Blogging Bayport Alameda

May 4, 2018

A failure to collaborate

Filed under: Alameda — Lauren Do @ 6:04 am

You know, for a long time I felt as though the job of the City Council was a pretty difficult one that required a lot of time and attention from people, particularly those who may have full-time jobs and aren’t retired or similar.   But after reading the report from the independent investigator it seems like the City Council actually has too much time on its hands and aren’t pre-occupied enough with full-time jobs, families, and hobbies.

Like, would we really be in this mess of a mess if the majority of the City Council didn’t feel the need to micromanage every single bit of City business?  While I totally agree that the City Council should be entitled to an opinion about who gets hired, do we really need to have THAT many meetings and back and forth garbage about one tiny piece of running City business?  This is a Council that has struggled to get through a full agenda in the allotted time, do they really need to be interfering in what is day-to-day business of City staff?

Based on the report it’s apparent that City Manager Jill Keimach felt like she was under a lot of pressure with regard to the Fire Chief search.

Side note: I was super uncomfortable with the characterizations of Jill Keimach’s state of mind by the independent investigator.  At one point — based on the context of the narrative — it seemed as though Jim Oddie went through an equally paranoid and suspicious patch but those characterizations weren’t as problematic.

Anyway. Jill Keimach appeared to have felt as though she was under a lot of pressure which — obviously — she was.  This is neither an indictment nor an excuse.   At work, we all feel a certain amount of pressure at any given point in our careers, it’s all part of the job.  Perhaps Jill Keimach would have been better prepared to handle that specific pressure point if the City Council had actually DONE ITS JOB and completed her performance review before the whole Fire Chief search kicked off.  It just goes back again to how incredibly dysfunctional this City Council is as a body.  Here’s the section about the City Manager evaluation process.  Apparently it was delayed and delayed because the City Council couldn’t decide on a process, because, of course they couldn’t.  I would guess that had Jill Keimach had her evaluation in hand prior to this Fire Chief business, maybe the scenarios that followed could have been largely averted:

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By the way, some super shady behavior from Jim Oddie about the scheduling before his trip to South Korean with Trish Spencer.

Anyway, why is it so difficult to decide on a performance evaluation for the highest ranking staff person at the City?  Why?  The subcommittee, which the City Council agreed to work on the dammed thing, said to hire a labor law firm.  Apparently there was not enough consensus to that because: of course not.  Why would something as imminently practical as hiring an outside firm be even considered by the Council majority?  Then when they finally hired someone (who ended up getting dragged into the Fire Chief hiring mess too) that person eventually quit.  Because: of course.

At this point I’m just at the stage of: wow.  Even though individually a lot of the City Council members have a lot to recommend them, this Council make up, as it stands, is just too dysfunctional to actually do anything collaborative at all.  Even do basic crap like EVALUATE ONE OF ONLY THREE DIRECT REPORTS.

14 Comments »

  1. I agree with your general take. I don’t think we want or need the all-politics-all-the-time model of Councilmember constantly inserting themselves in the appointment process (or other city administration affairs not covered in this report). Residents don’t even have enough time to follow the big stuff, let alone have to worry about Councilmembers engaging in favoritism on non-legislative matters behind closed doors. I would not favor weakening the City Charter in that respect. If anything, the report suggestions that the restraints in the City Charter may be expanded consistent with the Constitution so long as it is done so with sufficient specificity.

    Comment by MP — May 4, 2018 @ 7:21 am

  2. I was also struck by the report mentioning Keimach’s “anxiety”. That’s why I thought it was a little sad to see Ms. Vella seize on that and publish it all over the internet in her press release claiming vindication: “According to the independent investigator, the allegations against me likely stemmed from Ms. Keimach’s “heightened anxiety level,” which “interfered with her ability to consider legitimate concerns being raised by councilmembers about the process[.]”

