Washington talks about protests, transparency and former mayor

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Chuck Washington, 3rd District supervisor of Riverside County, speaks in an interview with Valley News about some of the important topics coming across the dais over the past couple of months. Valley News/Shane Gibson photo

Chuck Washington, supervisor of Riverside County District 3, has a unique perspective on the current state of the region considering he has long served in capacities ranging from city councilmember in two different cities and at the county level.

Washington has seen the evolution of southwest Riverside County as both a private citizen, a husband and father and as an elected official since 1995, which means he’s seen and heard a lot during that period of time.

The social atmosphere today in southwest Riverside County is particularly interesting as the nation, he said, and the world is in the midst of a global pandemic while America is considering the subject of racial inequity in its many forms.

“It’s kind of reminiscent of the 60s for me and my wife,” Washington said in a phone conversation. “I think there’s been a gap in there, with a few things popping up, but there’s been a gap for many, many years where our citizens seem somewhat disinterested and what’s going on with the government.

“For me and my wife personally, we are encouraged when we see young people engaging and doing it peacefully. OK, maybe some of the words coming out of their mouths are not to be shown on television … I think early last week we had MSNBC on, and they weren’t bleeping out anything or blurring out anything. There was a lot of stuff written on walls and there’s a law against tagging and graffiti, but there’s no law about people yelling obscenities. I mean, the president does it from time to time,” he said.

As for the protests happening in area cities, Washington said that from where he was sitting, he saw mostly people “exercising their First Amendment rights.”

He and his wife Kathy attended a candlelight vigil for George Floyd back in May and said it was a very peaceful demonstration, but he said he hasn’t had much of a chance to experience Black Lives Matter protests and demonstrations in person due to their spontaneous nature and his workload.

“When the opportunity came, we just thought we wanted to get out there and get in the middle of all this,” he said. “They were doing fine without me there.”

Over the course of the past few months, Washington and his supervisor colleagues have been dealing with myriad issues surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, its effects on the economy, mandates surrounding the wearing of protective masks and curfews issued by the county.

On the issue of perceived racial injustices at the hands of law enforcement, Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco was criticized recently for calling a proposal for policy review with the sheriff’s department a politically based move.

“This overwhelmingly implies we are doing something wrong and someone needs to fix it,” Bianco said during the June 9 supervisors’ meeting.

Bianco, along with Bill Young, president of Riverside County Sheriff’s Association, disagreed with the proposal calling it political.

During a nearly two-hour debate on the subject, Washington stressed the urgency to address the issue now.

“Let us do this together now and not let another decade or two go by until another catastrophe happens and we all come together,” he said. “This is our moment to make history. Let us not waste this opportunity.”

“Politics is killing our country, and this is an example,” Bianco said at the meeting.

Washington proposed a separate motion calling for Bianco and the county’s CEO to discuss policies, then address the county’s communities at town halls. Bianco called it a “waste of time.”

“It’s not your job to tell me what to do,” Bianco told the board.

Bianco did apologize to the supervisors for not establishing an advisory council but insisted he would be in charge of placing the members on the council and that group would not include politicians or attorneys.

Transparency between law enforcement and the community has long been an issue within the country and is at the heart of the issue surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement.

The importance of that relationship between the department and his constituents wasn’t lost on Washington.

“Like my statement, this is a perfect opportunity for him to engage with the community, and I was actually caught off guard when he said, ‘No, I’m not gonna do that. It’s a waste of my time.’ I expressed I’m disappointed, and I think it’s wrong. My hope is that the sheriff as he grows into this office is going to have a better understanding of the responsibility he has to the community.”

Washington said he wasn’t surprised by the support Bianco has from the union.

“The union has a position and that they’re expressing it because that’s what unions do,” he said. “But for us electives, we should be above that. We should be above reproach. I know that they like their sheriff. I don’t have a problem with their sheriff and didn’t, but right now is a unique moment in American history. OK, we’re not Minneapolis; no one’s accusing you of being Minneapolis, but there’s gotta be some dialogue. There has to be some community engagement to give people the confidence that, OK, you tell us you don’t have a problem, well then, why won’t you sit down and talk with us? I think that’s a fair question for them to ask.

“I’m going to keep pushing for that community engagement. I hope he realizes that it actually benefits him to do that. But we’re not there right now,” he said.

Washington also denied any inference that the one-night, county-wide curfew placed June 1, had anything to do with a June 2 supervisors meeting pertaining to pay for the sheriff’s department.

“I heard that from a number of people that we were voting to give the deputies a pay increase,” he said. “There was nothing on that agenda item to give them a pay increase. That agenda item was to recoup the cost that was incurred or give money back in a few cases that the sheriff’s department incurred in providing services to contract cities.”

Washington also touched on the process of how the curfew was decided upon.

“The process and by necessity, the process is that the CEO declares an emergency and then the sheriff can implement a curfew,” Washington said. “That’s how that occurred, but it didn’t necessarily happen in a vacuum.

“As a result of the governor’s executive order, we’ve been able to have phone conversations – we started out Monday through Friday, now we’re done on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, every day, about a half-hour, 45 minutes – George Thompson (county CEO) gets on the phone with the five supervisors and they fill us in on what’s going on. It was a way for us to get timely information regarding the pandemic. But last week, the subject came up on that Monday morning call at 11:30 a.m. about the curfew. The sheriff who is typically not on those calls was on the call to explain to us what his thinking was.

“We asked a number of questions of him, ‘Why 6 o’clock, why not 8 o’clock?’ And that was explained. We were in the loop, even though it didn’t come for a vote,” he said.

Washington at one time served as mayor for the city of Temecula, and while he doesn’t often comment on issues unless he feels his input would be pertinent, he did respond to questions posed by one regional newspaper regarding the issue surrounding former Temecula Mayor James “Stew” Stewart.

“I said, ‘Eh, I don’t know all the things I need to know, and I don’t want to just shoot from the hip,’” he said. “I spent the next hour and a half pouring over everything I could get my hands on, and I thought, ‘Oh, there’s no way for Stew to work his way out of this hole he’s dug himself into. In the meantime, I’ve heard from the city manager, I’ve heard from a couple of council members, they’re hurting. All of a sudden Temecula is national news and not in a good way. I needed to speak out. I live in Temecula and so I needed to speak out, and my comments were, ‘Picking that one word, “good” out didn’t fix the statement.’

“I thought at this point now for the sake of the city, let’s say for the sake of the citizens … I thought he made the right decision,” Washington said.

Jeff Pack can be reached by email at jpack@reedermedia.com.