Blogging Bayport Alameda

October 20, 2017

Process of elimination

Filed under: Alameda — Lauren Do @ 6:00 am

As with all issues there are many sides to the story, so far we’ve only heard really the one side which was leaked by someone to an notoriously union unfriendly opinion writer at the East Bay Times, now comes some actual reporting on some of the, to put it lightly, quirky process that happened with the hiring of the Fire Chief.

As an aside, I follow Alameda politics probably more closely than the average bear, but when the whole fire chief recruitment drama started to reveal itself I had a moment of, “uh, we’re hiring a new fire chief?”  That’s how opaque this process has been.  Oh, as an aside, since I went searching for the recruitment brochure for the Fire Chief job, I also learned that there was a open search for a new Public Works director as well.  This I also did not know about until I went looking for related information.

Anyway.

Steven Tavares for the Alameda Magazine, highlights:

[T]he process leading up to Keimach’s selection of [Ed Rodriguez] has created a deep rift between the city manager and the leadership of the Alameda International Association of Firefighters, or IAFF, Local 689, which is perhaps the most politically influential group in the city.

In an interview, firefighters union President Jeff Del Bono alleged that the city’s recruitment and interview process led by Keimach was a sham from the start. “The whole thing was not transparent, and she was disingenuous about the process,” he said of the city manager. “None of it was honest.”

Before she announced her choice, Keimach was under significant pressure to select Domenick Weaver, a former firefighters union president and current Alameda fire captain, as the new chief. Weaver was initially the only in-house candidate for the job, and he had secured not only the union’s backing, but also letters of support from Assemblymember Rob Bonta, firefighter unions in Oakland and San Francisco, former Alameda Mayor Marie Gilmore, and former City Manager John Russo.

At one point, with Long’s retirement date quickly approaching and before Keimach made her decision on a permanent replacement, Del Bono suggested that the city manager appoint Weaver as acting fire chief. Keimach, according to Del Bono, opposed the idea, arguing that it would give Weaver an unfair advantage over other candidates. Instead, Keimach appointed Division Chief Ricci Zombeck.

But the move incensed Del Bono and union leaders after they learned that Keimach gave Zombeck an interview for the permanent chief’s job after she appointed him interim chief. The union viewed it as a double-cross. “I told her, ‘You’re just lying here,’ ” said Del Bono. “She’s delusional. There’s not a lot of trust there. It really makes it hard to work with somebody that nobody trusts.”

In an interview, Keimach denied Del Bono’s characterization about how she chose Zombeck as acting fire chief, saying he routinely served as acting chief when Long was unavailable and that it was “logical to pick him.” [italics added]

So the part that I italicized is the portion where I think the bad feeling stem.  Not the fact that Domenick Weaver was not chosen, but that the City Manager told the union that she didn’t want any candidate to have an unfair advantage in the hiring process which is a completely fair reasoning, but then she unilaterally added the person that she did appoint to the Acting Fire Chief job to a spot as a final candidate for the Fire Chief position.  Based on the letter from Domenick Weaver to the City Manager when he pulled his name for consideration as one of three finalists, the individual appointed as Acting Fire Chief had been excluded by the selection panel.

And then there’s this, which contradicts the bullet point in the City Manager’s letter that she would have a “quantitatively positive” review:

But the war of words with the firefighters’ union isn’t the only controversy involving Keimach recently. After businesses and residents at Alameda Point were left without potable water for five days in September, some public officials questioned whether Keimach was sufficiently attentive during the crisis. Shortly after the city ordered people and businesses to cease using the contaminated water, Keimach spent the next few days in Sacramento at League of California Cities convention.

A few days later, the city council held a closed-door meeting to discuss Keimach’s job performance.

It is notable that after the Alameda Point water fiasco, the person who was consistently lauded was not the City Manager, but rather Alameda Point Chief Operating Officer: Jennifer Ott.

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24 Comments »

  1. So now we have a union friendly reporter getting another side to the story. Guessing somewhere in the middle lies what actually happened. For example, I find it hard to believe there was one only in house candidate for job. In the end, regardless of the process leading up to appointment of the new Fire Chief it is clear that the City Manager and City Council will be at odds for the remainder of electeds tenure. Not the best circumstances for effective governance as Alameda faces difficult decisions in 2018.

