those that call for greater civilian participation on the citizens’ disciplinary review board.”

Helle denies the City’s suggestion that SAPOA has refused to incorporate the additional PERF recommendations. “I can’t `be` 100-percent `sure`, but pretty much we found middle ground to acommodate what the city was looking for,” Helle said.

To show SAPOA’s good will, Helle said the police association has also agreed, “for the first time ever,” to a zero-percent salary increase for the first year and to create a “dual-role employee” that would dramatically improve response time for the department.

“I hear a lot of complaints from people waiting for hours on end for the police to show up, and that is embarrassing as hell,” Helle said, explaining that the SAPD “power shift” would reduce waiting time and allow officers to both respond to calls and collect evidence.

“`In the past` we hired civilians, trained them `in evidence collecting`, and they ended up quitting our department to work for another department that pays them 25 or 30 percent more,” Helle said. “If your house is a total wreck after being burglarized, sometimes it takes up to six or eight hours for the police to show up to collect evidence because there’s no one available. We want our officers to be able to do it all, and we all agreed to do it, but we can’t do anything about it until we finalize the contract. And it’s all because of the health-care issue.”

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