Blogging Bayport Alameda

July 20, 2010

And how the cracks begin to show

Michele Ellson covered the story about the Firefighters discussing their role in the whole Lena Tam saga.    The releasing of documents and a timeline helped put into context the allegations made about Councilmember Lena Tam with regard to the Firefighters.  For those looking at the actual documents the black bars are redactions of email addresses and phone numbers.

Let’s revisit the allegations that were made around Lena Tam’s correspondence with and about the Firefighters.  Essentially the report contends that her email was an unlawful serial meetings (p. 7) because she:

On February 25, 2010, Tam sent an email (Exhibit M) to the City
Manager and the Fire Chief David Kapler stating that Tam had received a “letter from Paramedics Plus indicating that the City [was] considering removing the EMS services from Alameda’s Fire Department.” In this email, Tam carbon-copied all the Councilmembers and stated that she did not recall a direction from Council to remove the EMS from the Fire

although Tam’s email was directed to the City Manager, by carbon-copying the Council members, Tam used this email to seek to persuade the Council to reject any proposal to remove the EMS – something the Brown Act permits her to do in open session only.

Although it is debatable that the email written by Lena Tam was attempting to “persuade” the Council to reject any proposal to “remove the EMS,” according to the detailed letter by the Firefighters apparently it was not only Councilmember Tam that was confused about the direction given to include Alameda in the RFP process for Alameda County ambulance services.   The decision to outsource  EMS service in Alameda, currently being supplied by the Fire Department, should be a policy decision by the City Council and not an unilateral decision by the Interim City Manager.

The ICM also alleges that (p. 15):

On April 6, 2010, when the Council gave directions to the City Manager and the Human Resources Director with respect to labor negotiations with IAFF in closed session. (Exhibit X.) Despite having blind carbon copied IAFF Political Director Delbono on confidential internal emails related to those negotiations (Exhibits Y and Z), Tam did not recuse herself from the Council’s direction to staffwith respect to the lAFF labor negations.

Exhibits Y and Z are virtually identical with the exception of the addition of an exchange between Lena Tam and the ICM on Exhibit Z.   It appears that both copies were included in order to lend the appearance that there were multiple instances when the only “evidence” is contained in the same email thread.

While the narrative contends that the emails are “confidential internal emails” related to the Firefighters negotiation, it’s again, debatable that the information was “confidential” in nature.

All of the information in the ICM’s original email is public information, RFP processes are generally fairly transparent and contained within an RFP itself.  The information provided by Lena Tam is information that would have been widely known in the circles of people that would normally be interested in that particular topic (that the Firefighters Unions had met with the two candidates for the Alameda Co. RFP) and given that Jeff DelBono is a key leader in the Alameda Firefighters Union, he would have been well aware of whatever the ICM needed to “close the loop” with Dom[neick] Weaver.

And finally the ICM alleges that (p.17)

Finally, on February 25, 2010, Tam sent the City Manager and the other Councilmembers an email (Exhibit M) discussing a letter she had received from Paramedics Plus, which was competing for the right to provide EMS services in Alameda County and in the City of Alameda. On March 1, 2010, the City Manager sent an email (Exhibit Y) to the Mayor and the City Council, which referred to a letter from Paramedic Plus. The City Manager wrote that she had just received an email with respect to the Paramedic Plus letter from Dale Fanning, the Acting Director for EMS with the Alameda County Public Health Department (Gallant Dec. ~. 14). The City Manager further provided a detailed update on the County’s Request for Proposal (“RFP”) process for EMS services. Finally, the City Manager stated that “County staff [was] researching the potential ‘leak’ of County RFP information now” and that “[h]opefully, such ‘leak’ [would] not jeopardize their process.” Tam responded to the City Manager’s email on March 3, 2010 (Exhibit Y) addressing her email to the City Council, carbon-copying the Fire Chief, Human Resources Director Karen Willis, and the City Attorney, and blind-carbon-copying IAFF Political Director Delbono, Alameda County Supervisor Alice Lai-Bitker and Lai-Bitker’s chief-of-staff Shawn Wilson…