    Comment by Mike McMahon — October 20, 2017 @ 7:24 am

    • Re there being a single in house candidate, Keimach’s Oct 2 letter mentions pressure put on some candidates to withdraw their applications.

      Comment by MP — October 20, 2017 @ 7:50 am

  2. Any chance we will see copies any letters of recommendation/reference written by member(s) of the City Council (and the dates of those letter(s))? I think there was mention of such letters.

    Comment by MP — October 20, 2017 @ 7:54 am

  3. For me, could it have been that the city manager gave that other guy a chance as a concession to the unions, but because she chose an external candidate, they’re pissed off about it? I’m all kinds of mad that this is clouding our city’s ability to deal with the big problems we have, that the reputation of our city council has come under investigation and that even the union’s influence has been compromised by this story. It seems as though some of the players cannot see the forest through the trees and understand how some decisions have a larger, more long term impacts.

    I’m hoping that the union realizes that our region has some of the most well educated folks and if they want to compete for these top leadership positions that pay upwards of $240,000 that they’re going to have to help their employees get advanced degrees. I wish that wasn’t the case because the unions do an amazing job of training, but that’s the way the job market is. That said, could the city manager have found a way to save the city some money and offered a lower pay for the lack of education? Would the fire union have even tolerated that as an option? It seems to me that there were lost opportunities for the kind of collaboration in decision making that makes our city great. At the same time, how are we going to retain and attract great city managers if we keep having political drama around them? We can do better.

    Comment by Angela — October 20, 2017 @ 8:00 am

    • If you’re referring to the initial selection of three finalists that was determined by a selection panel, not the City Manager. If the “other guy” you’re referring to was the person appointing as acting Fire Chief, then I don’t think the union viewed that as a concession as they had already made it clear that they were okay with the only internal candidate that moved to the finalist position.

      Is this something for everyone to have lost their collective shit over, definitely not. But the shots were fired via the Bornstein piece and now we’ll (by we I mean the rest of us average Alamedans) have to see how everything lands. It’s going to be gross and embarrassing, but we made it through the David Kapler and Ann Marie Gallant drama, we’ll survive this too.

      Comment by Lauren Do — October 20, 2017 @ 9:05 am

  4. Leaving aside for the moment the question of whether City Councilmember(s) attempted to influence the City Manager’s new fire chief appointment in violation of City Charter 7-3, or whether City Charter 7-3 should be ditched and the appointment of a fire chief be made by or subject to political influence by the City Council, let’s suppose (I don’t know, it is supposition) that the City Manager is “Under Fire” (from the title of Steven Tavares’s Oct. 17 article) not entirely, and perhaps not even primarily, because of the “process” that led to the selection of new Chief Rodriguez, but rather, at least in part, and maybe primarily, because of who she appointed, i.e. Rodriguez and not the in-house candidate backed by IAFF, Local 689. We in the peanut gallery have not seen the letters of recommendation backing this or that candidate, and were not in on the meetings in which this or that candidate was promoted or this or that argument made. It seems significant, however, that in his earlier “actual reporting” on this issue – indeed before the new fire chief appointment was announced – Steven Tavares wrote, on September 27, of “enormous pressure” put on City Manager Keimach to choose a particular individual, as opposed, say, to pressure put on Keimach to reform the “process” by which she was making her decision (one entrusted to her by the City Charter): “But Keimach, who was only hired in March 2016, is facing enormous pressure to choose the candidate backed by the Alameda International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) Union Local 689, a number of elected city officials, and Assemblymember Rob Bonta.” Anyway, without deciding, and only supposing for purposes of discussion, that some or most of the “fire” directed at the City Manager is because she did not choose the Local 689 backed in-house candidate, as opposed to process issues, what do others in the peanut gallery think would be the reasons why Local 689 backed (perhaps “strongly”) an in-house candidate or any particular in-house candidate? Why was that so important to Local 689 (again only assuming it was important at all)?

    Comment by MP — October 20, 2017 @ 9:39 am

    • I’m getting to the point of not giving a shit anymore about any of these players, but for the sake of argument I don’t see anything wrong with letters of recommendation or even face to face meetings to say, “hey I think this guy would be a great Fire Chief.” Is that “pressure” to appoint a specific individual? Sure. Is that improperly interfering to the extend that it violates the City Charter? I don’t think so.

