Thursday, November 16, 2023

Council Recap: Kayla Walker Lawsuit

Source: DALL-E

Coming out of an executive session during the November 6, 2023, Richardson City Council meeting, Mayor Pro Tem Arefin made this motion: "I move that the City Manager be authorized to execute a mutually satisfactory settlement agreement in Walker at al. v City of Richardson, Texas, et al. civil action on 3:22-CV-01164-X pending in the United States District Court, Northern District of Texas, Dallas Division and any documents related thereto." Seconded by Councilmember Joe Corcoran and approved unanimously without comment, this motion at 10:59pm closed the book on a sorry story of Richardson's history.

Regular readers of The Wheel know that I've recommended the City settle this "ticket quota" whistleblower claim since forever. It's better late than never to do the right thing. So am I happy? Yes and no.

The City offers no apology for ruining the career of a Richardson police officer who chose to be a whistleblower. No admission of wrongdoing. No policy changes. There's only money to the plaintiffs. And a lot of money. $616,000. For that, I'm happy for Kayla Walker, but disappointed that for that, Richardson residents don't get any reforms in the Richardson Police Department (RPD).

Does the City see this, on balance, as good news? The news didn't make the City's "Week in Review" newsletter to residents, which should tell you all you need to know to answer that.

So why did the City settle now? You'd be wrong to think that maybe, with the departure of the old regime that provoked the lawsuit in the first place (Chief of Police Jim Spivey, City Manager Dan Johnson, and Mayor Paul Voelker) and the arrival of a new regime (Chief of Police Gary Tittle, City Manager Don Magner, and Mayor Bob Dubey), that City leadership might have learned a lesson or two, acquired some wisdom, and decided to change its ways. There's no evidence of that. Instead, in settling the lawsuit, the City seems to be following Vermont Senator George Aiken's 1966 cynical advice on how to end the quagmire of Vietnam: "Declare victory and pull out."

The City tried to spin matters in a positive light in a press release that warrants a closer look. The City says, "No finding has ever been made that state law was violated." That's the victory part. It also says, "Nevertheless, in the interest of fiscal responsibility, the City has decided to move forward with settlement." That's the pull out part.

The settlement will cost $616,000. Why would the City agree to a huge payout if it won the case? That's explained by the City saying its decision followed "its insurance carrier’s notice that if the City did not consent the carrier could settle the case without the City’s consent." In other words, as long as the City was gambling with someone else's money (its insurance carrier's) it was willing to let its bet ride. Was it a good bet? The carrier decided, like the City, that "it would be irresponsible to let this matter continue and potentially cost Richardson taxpayers more in the future." That doesn't sound like a good bet to me. The insurance carrier folded and so did the City.

What *should* have happened?

  • In the first place, the city should never have had a performance evaluation system that relied on counting traffic stops to measure performance.
  • When Officer Kayla Walker blew the whistle on the practice in 2021, the Richardson Police Department should have conducted a real investigation.
  • Then the Richardson Police Department should have reformed itself. That would have been the fiscally responsible thing to do.
  • Finally, a nice touch would have been to thank Officer Walker for assuming huge risk to her career and reputation by reporting the matter.

Earlier in this same City Council meeting, on a separate agenda item, Mayor Bob Dubey proposed honoring the late former Mayor Bob Townsend. That's entirely fitting and proper, provided there's a thought-out process for deciding on such honors. But if we're just going to wing things, like the Mayor was, I'd like to recommend a new award be instituted in Richardson, an "Officer Kayla Walker Whistleblower Award." Maybe a trophy with a plaque engraved simply, "$616,000" to denote the cost of not listening to whistleblowers.

"Pockets grow lighter,
Future price too steep to bear,
Public bears the cost."
—h/t ChatGPT

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