L■ Mary Ann Morris / Editor
ast week I wrote about some of the things that don’t make sense to me regarding the way the city of Hemet prioritizes its business. I didn’t really offer solutions. But I will today. I think Deputy Chief Charles “Rob” Webb should repay the almost $650,000 in Hemet taxpayer money that was used to defend him in a civil suit for an incident that ended in the death of a young man in Murrieta but was actually unrelated to his duties as a Hemet police officer.
As previously reported by The Valley Chronicle, a hefty amount of taxpayer money–money that could have been used to hire a number of additional police officers or firefighters–or even a new battalion chief (yes a recruitment effort is underway to establish an eligibility list)–was wasted to defend Webb in a civil suit from the family of the deceased, Anthony Norman. I say “wasted” because Webb already had adequate representation from his homeowner’s insurance company, the Interinsurance Exchange of the Automobile Club of Southern California (AAA). I say “wasted” because the trial of his co-defendant, Michael Darragh, ended in a no-fault judgment.
I say “wasted” because apparently the sky was the limit as to the cost of his legal defense–taxpayers be damned. But the damned taxpayers paid–for something that happened while he was off duty, out of uniform, and didn’t even happen within the Hemet city limits but instead in his Murrieta neighborhood. Webb, barefoot and dressed only in his pajama bottoms, who failed to identify himself to the victim as police, can hardly claim he was acting in his role as a sworn officer of the Hemet Police Department.
I say “wasted” because the average household income in Hemet is $33,932, according to Sperling’s Best Places. That $650,000 could have kept 19 entire households afloat in Hemet for an entire year. That money could also have funded the city’s plan to help solve homelessness or help open a shelter. Heck, it probably could have resurfaced a couple of roads that desperately need it. Maybe it could have replaced the dilapidated and unsafe Stetson Bridge.
When the newspaper first began writing about this trial and the astronomical legal fees that the Hemet taxpayers were unwittingly forced to pay, Hemet Police Chief Dave Brown took the newspaper to task, saying that Webb’s homeowner’s insurance company didn’t get involved in the case until after the city of Hemet agreed to foot the bill, and that if asked, according to a legal statute, the city was obligated to help defend him. This was also the self-serving position of the city attorney, whose comment we published and whose firm financially benefitted from this case.
However, after Webb’s homeowner’s insurance DID become involved, the city of Hemet should have backed out and let the insurance company handle it, just like you or I (or any private citizen) would have seen happen. In fact, The Valley Chronicle recently came across the memorandum Webb sent (via chain of command) to former City Manager Wally Hill, requesting representation by the city in this incident. City Clerk Sarah McComas verified that this memo was an official document.
The memorandum was dated Jan. 12, 2013. The memo reads, “On January 8, 2015, I was served with a summons listing me as a defendant in Riverside County Superior Court Case MCC 1401627. The original incident occurred on Dec. 25, 2012. During the incident I believe I was acting within the course and scope of my duties as a Hemet Police Officer. I am requesting that the City of Hemet represent me in this matter. Thank you for your consideration.”
Now, I’m not sure whether this memo was written before or after The Valley Chronicle started reporting on this case because the dates don’t jibe. The original date of the memo states it was written on Jan. 12, 2013, but the body of the memo states he was served in 2015. How can one write a memo in 2013 predicting that they would be served with a lawsuit two years later? Could this be a simple typo or something more disquieting?
When I got into a jam when I was a kid, I had to figure a way out. My mom wouldn’t even spell words for me when I was in second grade. I was always directed to the Funk & Wagnalls dictionary. “Sound it out” my mom would say. “You’ll figure it out.” If I broke something in a store, I had to find a way to pay for it. That usually meant cleaning out my piggy bank, finding some babysitting work, or doing extra chores. There was no free lunch for me, and there should be no free lunch for Deputy Chief (soon to be Chief) Webb.
So, in my opinion, Deputy Chief Webb should shake out that piggy bank and start paying us back what I will call a generous, “no-interest loan.” I used to get no-interest loans from my parents. That’s how I bought my first car. It taught me the importance of paying back what is borrowed, which helps create integrity and self-worth. It also taught me that nobody is going to pay my way but me and that I am responsible for my actions.
Now that Webb is going to be getting a healthy bump in salary, he should take some of that raise and use it to pay back the $650,000 that nobody bothered to ask the taxpayers spend on his behalf. Or, he could do what most people do when they are in a financial jam–take out a loan and pay it back, or tap into that massive retirement he is expecting. Then he can pay back his retirement fund through payroll deductions. The fact that the city isn’t charging him interest on the loan should be considered a benefit of employment.