This one is the kicker because the narrative makes it sound as though Lena Tam has “leaked” some information.   And, worse, the way that the narrative is structured it makes it sound as though the email listed in Exhibit M might be the information “leaked.”  Conveniently, the Exhibits only reproduce the email, but not the letter referenced in the email.   Because keeping it hidden away makes it seem as though there might be some privileged information worthy of being “leaked.”  Except for the fact that the letter from Paramedics Plus referenced in Exhibit M was carbon copied to Jeff Delbono and Domenick Weaver.   The letter essentially says that Paramedics Plus, a for profit company that eventually won the RFP to provide ambulance services for Alameda Co. recommend that the City of Alameda NOT outsource its ambulance service because there would be no way for a private company to perform the same services at a more competitive rate.

And given the correspondence that was submitted by the Firefighters about the timeline in all this, Councilmember Tam was not acting on behalf of the Firefighters or Firefighters Union, but rather on behalf of the City of Alameda.   Sometime in 2009 the ICM and/or Fire Chief had determined that they wanted to outsource the City of Alameda’s ambulance service to a private company without consulting the City Council on such an issue.   Given that people tend to get really concerned about levels of service for public services like police, fire, and paramedics this is a topic that should not be decided upon by an unelected bureaucrat, but rather a policy decision that the majority of the City Council agrees should be examined with an appropriate amount of public input to help guide their decision.

While its always good to get a check-in about the cost-effectiveness of our City services, piggybacking on an RFP without consulting the City Council is not transparency or good government.


  1. Lauren,

    Supposedly, Alameda has a “Strong City Manager” form of government, where the City Manager is given the responsibility and the power, the independence, to actually and practically MANAGE city services and development projects. As someone who has experienced EMS services here and in Oakland and in San Francisco, I can tell you personally that giving EMS to the Fire Department is ridiculously inefficient and very expensive, costing almost double to deploy a big fire engine and seven EMTs than an ambulance and 2-3 EMTs max. The Fire union wants to protect jobs and the inefficiency of the status quo. Tam sides with them. Fine, but should she interfere with the hard work of the ICM?

    Tam represents the West End, which has been hurting since Base Closure, and I sympathize. But she has introduced a layer of bitterness and division, made more so by her support of SunCal, that simply wasn’t here even ten years ago. Our differences were once good natured, and a community spirit was here that tended to prevent the personal attacks, such as yours against the ICM. I have also been guilty of such personal attacks, and that’s just not Alameda. So I apologize.

    When I was a newbie, until just a year or two ago, I contended with the Preservationists until I came to understand the history, and just how badly Utah Construction had raped the island. Why my client, Ron Cowan, had been run out of town on a rail, rather than just being stoned in the public square. By now I can appreciate their point of view. I once walked the belt line with Jean Sweeney and saw her vision, what a wonderful park it could be, and then heard that the Mayor was plotting to sell it off to housing developers to bring in more property taxes for a bloated city payroll. Please, slow down and smell the roses, instead of all the exhaust fumes that will come from those 4500 homes.

    Comment by Dennis Green/ZenDada — July 20, 2010 @ 7:01 am

  2. Dennis: According to the contractor who was ultimately awarded the Alameda County paramedics service contract, Paramedics Plus, Alameda’s paramedic service as run by the Alameda Fire Department is extremely cost effective and well run.

    Apparently even with the economies of scale, Paramedics Plus didn’t feel as though they would be able to duplicate the level of service currently provided by AFD for a lower cost.

    As to Lena Tam representing the West End, technically all the Council people should represent the West End as well as all areas of Alameda. Alameda does not have district elections so not one individual is the sole representative for this area of Alameda.

    Comment by Lauren Do — July 20, 2010 @ 7:17 am

  3. Also, from my research there is no such thing as a “strong city manager” form of government. What Alameda has is the council-manager form of government as opposed to the mayor-council form of government. There are variations on the mayor-council form (strong vs weak).