      If the City Manager didn’t want to feel “pressured” she could just take the meetings, take the letters and promptly place both into her mental round file with a big “Noted” stamp. If she’s doing a good enough job as she believes herself to be doing then this issue would just be a blip on her radar of much more complex and complicated City issues.

      Comment by Lauren Do — October 20, 2017 @ 9:49 am

      • Letters of recommendations would not be considered undue influence, but threatening to fire a City Manager because she didn’t appoint Domenick Weaver, the former president of the Firefighters union, could be construed as violating the Charter. The City Charter Section 7-3 has specific language because of prior history of graft and cronyism that lead to city officers going to jail. This happened more than 100 years ago.

        Comment by BarbaraK — October 20, 2017 @ 10:34 am

        • This is the section from the Bornstein piece:

          A day later, in a conversation with Police Chief Paul Rolleri, Oddie threatened Keimach’s job.

          “He said, ‘well she better do the right thing,’” Rolleri recalled. “‘There are already two council members who are ready to fire her if she doesn’t.’”

          The police chief was stunned when he realized “they’re actually thinking about canning her if she doesn’t pick the right guy.”

          This does not say “if she doesn’t appoint Domenick Weaver, there are three votes to fire her.” Every thing that we assume the actual quote to mean is speculation and I imagine would not hold up as determinant of guilt in a court of law.

          Comment by Lauren Do — October 20, 2017 @ 11:09 am

        • What do you think that quote means?

          Comment by dave — October 20, 2017 @ 11:44 am

        • What I think is irrelevant. If the goal is removal of a City Council member per the City Charter it’s going to need to be more ironclad that what I or what you or what anyone “feels” or “thinks” it means. It will need to go beyond speculation and will need hard evidence to support the subtext.

          Comment by Lauren Do — October 20, 2017 @ 12:11 pm

        • The following were related in the Borenstein article: “Writing to Keimach on official city letterhead, Oddie ‘strongly’ recommended that she pick Weaver. . . Separately, Oddie and Vella, in a private meeting with the city manager, suggested, as Keimach recounted in her letter, that ‘the selection of their candidate would be in the interest of labor peace and would avoid an incident similar to the one involving Raymond Zack.'”

          So the question for the independent investigator to answer is whether the points in Borentsein’s article fall within Sec 7-3 of the City Charter (“An attempt by a Councilmember to influence the City Manager in the making of any appointment or the purchase of any materials or supplies shall subject such Councilmember to removal from office
          for malfeasance.”)

          So, did a Councilmember attempt to influence the City Manager in selection of the next fire chief? Yes or no? The question is not “did a Councilmember attempt to threaten or pressure the City Manager” but rather “did a Councilmember attempt to influence the City Manager”.

          That’s the heart of the matter for the independent investigator.

          Comment by Uncle Charley — October 20, 2017 @ 12:17 pm

        • 100 years ago? Alameda CM B.Ray Fritz was sent to San Quentin in 1936. My dad was at Alameda HIgh that year. My grand-dad told us about the fistfights in City Hall.

          Comment by vigi — October 20, 2017 @ 1:51 pm

        • Memo to LDO: In a court of law [or in front of a grand jury], Paul Rolleri would be deposed and would probably be asked what HE thought it meant. He was there. We were not.

          Comment by vigi — October 20, 2017 @ 1:55 pm

        • And the conclusion that people are drawing: that the statement meant that Keimach would be fired if Domenic Weaver were not hired as Fire Chief; would still be speculation and not conclusive evidence.

          Comment by Lauren Do — October 20, 2017 @ 5:13 pm

      • The first sentence of City Charter 7-3 is, “Neither the Council nor any of the members thereof shall interfere with the execution by the City Manager of his or her powers and duties.” To “interfere”, or even if you want to add the qualifier “improperly” interfere, with City Manager duties can be something that is difficult to define. Assemblyman Rob Bonta seemed to be suggesting in his comments to the City Council that the Councilmembers in question were merely lending much needed information or insight to the City Manager as she made this important decision. (Side note: what insight? what information? I though he was a bit vague in describing what the Councilmembers in question – one of whom he employs – actually told the City Manager). The argument seems to be that the Councilmembers, far from interfering or “improperly” interfering with the City Manager’s duties, were only there to help.

