Blogging Bayport Alameda

June 26, 2019

Not much to recommend

Filed under: Alameda — Lauren Do @ 6:06 am

One thing I’ve been seeing a lot of is folks trotting out former Mayor Trish Spencer’s objections to the Grand Jury report as evidence that the Grand Jury report is somehow disqualifying because she wasn’t interviewed for the report.  Of course there’s a reason why she probably doesn’t like the Grand Jury report as much because of this selection:

Many municipalities rely on their mayors or presidents of their governing bodies to provide leadership and guidance when other councilmembers overstep their authority. This certainly was not the case in Alameda.

Which, I mean, did we expect someone who could barely run a meeting to be able to provide “leadership and guidance”?

In fact, apparently in a recent Facebook post, Trish Spencer has indicated that any conclusions from the parts that she disagrees with should be “disregarded.”

I’ve also seen a lot about the composition of the Grand Jury as though that in and of itself is renders the report dismissible.

Here’s the thing, the composition of the Grand Jury is definitely a big issue.  Alameda County is a highly diverse place and having only four people of color on a 19 member panel is really disappointing.  But, we have to remember that these are all volunteers spending a lot of time serving their community as the only real government watchdog agency.  While we can nitpick some clear errors in the document, I think that it would be in error to attempt to ascribe some political agenda on the part of the Grand Jury as a whole in order to blunt the effects of the report.  What you ask yourself while reading the document: are the errors made so fundamentally wrong that they render the whole document structurally unsound?  For me, getting the vote wrong on who voted for the payout is a nitpick.  It’s an eyebrow raise that something so easily verifiable and should have been fact checked was thrown in, but is that a substantial part of the argument of the GJ?  No.

The bottom line is there were mistakes made and there are systemic problems within the City Government.  This is a chance to address the deficiencies within the City government and (hopefully) ensure this doesn’t happen again.

So the four recommendations:

Recommendation 19-1:
The Alameda City Council must establish policies mandating initial training and orientation and ongoing annual training for elected officials and senior staff related to ethics and governance.

This should be easy enough to do and I would be surprised if the City doesn’t have in place.

Recommendation 19-2:
The Alameda City Council must investigate possible charter or municipal code amendments to clarify and strengthen provisions relating to city governance. The charter should delineate the specific types of conduct that constitute a violation of section 7-3, as well as outline an enforcement process.

I don’t know how feasible it will be to encode a discipline process in the Charter but certainly there needs to be some sort of mechanism to censure a City Councilperson who oversteps.

Recommendation 19-3:
The Alameda City Council should adopt a policy stating that councilmembers who knowingly violate ethical codes of conduct or charter provisions may not seek reimbursement for related legal representation.

This one is tough because of that “knowingly” phrase.  It seems like it would be hard to prove that level of intent.

Recommendation 19-4:
The Alameda City Council working with the city attorney, city manager and city clerk must develop and implement a code of conduct and councilmember handbook.

This is a fair and reasonable request and hopefully with a new City Attorney and City Manager they will bring with them fresh ideas.


  1. This is a far more reasonable takeaway than what I’ve been seeing on the facebook groups and from what I’m sure our usual suspects will have to say when they get around to waking up.

    Comment by Rod — June 26, 2019 @ 6:41 am

    • Since I am one of the people who has regularly proscribed the corrupt relationship between the local IAFF chapter and city council, you might be referring to me as one of the “usual suspects.”

      The pay-to-play, by which the union secures overly generous pay packages through campaign contributions to council members is the central problem with our city government. Alameda firefighters are compensated more than double federal firefighters, more than double local teachers, and approximately triple the local median household income. They have some brand new sterling quality facilities as well. They are also usually the largest contributor to council members’ campaigns, which is the obvious source of all this bounty.

      In addition to being fiscally unsustainable, it is also flat out WRONG. It’s not illegal, though it should be, but a system that allows this level of corruption and misuse of taxpayer funds is long overdue for major reform. One very simple and obvious way to accomplish that is to force recusal of council members who receive, directly and indirectly, IAFF support & prevent them from voting on contracts that enrich their benefactors. There are other ways as well.

      While I wish this whole sordid and expensive tale had never happened, maybe there is a silver lining to this cloud: perhaps the citizenry and taxpayers will wake up and stop voting for this corrupt perversion of good government.