    The appointment of a strong City Manager vs a weak City Manager is dependent on the policy decisions of the City Council. Using past history I believe that Jim Flint would be the best example of a strong City Manager that apparently the City Council did not like and Debra Kurita is an example of a more deferential (or weak) City Manager, which the Council also did not like.

    Comment by Lauren Do — July 20, 2010 @ 7:25 am

  4. Paramedics Plus said they couldn’t serve Alameda economically because of its island nature, and the difficult access/egress. Doesn’t mean another, perhaps smaller firm couldn’t have a permanent crew established on-island and do a more economical job of it.

    Although I’m a Kaiser patient, I’ve been taken by Alameda Fire directly to Alameda Hospital E.R. rather than directly to Kaiser Oakland, when the bridge is up, costing Kaiser far more in the process.

    As for Strong City Manager, all it means is that the Mayor is not the Chief Executive, giving direction on every issue to the City Manager. I worked with Bill Norton, who was a tyrant, and with Jim Flynt, who was dynamic and very effective, but consulted constantly with the citizens, because ultimately, tis up to the voters the kind of government we get, since we elect the Mayor and City Council and can throw the rascals out.

    Technically, we may have city-wide rather than district or neighborhood reps, but the tradition since base closure was announced is that the West End rep is more partisan, looking out for that part of town, sometimes to the detriment of the rest of the island. Tony was like that too when he was C.C. member.

    Comment by Dennis Green/ZenDada — July 20, 2010 @ 7:43 am

  5. Dennis: if it’s true that a smaller operation could run the paramedic service better and more cheaply, then the process should be for the City Council to give direction to the City Manager to create an RFP to seek out those specific companies, not to piggy back on an existing RFP for all Alameda County paramedic services, a decision that was made unilaterally by the ICM.

    It was the decision to piggy back that elicited the letter from Paramedics Plus to the City of Alameda saying that they could not provide the same level of service better or more cheaply.

    Comment by Lauren Do — July 20, 2010 @ 7:50 am

  6. The new mellower Dennis with no personal attacks? This is you on July 19th from the infamous Action Alameda site…

    “And by the way, Michele Ellson, who runs a blog, “The Island,” she calls a “News Web Site,” is now blocking all my posts to her discussion threads. She allows all sorts of Ash Holes to comment, (including one JS), who have no direct experience in politics or have ever contributed anything more to Alameda than their reckless opinions, and as I told her, I don’t care, and won’t miss that “forum,” as it is so toxic you wouldn’t want to swim in her lagoon.”

    Dennis Green

    Comment by Hot R — July 20, 2010 @ 8:03 am

  7. Doesn’t Lena Tam live in the East End within a few blocks of the bridge to Harbor Bay. (I don’t want to post her address online).

    Comment by John — July 20, 2010 @ 8:07 am

  8. Well, as a Born Again Blogster, I woke up this morning with a faint memory of what Alameda used to be like, that good-natured small town feeling. I miss it, and realized this morning that I have contributed to the bitterness and the personal attacks that are so much easier (and safer) online than in person. I don’t hope to see that community spirit here ever again, but I’m going to do my very best not to add to the new spirit that seems to have become the dominant mode of communication here in the past five or six years. I saw the same thing happen in Santa Barbara, where I lived for two decades, Sixties and Seventies, as the town became even more affluent, the old spirit of civility disappeared. R.I.P.

    Comment by Dennis Green/ZenDada — July 20, 2010 @ 9:17 am

  9. 1, 7: Lauren is absolutely correct. Alameda has citywide elections, not districts, which is best, IMHO. While Tony Daysog does live just off Webster Street, no current members of the council live that close to the West End.

    How Lena Tam somehow becomes the representative for the West End in DG’s estimation is beyond my comprehension: he does not support his claim that “Tam represents the West End.” If, however, his claim is based on residential information, it is incorrect by three council members.

    In fact, Marie Gilmore, Doug deHaan, and Frank Matarrse live the closest to Webster Street, followed by Lena Tam and Beverly Johnson, who live on the East End or beyond, much farther away from Webster Street.

