Back to Zack.

I found Corinne Lambden’s Op-Ed in the Sun earlier this month so important, I want to republish it here (below). She calls for a Blue Ribbon Commission to be formed to investigate Mr. Zack’s death. I agree, don’t you?

There is widespread concern that an investigation into Mr. Zack’s death by a single man will be insufficient. Moreover. that a single man with decades of fire service behind him investigating a fire service, will be biased or conciliatory….a way for city council to dodge responsibility to act .

No matter how bright Mr. Grijalva is, we need a commission formed from the Best and the Brightest from several fields of expertise, not just the one, not just public safety (fire/police). We need independent experts and academics, and perhaps a smart ROC, with no political ties to our city council members, the IAFF Local 689, or any fire organization. … The output from such a commission would then provide what we-the-residents need: a deep-wide assessment of what went wrong on May 30th in clear and unambiguous (believable, fact-based) terms. And would provide what our Decision Maker in Chief (CM Russo) needs most: actionable intelligence.  A report from which he can make decisions that will make a difference, that will ensure reform at the AFD.

It’d be appropriate for Mr. Russo to build on his commitment to us for an independent investigation, to ensure the ‘independence’ of it, by now adding volunteers to work with Mr. Grijalva.


CALL TO ACTION: Email City Manager Russo at

1. Demand he add people to work with Mr. Grijalva, essentially creating a investigatory commission, team of people, to ensure the best outcome of the Zack suicide investigation.

2. If you fit the needs of a Blue Ribbon independent investigation into the Zack suicide, tell Mr. Russo you’d like to be on the commission.

3. If someone you know fits the needs of a Blue Ribbon independent investigation into the Zack suicide, suggest their name, provide an introduction.


To begin to understand more about the AFD, read the 2009 ICMA Report (International City/County Management Association data assessment report) on the Fire and EMS services here in Alameda. Download here.

Here’s Corinne’s Op-Ed:

Blue-Ribbon Panel Must Investigate Zack’s Death
Written by CONNIE LAMBDEN    Published: THURSDAY, 07 JULY 2011 – Alameda Sun


A man died needlessly on Memorial Day.

Raymond Zack’s death continues to elicit responses ranging from incredulity at the unfortunate sequence of decisions made by Alameda’s emergency-services, to mounting anger at the apparent inability of city authorities to grasp the breadth and depth of outrage harbored by citizens.

Many called for an independent investigation and have waited a month for the city’s response.

They expressed hope that, in the interest of impartiality and improving emergency response protocols, those responsible for putting this investigation in place would heed calls for a blue-ribbon panel.

A blue-ribbon panel (sometimes called a blue-ribbon commission) is an informal term generally used to describe a group of exceptional persons appointed to investigate or study a given question.

The term generally connotes a degree of independence from political influence or other authority, and such panels usually have no direct authority of their own.

Their value comes from their ability to use their expertise to issue findings or recommendations, which can then be used by those with decision-making power to act.

This panel could have included a doctor, a psychologist, a minister and one outside, independent representative from each branch of Public Safety.

Instead, Mayor Marie Gilmore announced last week that the city has asked Ruben Grijalva, a panel of one, to conduct the investigation.

Undoubtedly Grijalva’s resume is impressive. We sincerely hope that he will provide credible responses to unanswered questions that swirl around this case.

However, the public’s perception that someone with a background in fire fighting brings inherent bias to this investigation should not be dismissed or skeptical citizens are unlikely to accept his findings.

Our elected officials and City Manager John Russo must recognize that people remain extremely upset, suspicious and unwilling to accept an investigation conducted, with no checks and balances, by a single emergency-service professional.

They chafe under the paternalistic attitude of city officials, who take a “we know best” approach and seem to forget that their positions do not give them license to ignore the concerns of their constituents.

We are further concerned that, without a multi-disciplined panel, important information will be overlooked.

For example, will Grijalva, a non-medical professional, ask the right questions relating to Zack’s physical condition before he entered the water, during his immersion, and after he was brought to land?

Did emergency-service personnel follow correct medical protocols when Raymond Zack was finally brought to the beach by a Good Samaritan?

Why was there no AED on the ambulance?

Was an attempt made at the scene to establish if he was hypothermic, and if he was, were established protocols for treating hypothermic victims followed?

Did anyone ask his family if he was taking any medicines that might affect his physical condition?

What of ethical considerations?

Wouldn’t a mental health or a religious professional be better equipped than a former state fire marshal and director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire, to dig into the ethical propriety of the actions of Alameda’s First Responders?

The press release issued by city hall defines the scope of this investigation as “prepare a definitive and precise chronology of the events… and the actions taken by various public safety agencies involved in the incident.

“[Grijalva] will review Alameda’s current water rescue policies and make recommendations, if necessary, for future policy changes.”

This job definition provides no indication of who will be responsible for identifying negligence by public safety personnel, if any occurred.

It appears that Grijalva was asked to do no more than prepare a chronology of their actions. Does this imply that the city council and city manager do not anticipate taking disciplinary action?

We hope that the sorry turn of events on May 30 will not be memorialized as the whitewash of an episode that took a human life.

Connie Lambden is a member of the Alameda Citizens Task Force.


About Denise Lai

Alive. Swim (fly is the best). Walking with my dog (weims are the best). Life is good. Would prefer people understood negative externalities and prevented themselves from creating them. Feeling the love anyway. View all posts by Denise Lai

3 responses to “Back to Zack.

  • Denise Lai

    You’ve got 8 days to email CM Russo—according to his auto-reply email, he’s on holiday right now and will be back in the office on Wednesday, August 3.

  • alameda vigilante

    And Thursday, August 25, 2011 @ 9 AM, Russo is holding a “meet & greet” @ Mastick Senior Center Social Hall. Come & tell our new CM what you really think of the inadequate investigation into Raymond Zack’s death. Refreshments will be served.
    July 30 will be the 2-month anniversary of Zack’s death

  • Marie

    OK, I wrote to Russo. Let’s hope he listens.

    Is it true that politicians and city managers prefer snail mail, and that it is taken more seriously than e-mail? I’ve heard this but am skeptical.

    Thanks for the heads-up, Vigil and Denise.

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