    One thing that comes through in the report is an element of bullying that reached (and was also perpetuated to some extent by) Councilmembers. According to the report, Ms. Vella herself was concerned about it and complained about the volume of calls from [redacted] about the fire chief issue. But she too may be participating in some form of bullying with her own press release.

    One aspect of Vella’s press release surely goes too far. In claiming vindication from the Jenkins report, Vella says, “I had faith that through Mr. Jenkins’s independent investigation the truth would come out. It has.”

    Well, not quite. A significant portion of the report concerns the August 16, 2017 meeting among Vella, Oddie and Keimach. The substance of the meeting is very much disputed, in particular with regard to the “abundantly clear” line the report finds in the City Charter prohibiting Councilmembers from promoting particular candidates for appointment. Keimach says that Vella did promote a particular candidate, Mr. Weaver, in the meeting. Ms. Vella’s interview appears to have been less clear, but the report found that “on balance” (in the Aug. 16 conversation and elsewhere) Ms. Vella did not cross the line.

    There is a tape recording of the meeting that would clear that point up. Critically, however, the “principal investigator, Mr. Jenkins, did not listen to the recording or consider it in preparation of this report.” If Mr. Jenkins’ charge was to apply the rules of evidence as if he were a judge, perhaps he made the correct call in not listening to the tape. (He does not make any written determination on the question of whether the tape would be excluded as evidence in an official proceeding in the part of the report released to the public, however.) Perhaps excluding the tape – assuming it contained evidence of a charter violation – is, nevertheless, a procedurally proper basis for beating the City Charter rap.

    But it goes too far, when the tape remains outstanding, to claim that “the truth” has come out. If Mr. Jenkins’ charge were to uncover “the truth” – and he does not describe his charge in exactly that way – it is hard to imagine that he would have gone about his job without listening to the tape or consider it in preparation of his report. Indeed, as the eminently fair reporter Mr. Tavares writes in the East Bay Citizen today, “The recording may be the only hope for the truth.”

    Comment by MP — May 4, 2018 @ 7:24 am

    • I think Mr. Jenkins did the right thing in not listening to the tape, it needs to be decided by the proper authorities if the tape is legal or illegal. If it is legal then put it out for the public to hear, if it is illegal then it should not be out there. I’m willing to live with that.

      Comment by JohnP.TrumpisnotmyPresident. — May 4, 2018 @ 8:15 am

      • I don’t know if he did the right thing in listening to the tape or not. He does not explain his reasoning in the part of the report released to the public. Assuming that he was following the rules of evidence as if he were a judge – – he may have made the right decision in applying Penal Code 632/633.5 in his decision about what evidence he could consider. (There is a footnote somewhere else in the report on a different factual issue where he considers an exception to the hearsay rule indicating that he may have generally considered his report to be subject to rule of evidence as if he were a court). But he does not set out or explain any conclusions that he made with respect to whether application of those code sections would have required exclusion of the tape as evidence if his report were treated as an official proceeding (or, perhaps, a lead up to a proceeding) to determine a violation of the City Charter in which that exclusionary rule might apply.

        But whether “the truth” has come out, as Ms. Vella proclaims, while the tape remains under wraps, is a far different question. “The truth” broadly speaking is not normally understood to be subject to the evidentiary-exclusionary rule in Penal Code 632, and the public (and even Mr. Jenkins) would not ordinarily be understood to be required to disregard the tape when the question is a determination of “the truth”. That is unless we are talking about “the truth” in a much more limited sense. Ordinarily, we think of tapes as being pretty accurate in terms of the events they capture. We rely on them all of the time. If we mean “the truth” in a more limited sense, then we should say that. But to proclaim broadly that “the truth” has come out, I think, goes to far.

        Were this a matter of a conversation among private citizens caught on tape, I’d be more hesitant in making these points. But even in that case it would seem a stretch to say that “the truth” had come out about a conversation while the recording remained suppressed.

        Comment by MP — May 4, 2018 @ 8:56 am

        • I don’t know if he did the right thing in **not** listening to the tape or not.