    Comment by Jon Spangler — July 20, 2010 @ 9:19 am

  10. As I read the IAFF documents, the ICM acted unilaterally in July 2009 (without Council direction) to join the county’s RFP for ambulance services and also without notifying the IAFF as required by law.

    In February 2010, Lena Tam responded to the IAFF’s several attempts to inform the entire City Council and the ICM of the IAFF’s concerns and proposals. She refers to letters provided by the IAFF and available as public docs from Alameda County, and is subsequently accused of violating closed-session confidentiality. And somehow, by cc’ing or Bcc’ing IAFF reps who initiated the contacts with the council and the city nine months earlier after the ICM apparently violated state law. Tam is guilty of Brown Act violations?

    I don’t get it. If the City’s letters were available to the IAFF as public documents under the Brown Act, how can they be subsequently “classified” as confidential?

    And doesn’t Lena Tam’s communication with the ICM and her colleagues this spring look an awful lot like she is trying to keep the City from violating city procedures, the Brown Act, and other state laws? It does to me.

    And Tam was merely following up on the IAFF’s communications about possibly illegal actions by the city and/or ICM in seeking to join the county’s RFP without contacting the IAFF, as required.

    I think the allegations may be going in the wrong direction here…

    Comment by Jon Spangler — July 20, 2010 @ 9:41 am

  11. Yes, of course you’re right, Jon. Lena in fact is one of my neighbors. No self-respecting person of Chinese descent would live anywhere else. We call this “Little Chinatown.” But Lena tends to take a greater interest in the West End as that is the gateway to Oakland Chinatown. High Street is not, nor even the Fruitvale Bridge. In Alameda, where a City Rep lives is not the point. Chuck Corica lived a few blocks from me, and Godfathered Measure A back in the Seventies and was rewarded with two terms as mayor and a golf course!

    I suspect all those who voted for Measure B, some 3,000 (?) voters, that 15%, were all newer arrivals, who didn’t understand or appreciate the history of development, and shoddy development, in Alameda. Those ramshackle apt. buildings near “Towne Centre,” for example, were built by Utah Construction. Ticky-Tack high rise…

    Comment by Dennis Green/ZenDada — July 20, 2010 @ 9:46 am

  12. BTW, when I moved here in ’88, the East End was where all the pressure was, with Fernside up in arms, because Ron was still marketing Village Four and building Village Five in Harbor Bay. Big issue was all that traffic coming through Otis or Fernside to the High Street bridge. That’s why Ron was so determined to develop the HB Ferry to SF. The big apt. buildings and HB brought forth Measure A.

    Most of Village Five, some 220 homes, were purchased by Chinese refugees from Shanghai going to the main government. Big problems between housewives who belonged to the Audubon Society seeing out their kitchen windows Chinese grandmothers collecting duck eggs around the lagoons. They asked for our help and I advised them to offer some classes in calligraphy and T’ai Chi at their community center. But the resentments were so harsh that those refugee families sold as soon as they could and moved to the main island. I’ve been a student of Chinese culture since 1969, so understand that some of our tensions are in an ethnic divide. I find my Chinese neighbors incredibly gracious and friendly, if not especially out-going. And I hope Lena finds herself in clear water very soon.

    But I also hope the animosity directed against the ICM also lessens soon. Won’t help the City stay out of bankruptcy!

    Comment by Dennis Green/ZenDada — July 20, 2010 @ 10:13 am

  13. OK. That makes nearly half the comments on this thread from Dennis Green. I’m just saying.

    Comment by Enough — July 20, 2010 @ 10:31 am

  14. OK, Enough is enough. I’ll stifle.

    Tic a’ Lock!

    Comment by Dennis Green/ZenDada — July 20, 2010 @ 10:34 am

  15. 24 minutes … just saying ….

    Comment by Anne DeBardeleben — July 20, 2010 @ 10:54 am

  16. I am not Chinese, I live within 100 ft of Lena Tam’s house, and I have never heard the neighborhood referred to as “Little Chinatown.”

    Comment by John — July 20, 2010 @ 2:45 pm

  17. 3….2….1….

    Comment by Enough — July 20, 2010 @ 2:48 pm

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