It was Antioch's fourth Quality of Life Forum in the past half year, but the first in which Glover stood up and addressed those in attendance. Many of them are members of the community activist group United Citizens for Better Neighborhoods (UCBN) and are angry that charges of racism have been leveled at Antioch's efforts to correct subsidized housing problems.
Mayor Don Freitas set the tone for the often combative two-and-a-half-hour meeting by reading from a letter written by Richard Rainey, regional director for U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD), that pointed out mismanagement in the Contra Costa County Housing Authority (CCCHA) and criticized the Board of Supervisors for lack of oversight of the authority.
Rainey's letter points out that the housing authority must reimburse HUD $166,000 for failing to properly administer the program, that HUD may remove the county supervisors as the oversight agency, and that the authority's management has been rated "troubled … for the second consecutive year."
Freitas then read highlights of the recent HUD audit of the housing authority that cited the lack of "reasonableness" in rental rates the authority allowed for some Section 8 properties.
"As you go through this document it just basically is like an onion - you pull back the leaves and the stench just gets worse and worse and worse," said Freitas as some in the audience groaned.
"The reason why I raise this is primarily because (UCBN leader) Gary Gilbert has been vilified by many people that the information he was providing (about housing authority mismanagement) was wrong. Ladies and gentlemen, I'm here to tell you as mayor of the city that Gary Gilbert was more than correct in these assessments."
Addressing the racism charge, Freitas said, "Those accusations are completely and totally false. And I'm repeating again, they are completely and totally false." Many of the more than 200 people in attendance erupted in applause.
After presentations by other city officials, CCCHA Executive Director Rudy Tamayo defended his handling of the Section 8 program. He said that the HUD concerns were mainly due to missing paperwork comparing rental rates, and the authority is working to put that documentation together.
Tamayo complimented Antioch officials and residents for being so active in identifying problem Section 8 tenants in the city.
"In Antioch we have terminated 57 Section 8 participants in the last six months," he said. "That's pretty remarkable considering there's a lot of citizen participation in monitoring the program. Not a lot of communities are willing to do that. It is a compliment to the city and the CAT team (police Community Action Team) for us having such a high success rate in getting participants off of the program that are defrauding the program."
After Tamayo sat down, the tension level in the room began to rise as Glover stood up to speak.
"Let me first off say that I didn't think I was coming here for 'us' versus 'them.' Because that certainly is not what has taken place with the county and the city of Antioch," said Glover.
"There are nationwide problems with Section 8. And those are problems that will not be corrected on the local level. Section 8 here locally is in control of eligibility, trying to make sure that the upkeep of property is done through an annual inspection."
Glover pointed out that the county has been responsive to Antioch residents' concerns by opening a branch office here last summer. He said that the supervisors are taking the problems pointed out by the HUD audit seriously and "we will do what's necessary in terms of correcting it. Because we do want to be a quality program."
Glover complimented Antioch residents for being so actively involved in the issue and emphasized that the county and city must work together to deal with the problems.
"Those issues will not be resolved with one agency working and pointing fingers," he said in what might have been a reference to Mayor Freitas' finger-pointing to start off the meeting. "We look to partner with the city of Antioch in making sure that fraud and other issues that are taking place within the program are being dealt with."
Tensions ratcheted up considerably when Glover implied that some Antioch residents want to eliminate all Section 8 residents from their neighborhoods, whether they're causing problems or not.
"When we say that the program is totally bad, (we're ignoring) the 95 percent of good people that are working and going to work every day. I'm not saying that you have made those statements, but there's a perception of that," said Glover. "So let's deal with the 5, 6 to 10 percent of those individuals that are making the program bad. Let's deal with those; let's weed them off the program."
With that the crowd started to get angry and began to interrupt, one woman saying, "That's what we are trying to do."
Glover responded, "You know what, I've been very courteous and listened to everyone else. The mayor blasted me when I came in, an individual who's known me for years and knows my integrity. And to lay it out there like that, I am somewhat disappointed with our mayor. But that's neither here nor there, because I have been elected to deal with you the citizens. …"
Glover said Antioch's quality of life relates to not just Section 8 housing but also dealing with gang activities, for which he's put together a task force along with working with school districts to provide more after-school programs.
Glover received a smattering of applause as he concluded his remarks. That smattering was in contrast to the standing ovation after Gilbert finished speaking.
"You should be, quite frankly, ashamed of yourself," Gilbert said to Tamayo. "You've lied to the City Council, you've lied to the residents. You've said the whole time you've been paying reasonable rents. We know that's not true. The report has proven that's not true. So please don't stand in front of this group and make us look like idiots."
Gilbert then turned his sights on Glover.
"Quite frankly, if the Board of Supervisors had been doing their jobs in monitoring the housing authority, we wouldn't be in this mess," Gilbert said to Glover. "If you've mismanaged this program, what other programs has the county Board of Supervisors been messing up for the last couple of years?
