EDITORIAL NO BACK-ROOM DEALS : REFORMING THE LAPD SHOULD BE OPEN AND ABOVE BOARD IF THE POLICE COMMISSION AND MAYOR WANT TO BUILD PUBLIC CONFIDENCE AND CREDIBILITY.
Before Police Chief Willie L. Williams has even left office, his appointed replacement - a temp, mind you - is thrashing about in ways that could leave taxpayers liable for a new round of huge buyout offers.
We're referring to the strange case of Assistant Chief Bayan Lewis. Although Lewis doesn't assume command until May 18, he already has assumed control by threatening to demote two top commanders - assistant chiefs Ron Banks and Frank Piersol - if they refuse to retire.
The case is troubling for several reasons. First, Lewis met privately last week with both men to tell them of the pending action. Banks has been Williams' chief of staff, while Piersol is head of administration, and Lewis is operations head.
Adding injury to insult, Banks claimed in a letter to Police Commission President Ray Fisher that word of the meeting had been leaked throughout the department, and that he and Piersol have been targeted for a criminal investigation.
Clearly, both men are setting the foundation for legal action against the city, which more than likely will mean buyout offers negotiated behind closed doors. If that occurs, the taxpayers will once again be left paying for damages, searching for answers and wondering why they're still living in this crazy, mixed up, dysfunctional town.
Like a political innocent, Mayor Richard Riordan insists that he had no more to do with the Parker Center coup than he had with the rejection of Williams for a second term. (He noted through underlings that Lewis is not even the man that he wanted to be interim chief.)
That, of course, isn't true. And it wouldn't be any way to run a city if it were.
Riordan was elected and re-elected to make Los Angeles and the LAPD better. Clearly, he has done a lot more over the years to shape up the command structure of the LAPD than just leave it to his appointees on the Police Commission.
Councilman Nate Holden claims, ``Riordan asked Willie Williams to demote Banks and Piersol, and he wouldn't. He's just having all this dirty work done by the interim chief.''
According to Banks, Fisher and Commissioner Edith Perez told Lewis, ``The purpose of this action was purportedly to vacate the assistant chief positions so that the new chief of police would be free to fill them.''
Is it coincidence that the two people that the commission wants to get rid of are also the two people mentioned by the mayor?
The real question isn't whether politics is playing a role but why the politics is going on in back rooms instead of in public.
Riordan and the Police Commission may have legitimate concerns about the failed leadership at the LAPD. Certainly, Williams alone was not responsible for the slow pace of implementing reforms. If clearing out the top brass in the LAPD is the road to restoring the department's pride and the public's confidence, so be it.
But such action should be done openly, honestly and in full public view. Setting up a straw man to take the heat and blow smoke only allows critics of reform to offer more sinister scenarios or wild conspiracy theories that go unanswered.
The mere appearance of a back-room deal is destructive and does nothing to build morale within the department or credibility with the public.
It's time for our public servants to come clean with us. If something is broken, let's discuss in public what went wrong and how we are going to fix it. Setting up a fall guy, or guys, behind closed doors is an incendiary tactic that's sure to blow up in everyone's face - especially the taxpayers who have to pay to put out all these stupid brush fires.
It's time City Hall understands that to win the public's confidence, it has to show confidence in the public.