Blogging Bayport Alameda

February 5, 2018

Cost of service

Filed under: Alameda — Lauren Do @ 6:05 am

How much does it cost the average City Council member to preemptively defend against allegations of possible wrongdoing?

If you’re Malia Vella, the amount is — so far — $22,000.  Which is the amount that has been reported as paid to a San Francisco law firm.  Considering that she is not running for City Council this year having won her seat only two years ago, the only obvious expense this could be paying for is the whole City Manager-gate.  What was it that we all agreed to call it again?  Ah well.

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However, if you’re Jim Oddie who is faced with more than just assumptions of connections to this or that particular group, you’re going to be spending a lot more money.  And you’re going to hire the same law firm who handled former City Council member Lena Tam’s pre-emptive defense and was able to claw back her legal expenses from the City of Alameda.  $27,000 has already been paid and another $7000 is outstanding.

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Since none of us really know what occurred in this situation, I’m not making any judgments about whether what Jim Oddie or Malia Vella did was wrong or right, but what these costs that are incurred does is that it definitely makes it much harder for the average person to actually want to do something like serve on a City Council.  I couldn’t even fathom the stress of a legal bill that both Jim Oddie and Malia Vella have paid out and the requirement to try to fundraise to pay off that amount of money so that it doesn’t come out of your personal account.  These sorts of incidents really does put the idea of serving your city out of the hands of regular people.


  1. Most def, we does need to get some irregularities people’s.

    Comment by Jack — February 5, 2018 @ 7:20 am

  2. This may also be indicative of how valuable the seats on the City Council are viewed. Both Councilmembers raised significant funds for their respective campaigns, and not all of it from small individual donors. Perhaps there is confidence that the City will indemnify the attorneys fees in the end or perhaps there is confidence that some of the same campaign donors (and recall that at least one of those institutional donors is the one on behalf of which the Councilmembers’ advocacy was allegedly undertaken) will again come through.

    The legal rules that have been raised publicly in this case are not entirely clear and only more so without knowing all the underlying facts. The First Amendment likely has an impact on how enforceable the express lines drawn in the City Charter are. The amount of fees incurred may reflect that uncertainty somewhat (i.e. fees spent simply researching the boundaries of the law), but we can’t really give much of an educated guess about where the fees have been spent without knowing more about what actions have been taken in the investigation (e.g. preparing for or defending interviews, record requests, etc.). If one is going to go through a process like this with legal counsel, the amounts reported so far do not seem wildly off base.

    I’d be interested in knowing how previous department head selections have been made and the extent to which, and in what manner, direct pressure, if any, has been applied to the City Manager by Councilmembers. Although Alameda has had more than its fair share of City Manager/Council controversy and accusations of rule-breaking, if what happened in this case represents clear pushing beyond past precedent, it shouldn’t be a big surprise that we ended up where we did.

    I’d rather hope this does not all end up in court (any part of it: alleged Charter violations or claims by the City Manager), but do think that we should get a full explanation of what is found in the investigation.

    Comment by MP — February 5, 2018 @ 7:54 am

  3. And even if you do not have legal challenges and you are unable to significantly fund raise for your campaigns, you are left with debt. Going into the 2018 election Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft has over $25,000 in outstanding personal loans to her political action committee.

    Comment by Mike McMahon — February 5, 2018 @ 7:56 am

  4. Sullwold has some interesting color on this sitch:

    Comment by dave — February 5, 2018 @ 8:16 am

  5. Well if Council members don’t over step their authority they won’t have legal bills. And most people running for city council are honest people who want to serve. The others are out for themselves and their own agenda.

    Comment by Eyeroll — February 5, 2018 @ 11:21 am

  6. Well so much for any regular working stiffs like me ever being on that council. The pay is shit, the hours suck, and now this?

    Comment by Rod — February 5, 2018 @ 1:43 pm

    • Has a council member ever had to pay legal fees for their own malfeasance?

      Tam lawyered up despite never being charged, but he colleagues voted to pay her bills anyway.

      Vella & Oddie are already cashing checks for theirs:

      So sign up, Rod, you’re in the clear.

      Comment by dave — February 5, 2018 @ 2:27 pm

      • If I’m going to be working for less than minimum wage way past midnight on a school night, there needs to be alcohol and tipping involved! Alcohol and politics mix well enough, but tipping might be less than ethical.

        Comment by Rod — February 6, 2018 @ 9:14 am

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