          Comment by MP — May 4, 2018 @ 8:59 am

  3. Lauren, the thing that concerns me, is that there are larger issues that needs to be addressed: Here’s one for example:

    Last Thursday, the Port of Oakland approved an Exclusive Negotiating Agreement with the Oakland A’s and the developer CIM Group to move the ballpark from the Oakland Colisuem to the Howard Terminal site near Jack London Square. It was breaking news — while Alameda was dealing with the City Manager issue.

    http://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2018/04/27/athletics-new-ballpark-port-exclusive-negotiations-howard-terminal/

    https://www.mercurynews.com/2018/03/28/as-city-of-oakland-agree-to-exclusive-negotiating-agreement-for-coliseum-howard-terminal/

    https://www.bizjournals.com/sanfrancisco/news/2018/04/23/oakland-athletics-new-ballpark-howard-terminal.html

    The Oakland A’s are hoping that a decision is made as early as the end of this year, on a new stadium site so the new ballpark can be ready in time for the 2023 season.

    Finally, it’s no secret that the CIM Group, the owner of the Howard Terminal site wants a Bart Station at the site to bring people to the games. But there is also discussion that Alameda may get a Bart Station. Does this mean that Alameda is in competition with the Howard Terminal Site for a Bart Station?

    Alameda needs a seat at the table to make sure that we get what we want from this deal!

    Comment by Karen — May 4, 2018 @ 7:30 am

  4. Of course if Keimach is fired (which is likely) there will be a Lawsuit . This will involve Subpoenas and Sworn Depositions and certainly more will be revealed. In the end the City and the Citizens of Alameda are the losers. This will be a costly process that will drag on for years .

    Comment by frank — May 4, 2018 @ 9:05 am

  5. As I said, there is enough blame to go around in this mess. No one is wuthout fault. And I think the tape and the report go hand-in-hand. You can’t judge one without the other. Release the tape and end this mess and get back to running the City. Alameda has plenty of real problems.

    Comment by Eyeroll — May 4, 2018 @ 2:14 pm

  6. Idle speculation: No termination has occurred yet. Does this mean that the discussions of a possible agreement between Keimach and the City Council are ongoing? Is the Council majority (MV, TS, JO) that appears poised to part waiting to see how the report plays and what the response of the District Attorney will be in #tapegate? How much time is left on her contract? Could we see the council just run out the clock on the contract while Keimach collects her paycheck?

    As for the tape… Keimach’s personal friends and allies in town seem giddy with anticipation over the eventual vindicating release of the tape… I’m looking at you, realtor Catherine Bierwith. It seems inevitable to me that at least the portions that paint Oddie and Vella in the worst light will come out. Context can be key, and this report has given lots of it. A snippet of tape could easily make one or both council members look like they are interfering more than the context of the entire report and entire tape indicate. I’m no lawyer, but I think they call that prejudicial on the teevee. Even though the clips would be all many people hear, it may indeed be better politically for JO and MV to have the whole thing released at once and not risk the worst sounding parts dribbling out. Control of the tape seems like a major bargaining chip in Keimach’s potential negotiations for a soft landing. If I were interested in not having the tapes out there, I’d be inclined to make sure the tapes had to not become public before, say, Dec. 1st in order for Keimach to receive her severance package. Just spitballing here.

    Comment by BMac — May 4, 2018 @ 4:34 pm

  7. Yes the entire tape needs to come out. It’s all about context. Alamedans are entitled to full context. If, in fact, Jill brought up Zack that’s a game changer.

    And as for the pressure Jill felt she was under, let’s not over look the extreme public pressure Malia and Jim have been subjected to in public comment. I’d be willing to bet they’ve also received emails and phone calls. Yet they have stood strong unlike Jill. The investigator’s report said the pressure Jill felt was not extreme. It seems Jill could not handle her position. Russo would not have buckled and possibly broken the law.

