OP-ED | ‘Leadership and Transparency Go Hand-in-Hand, Where is the Leadership in South Pasadena?’

'Real leadership occurs when the unexpected happens and the captain has to take manual control to prevent a disaster'

PHOTO: Eric Fabbro | SouthPasadenan.com News | 'Anyone there?'

By Alan Ehrlich

2020 has been a strange year for a number of reasons, not just nationally, but also here in South Pasadena. It is easy to call yourself a leader when the plane is on auto-pilot and everything appears to be going smoothly. Real leaders never need to sell other people on what great leaders they are. Real leaders lead by example and other people recognize that without having to be told. In Texas, they have an expression to describe people who make hollow claims. They say, “He’s all hat, no cattle.”

Real leadership is not a subject you learn in school, by reading books, or listening to podcasts. Real leadership comes as a result of things you learned in school, knowing the right questions to ask, drawing on your lifetime of experiences, keeping yourself educated on current events, surrounding yourself and listening to people who may know more than you.

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Real leadership occurs when the unexpected happens and the captain has to take manual control to prevent a disaster.

Retired US Airways pilot, Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger exemplifies cool and calm leadership in the face of extreme circumstances. In 2009, Sully glided an Airbus A320 into an emergency landing in New York’s Hudson River. Sully didn’t waste time blaming the flock of geese, or the mechanics, nor Airbus. He assessed the situation, recognized the problem, and took swift action. Sully also didn’t pretend to the passengers that nothing was wrong.  When the engines went silent, everyone knew they were in trouble. Sully remained calm, professional and kept the crew and passengers informed. 155 passengers and crew were aboard flight 1599, not a single life was lost.

Sully’s flying career began as a US Air Force fighter pilot. During his military and professional career, Sully accumulated more than 19,000 hours of flying experience.  Despite that Sully regularly trained with an instructor to hone and keep his flying skills current. In regard to US1549, Sully said, “One way of looking at this might be that for 42 years, I’ve been making small, regular deposits in this bank of experience, education and training. And on January 15, the balance was sufficient so that I could make a very large withdrawal.”

How does this story relate to South Pasadena? 

About a year ago, residents began submitting numerous Public Records Requests (PRRs) to the city related to how decisions were being made and how former city manager DeWolfe was spending the taxpayer’s dollars. Instead of asking the City Manager why there was such an unusual and sudden increase in PRR’s — usually a warning sign (like an engine failure) — two council members, one former and one still sitting, asked me why I was submitting so many requests and didn’t I know this was costing the city money? They either already knew why or should have been asking the City Manager that question. 

Real leaders, confident leaders, don’t shy away from the tough questions, blow smoke, or hide their heads in the sand.

As most residents are aware, in May and June we had a medley of the city’s version of Billy Flynn singing Razzle Dazzle and of the Cell Block Tango from the Broadway show and movie, Chicago. For South Pasadenan’s this meant discrepancies in the finance department numbers, bait and switch budgets, and uncompleted audit reports. 

Did this concern members of the City Council? Did they order an investigation? Several members of the council tried to ram through a questionable budget without public input while other members cowered in denial. The charade stopped when resident, and now city council member, Stephen Rossi did his own independent analysis and found $14 million of changes between the two budgets.

As of today, the city still doesn’t have a budget for the current fiscal year which began on July 1. Stephen Rossi, a resident concerned about financial mismanagement,  demonstrated real leadership, members of the city council, including one running for reelection on his alleged record of leadership, not so much.

Within ten days of the appointment of Rossi, now a write-in candidate for district 2, the beleaguered City Manager Dewolfe announced her ‘retirement’ and did not receive the golden handshake the council was prepared to give her. In the weeks following, Rossi made a motion for an ad hoc finance committee to assess and fix the problems in the finance department. Like Sully, when the situation demands action, Rossi reminds us of what real leadership looks like.

Just as troubling is the lack of moral leadership in our city. 

Last February, LASD released their investigation of the Vanessa Marquez shooting. In July, SPPD completed their internal investigation. The report was made available to city council members at the time. The internal investigation was never provided to the Public Safety Commission nor made known to the public until last week, three months later. Why is that? Who prevented release of the report?

Since June, when South Pasadena Youth for Police Reform (SPY4PR) and Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests began in the city, an ugly side of South Pasadena I have never seen appeared. 

Residents posting BLM signs in their yards found them vandalized and others found nails in their driveways. Fahren James, one of the BLM activists, was assaulted twice and spit on by a man from Monterey Park. When several residents spotted the assailant and called SPPD to make the arrest, the arresting officer said he feared for his life by the ‘mob’ and accused SPHS graduate London Lang of bringing cop-hating into our city. 

The original assault occurred in July. Joe Richcreek was arraigned last week. The district attorney indicated he had not received the complete arrest report until about two weeks ago and there have been allegations that the report, as written, was biased against the victim, for peaceably exercising her first amendment rights.

Four weeks ago, a South Pasadena couple accosted a different BLM supporter. The wife grabbed this person’s laptop and began to fling it. When the victim tried to grab it back, the husband physically assaulted the victim, taking him to the ground and knocking out teeth. Ironically, it was the couple who called the police before the assault took place.

Three weeks ago, the police chief invited some residents to participate in a prayer rally for police and first responders at City Hall, but asked that no one take any photos to protect the privacy of the department’s officers. The group requesting to hold this show of support for our police can most politely be described as a hate group, anti-women, anti-immigrant, anti-people of color, Antifa?

One week later, a South Pasadena resident drove his truck over the curb threatening the life of a BLM activist hanging a poster. SPPD interviewed and released the driver, despite his using a 4,500 lb. vehicle as an assault weapon. Would this assault have occurred if the police chief had not signaled to haters that they were welcome in our city?

“Activists Decry Acts of Hostility” was the headline in a local paper. Normally, after a series of events such as these, the police chief, city manager, or mayor would step up and demonstrate moral leadership and firmly announce that intolerance will not be tolerated in this city… Hello, city leadership, is anyone home?

As you cast your votes between now and November 3, regardless of your party affiliation, all I ask you to consider is what you expect and what type of leadership you think is right for South Pasadena. 

Sully says he has been a registered Republican for the majority of his adult life but has “always voted as an American.” For the record, after landing the plane in the river, Sully walked the cabin three times checking for anybody left behind.Only when he knew everyone was safe did he exit the plane.

That’s leadership.












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