        The last sentence of City Charter Article 7, Section 3, however, is the one that most directly and specifically applies to this situation. It does not address the City Manager’s duties generally, or the potentially difficult to define concept of “interference” with any of them, but rather with “attempts” by a Councilmember to “influence” the City Manager in the exercise of her appointment and procurement duties: “An attempt by a Councilmember to influence the City Manager in the making of any appointment or the purchase of any materials or supplies shall subject such Councilmember to removal from office for malfeasance.” Note the absence of any express qualifier that the “attempt…to influence” be “improper”.

        Perhaps the word “improper” should be read into that sentence, whereby something more than an attempt to influence the appointment decision would be required, e.g. an attempt by a Councilmember to influence the City Manager by means of, or plus, threatening to vote to terminate the City Manager’s contract if she does not appoint the desired fire chief. Calling that an “improper” attempt to influence, and requiring something like an express threat to the City Manager’s job in order to establish a violation of the last sentence of 7-3, however, has some problems.

        The simple language of the last sentence of 7-3 does not include the word “improper”, and a reasonable reading of it is that it does not contain an additional, implied, requirement of impropriety, but rather that the attempt to influence, by itself, is what is improper: “An attempt by a Councilmember to influence the City Manager in the making of any appointment…” Moreover, the City Manager and Councilmembers all know that the Council has the power to hire and fire the City Manager. The last sentence of 7-3 was likely written with that in mind. It was probably also written with the thought that it is much easier to understand, comply with, and enforce and better furthers the goal of ensuring the City Manager’s independence in making appointment and procurement decisions if the prohibition on attempts to influence those decision is stated clearly without additional requirements that the attempt be ‘improper” or that the Council’s power to fire the City Manager be brought to bear on the City Manager expressly in order for the attempt to influence to constitute a violation of the Charter.

        Comment by MP — October 20, 2017 @ 2:56 pm

  5. so far I haven’t even heard the word “alleged”, or read it used in any of the articles, am I missing something?

    Comment by JohnP.TrumpisnotmyPresident. — October 20, 2017 @ 11:02 am

  6. I would think that any City Manager who fails to “Do the right thing” may be in the wrong job.

    Comment by dc — October 20, 2017 @ 12:28 pm

  7. The Merry Go Round blog has the letters. Read the one by Mr Weaver himself. It’s quite revealing….

    Among other things, he withdraws his name from consideration. Why is there now a controversy over his non appointment after he withdrew?

    But read the letter. It’s a doozy

    Comment by dave — October 20, 2017 @ 5:06 pm

  8. Oh Lauren I have lost so much respect for you over this issue. You completely disregard Borenstein but completely embrace Tavares. Neither article is loaded with facts, no smoking gun. Borenstein at least has the police chief backing up certain statements. Del Bono is not a reliable witness to events. He has a dog in this fight. He and his wife have their own view of the situation that just doesn’t match the facts.

    Comment by Eyeroll — October 23, 2017 @ 9:35 am

  9. Want the untold truth behind the City Managers motives?  Well it’s easy!  Her job was on the line, so she fabricated stories, making false accusations towards city councilmembers, thus shifting the attention from her to them.  This is not good government.  (Remember Gallant vs Tam).  It’s a similar play out of the same old playbook.  

    Why could she not speak on facts, rather than rumors and hearsay?  Is she that selfish and worried about her own job, that she is willing to tarnish the reputation of others?  I believe so after reading this article.  It opened my eyes to the other side of the story.  A side that chronologically explains her evaluation process, to why it has been delayed, to why the evaluator resigned, and now to our current state of affairs.  

    The City council’s dissatisfaction with Keimach began well before she decided not to hire Weaver, who actually withdrew himself from the horrendous process before any announcement was made.  Keimach knew of her possible demise with the draft of her job performance, dated on August 20th, from her evaluator, Rob Gould.  This occurred before the interviews for the new fire chief began.  Then on September 28th, Gould suddenly quit, for unknown reasons.  Finally, on October 2, the city manager decided to release her own opinion through her old friend Dan Borenstein.  

    What’s even more bullshit, is she knew what her preliminary evaluations already looked like back in August.  The public should be perturbed at the fact that she had access to them, and formed prejudices on those councilmember’s that rated her not so favorably.  

    There are lots of gaps to be filled, along with some untold truths.  Only time will tell.

    https://m.eastbayexpress.com/oakland/going-on-the-offensive/Content?oid=10238915

    Comment by Rich Gozyna — October 25, 2017 @ 12:34 pm


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