"And I'm really sick and tired of you blaming this community that we're a bunch of racists. You started that. You started that comment. This city never started that comment. You brought that issue to the forefront. I have an article right here if you would like me to read it for you.
"What you tend to forget is that I was the first person that contacted your office and asked you for your help regarding this situation. You didn't contact me, you didn't contact any of the members of my group to deal with it. So don't stand and look me in the eye like you've been involved in this process the whole time. You haven't done anything for this community."
Gilbert concluded by reminding Glover that HUD is demanding repayment of $166,000.
"How are you planning on paying it, Mr. Glover?" asked Gilbert. "I have a really good suggestion for you: fire this man (pointing to Tamayo) and fire Mark Stephenson who's sitting over there and screwing up this program. Or, quite frankly, take back that 60 percent raise that you guys (the county supervisors) just gave yourselves."
Councilman Brian Kalinowski also expressed disappointment with Glover's performance on the Section 8 issue, although not in quite so strident terms.
"I'm glad Federal is here today. I really hope that this is the start of a new beginning," said Kalinowski. "There is a lot of frustration based on what has happened in the past. I supported you (Glover) in 2000 and I supported you in 2004 for re-election. I was there for you. But I have to be honest, over the last eight months I felt like you have let me down."
Kalinowski asked Glover and the other supervisors to split the costs with Antioch to hire two former police officers to do criminal background checks on Section 8 tenants so that they can be removed from the subsidized housing program if they are found to have records.
Kalinowski also said that a two-hour meeting he had with HUD officials revealed that the Section 8 mismanagement is just the tip of the iceberg with the housing authority, which also administers public housing projects in the county.
And Kalinowski addressed the racism charge leveled against Antioch.
"I don't know where it started, but we need to end it here and we need to end it now," he said. "When I came before your board, on the staff report and in the dialog it referred and alluded to this being an issue of color or discrimination just based on the demographics in the city of Antioch.
"I submitted to you then and I submit to you now that that is in fact a slippery slope. If
I am going to be thrown under the bus addressing an issue based on color, religion or any other issue, I take offense to that."
That was greeted with big applause, and one woman yelled out, "We're owed an apology."
Councilman Reggie Moore made an upbeat statement, saying he's never been more proud to live in Antioch as a result of what he's heard at the forum. He defended the Section 8 program for helping the needy while stating that we must also "weed out waste, fraud and abuse by those in the program."
Councilman Arne Simonsen began by complimenting Glover and Tamayo for being there: "One of the toughest things in politics is to be able to have that very thick skin and show up into the lion's den. It's a very difficult thing to do."
Simonsen also made the radical request that the housing authority engage in civil disobedience by refusing to allow very expensive homes to be rented out to Section 8 tenants, despite federal guidelines that allow any property with fair market rent to be included in the program.
Simonsen also noted that Antioch is not the only city with Section 8 concerns.
"We don't want to sit there and squeeze the Jell-o and have it pop out in Oakley or Brentwood or Pittsburg," said Simonsen. "This is a regional program and we want to work together, and the housing authority is the center of this whole thing. To Federal and Rudy, I know you want to move forward. Be bold; take action."
Glover then made final remarks, responding to some of what had been said.
"I am bold. I do have thick skin, and I am not above criticism. I feel that we are working to address those issues," said Glover. "We gave authority to our director to work closely with the city of Antioch to resolve these issues. I have heard your call; I've heard it well today. I don't agree with some of the things that were said but we don't have to agree on everything.
"I got to ask you the question, though, when you talk about racial issues that are out there, I need to know how I played the race card, especially as it relates to Section 8, when the largest percent is Hispanic, next to that is Caucasian, and third African-Americans.
"Anyone in this room that knows me knows that I don't play the race card, knows that the race card is the farthest thing for me. God knows I've had much opportunity to play the race card, but that is not who I am.
"I'm working for each and every one of you. If you have not seen that, you will in the future. You need to engage me, that when your issues are not being heard that you make that personal call. So I am committed to working with this council. I appreciate the comments, some of them, and will take the others very seriously. So thank you for allowing me to speak."
Those remarks earned Glover respectful applause. But then Mayor Freitas concluded the session with one last shot across the bow.
"There was a movie over 20 years ago called 'Network.' A very famous saying is, 'I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any more.' I don't apologize for being angry. Because I am very angry," said Freitas. "Because I hear from my citizens in our neighborhoods about the problems, and, unfortunately, the reality is that a lot of them are Section 8.
"I have to tell you, speaking as an elected official, talk can be very, very cheap. But in literally eight months, through your involvement, the City Council has prioritized in expending the resources to respond to community needs. Not everybody agrees with the direction of the City Council, but I believe it's the right direction."