      And speaking of the “usual suspects,” have you noticed who hasn’t shown up to comment? The supporters of the union and their venal politicians. The people who argue with me — energetically but incorrectly — about this issue haven’t uttered a peep. I suppose that is the best course of action when you know full well that your side is in the wrong, but it sure never stopped them before. Their silence is a grand admission of error and an embarrassed hope that something else takes over the news cycle to distract voters from this sleaze.

      Comment by dave — June 26, 2019 @ 12:15 pm

      • Dave – our city’s firefighter-per-capita is consistent with surrounding cities. Our firefighters’ pay is consistent with those in surrounding cities. I have yet to see any right comparable data to support the detractors who keep knocking our firefighters.

        Alameda is an island full of old Victorian homes and limited exit points – it is literally a tinderbox. It makes sense to have an adequately staffed fire department.

        Comment by JRB — June 26, 2019 @ 5:46 pm

        • You forget the key detail that those other cities’ fire unions buy their councils too, to varying degrees. Richmond is a long standing example of this and they are not the only one.

          Firefighting is a job done by volunteers in many places. I am not suggesting we should have a volunteer FD here, not at all, but firefighters elsewhere in the state who don’t have the ability to buy the pols that vote their contracts (federal, Cal fire for example) do it willingly for far less money. Right now we pay fire almost approx 35-40% of the GF (varies year to year), which amounts to salaries approx triple the local household income for a job that is done much cheaper by other people who aren’t buying their councils.

          That is not good government. It is a monied special interest feeding at the trough of taxpayer dollars.

          “Every day the fire department walks by a pile of cash on the table. It’s ours. We just have to have the ability to pick it up.” –AFD Chief Rodriguez

          Comment by dave — June 26, 2019 @ 6:02 pm

      • I was referring to our more trollish usual suspects, but even after all those paragraphs I’m having a real hard time mustering any fucks to give about any of that.

        Comment by Rod — June 27, 2019 @ 8:34 am

        • So you give no fucks about a small special interest buying council members to pad their outsize pay packages?

          Comment by dave — June 27, 2019 @ 8:39 am

  2. “Recommendation 19-3:This one is tough because of that “knowingly” phrase. It seems like it would be hard to prove that level of intent.”

    1) Sure, but so many of our laws use that or other similar standard. For example, our rent control ordinance prohibits retaliation against a tenant for asserting rights under the ordinance. It can be hard to prove (or maybe disprove, if not true) that level of intent.

    2) Maybe, as an alternative, non-charter provision: “The people of Alameda should adopt a policy stating that councilmembers who knowingly violate ethical codes of conduct or charter provisions should be roundly and frequently criticized for seeking reimbursement for related legal representation.”

    Has the Council made a decision on the attorney fee requests related to the City Manager issue?

    Comment by MP — June 26, 2019 @ 7:30 am

    • I don’t believe that the issue has been decided yet and I think it was the right move to not take up the decision until after the Grand Jury report was released. While there are clear errors with the report and the GJ didn’t interview everyone and their mother, the GJ has more information via tapes and interviews on this issue than any layperson and, probably, some of the current and former City Councilmembers.

      Comment by Lauren Do — June 26, 2019 @ 8:37 am

      • I seem to recall DelBono got his legal bills paid, is that correct?

        Comment by dave — June 26, 2019 @ 8:54 am

        • I believe that was the settlement terms but that particular government claim is only tangentially related to the hiring of the Fire Chief debacle. The government claims stemming from this issue filed by CM1 and CM2 have not been decided yet.

          Comment by Lauren Do — June 26, 2019 @ 9:23 am

        • What CM1 and CM2’s claims? Seeking something other than attorney fees from the investigation?

          Comment by MP — June 26, 2019 @ 1:55 pm

  3. With the City Council meetings/workshops tonight and tomorrow night re changes to the City Charter in mind, is anyone advocating changes to the Charter that would in the future permit the type of conduct, or any part of it, identified by either the Grand Jury or the Jenkins report as violative of the current Charter, i.e. weakening the non-interference/prohibition on attempting to influence certain City Manager actions?

    Comment by MP — June 26, 2019 @ 8:28 am

    • The interference issue is not part of this week’s workshops but the council will take up the issue at a September meeting.

      Comment by KB — June 26, 2019 @ 11:22 am

  4. Comment by Mike McMahon — June 26, 2019 @ 9:30 pm

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