    Comment by Eyeroll — May 4, 2018 @ 8:40 pm

    • As to your last point, at least this much would be hard to dispute: had he been Alameda City Manager, John Russo would not have written the July 10 letter that he wrote supporting Weaver for Alameda fire chief, postmarked Riverside, to himself. Whether he would have actually chosen Weaver for fire chief were he Alameda City Manager, and whether that would have been considered buckling, or if he would have buckled in some other way, is a bit more of a what if.

      Can you explain what you mean when you say that JO and MV have “stood strong”?

      Comment by MP — May 5, 2018 @ 9:13 am

  8. So I’m hearing a list of reasons for releasing the tape being developed here:

    (1) let residents hear the truth (pub. dom./ S.Tavares EastBayCitizen: “the recording may be the only hope for the truth”);

    (2) would be to JO and MV’s advantage because, if they call for release, it would make them look like they have nothing to hide (pub. dom.);

    (3) assuming some of it is going to be released anyway, it would be to JO and MV’s advantage to have the whole tape released in context, rather than in prejudicial snippets (BMac);

    (3.1) the full context may show this all to be a big nothingburger or that the fault lies with the city manager (E.R.)

    (4) protecting the community chest because Keimach’s attorneys couldn’t be offered more settlement money for keeping the tape secret (BMac)

    (5) To satisfy or pacify “Keimach’s personal friends and allies in town”, who “seem giddy with anticipation over the eventual vindicating release of the tape” (F.O.Jill/ BMac)

    (6) [ fill in ]

    Comment by MP — May 4, 2018 @ 10:20 pm

  9. list of reasons for releasing the tape (continued):

    (1) let residents hear the truth (pub. dom./ S.Tavares EastBayCitizen: “the recording may be the only hope for the truth”);

    (2) would be to JO and MV’s advantage because, if they call for release, it would make them look like they have nothing to hide (pub. dom.);

    (3) assuming some of it is going to be released anyway, it would be to JO and MV’s advantage to have the whole tape released in context, rather than in prejudicial snippets (BMac);

    (3.1) the full context may show this all to be a big nothingburger or that the fault lies with the city manager (E.R.)

    (4) protecting the community chest because Keimach’s attorneys couldn’t be offered more settlement money for keeping the tape secret (BMac)

    (5) To satisfy or pacify “Keimach’s personal friends and allies in town”, who “seem giddy with anticipation over the eventual vindicating release of the tape” (F.O.Jill/ BMac)

    (6)(a) – Let the public hear how Councilmembers would operate if City Charter s 7-3 were weakened (as some have apparently called for). Although it would not meet standards for a true double-blind experiment, Councilmember Vella did tell the investigator that she had not even heard of City Charter s 7-3 as of the date of the Aug 16 meeting, That meeting, and the recording of it, therefore, might approximate conditions in a post-section 7-3 world. Let’s give it a test run (MP);

    and/or

    (6)(b) – the tape might supply evidence supporting those who argue in favor of weakening or repealing Charter section 7-3. As of the time of the August 16 meeting, Councilmember Oddie was found to have knowledge of Section 7-3 by the investigator. Recall, however, that it was Oddie’s previous letter to Keimach, rather than his conduct in the meeting, which supplied the basis for the investigator’s conclusion that Oddie violated a clear line in Charter s 7-3.

    We’ll assume then that Mr. Oddie stayed inbounds during the Aug. 16 meeting. Subject to that assumption, the tape might show the ways in which Charter s 7-3 harmed the city by preventing Mr. Oddie from unleashing what should have been broader powers. Though proponents of weakening 7-3 would have to take care to point out how their plan avoids encouraging favoritism and cronyism, playing the tape should their argument by demonstrating how 7-3 clearly, and to the City’s detriment, suppressed Councilmember Oddie’s full wisdom, advice and direction from being communicated to the city manager.

    Comment by MP — May 11, 2018 @ 5:31 pm

    • …playing the tape should **support** their argument by demonstrating….

      Comment by MP — May 11, 2018 @ 5:37 pm


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