Blogging Bayport Alameda

August 2, 2019

Fit to serve

Filed under: Alameda — Lauren Do @ 6:02 am

There’s been some kerfuffle over recent…revelations…that there have been payments made (approved by the previous City Council) for legal fees stemming from the Grand Jury inquiry into City Manager gate.  Did we ever decide on a name for this thing?  I dunno, but regardless…

Putting the outrage machine on pause for one second, we should talk about what it means to serve in a voluntary elected position.  I was going to add the modifier “largely” since they do get paid a stipend per meeting but it’s so small that it probably doesn’t even cover the time it takes to read through the Council packet let alone the time they spend in actual meetings.

Even if you believe that there was some great violation of the City Charter (we should review that in detail later.  The City Charter language, not the violations) I guess the larger question is: how do we ensure that people who volunteer for these positions aren’t personally punished because they run afoul of something.

I think we can all agree that local public service should not require someone to bankrupt themselves.  No one who is sitting or who has ever sat on the City Council has ever enriched themselves for doing so.  No matter how many accusations about being developer shills or in the pocket of labor unions, etc and so forth has ever made someone sitting on the City Council wealthy.

Because even though these are supposed to be apolitical positions, they are not.  Councilmembers are at the whim of any asshole with money and/or time to try to make their lives difficult and unpleasant (see numerous recall attempts for current Councilmembers and previous recall attempts during Alameda Theatre drama).

If we say as a matter of principal, or even a matter of politics, that we should never, ever reimburse a City Council person for legal fees stemming from a myriad of possible reasons we have essentially declared that the only people who can run for public office are those who are independently wealthy and can afford to bear the brunt of any legal attacks that may come their way as a result of their actions on the City Council.  That is not representation by any means.

This is a conversation that we should be having absent of actual or perceived transgressions.  While today it might be someone on the hot seat that you find politically distasteful, tomorrow it might be someone you’re aligned with or, worse (because this is a “small” town) someone you may actually like personally.  This community needs to decide if it only wants the wealthy to make policy in the City or if it should be representative of the people who live here including folks covering the whole socio-economic spectrum.  Guess which one you want if you decide to never pay for legal fees.

 

 

13 Comments »

  1. I don’t claim to be aware of all cases like this in Alameda’s history, but the situation that is currently percolating is NOT the result of normal job functions. Such would and should be handled by the City Attorney, or if necessary by outside counsel hired by the city. There would be no need whatsoever for an elected official to seek or receive separate counsel.

    The current cases are the result of voluntary behavior out the scope of their jobs, and indeed outside the rules of the Charter (illegal and unconstitutional are apt synonyms here). What’s more, the individuals in question were not charged with crimes or served with suits, which begs the question of why they engaged legal representation at all.

    And recall, shmecall, why does one need a lawyer when a recall is threatened? In the several instances over last decade or so, a roll of the eyes was sufficient defense for any recall effort.

    I do agree that we should not choose councilmembers by their (perceived) net worth. We should choose them by their character and ability. Hopefully that happens next time.

    Comment by dave — August 2, 2019 @ 6:47 am

  2. I agree that councilmembers should not have to pay for lawyers out of their own pockets because they get sued for voting for ordinance x, y or z or other official acts. In a sue-happy state and country, that would be untenable and discourage even the rich (or maybe even especially the rich) from putting their assets on the line by holding office.

    But I wouldn’t be rushing to assert those big principles just yet. First of all, they are already well secured in law. A councilmember who is sued individually for official acts will most likely be immune to suit and would have a legally mandated right to a defense provided by the city.

    Second, it is not at all clear that those principles apply here. Certainly, whether the city was required to pay for the councilmembers’ lawyers here is questionable. It is more likely that the expenditures made by the city in this case were discretionary. Neither councilmember was ever sued. There were investigations, including one that the councilmembers themselves voted for. They were not required to cooperate with that first investigation, and many people did not cooperate with it. With respect to that first investigation, moreover, there is a question as to the cooperation provided by the councilmembers and what value the outside attorneys they hired added. Notably, the Grand Jury came to a different conclusion about things after it heard the tape recorded meeting as compared with the first investigator who instead relied on interviews with the councilmembers.

    All that said, I can understand why the Councilmembers would want to come out looking good, image-wise, after the various inquiries, and that they might consider spending on lawyers to help achieve that. But I’m not sure it should be Alameda residents’ obligation to pay for that.

    Third, and assuming this was a discretionary appropriation of public funds (i.e. the city was not legally required to do it) there is a question about why it was not disclosed to the public. Let’s say the principle applies broadly and to this case: that we need to protect Councilmembers from any financial consequences of their actions (including their choice to hire lawyers without having been sued) so as to encourage all people and income levels (including lawyers) to participate without fear in city government. Failing to disclose the expenditures that have already occurred, or the actions, if any, that were taken in closed session to make that happen, suggests an unwillingness to go on record in defense of those principles. If the principle is so strong, shouldn’t voters have known about it before the last election (and what does the Sunshine Ordinance have to say about that)?

    Comment by MP — August 2, 2019 @ 7:34 am

  3. As an school board member we were informed that once we were told that a building was seismic unsafe ( in my case, the Historic Alameda High School) that we became personally liable for the health and welfare of employees and students in that building. Thus we made the decision to close HAHS.

    By the way, thanks to Alameda voters passage of Measure I in 2014, the ribbon cutting ceremony for grand reopening of Historic Alameda High School is August 8th at 4pm.

    Comment by Mike McMahon — August 2, 2019 @ 7:43 am

    • Courtesy of the Mike McMahon Memorial (well, not “memorial”, but you know what I mean) bond!

      Comment by Anon — August 2, 2019 @ 12:25 pm

  4. As usual opinions on reimbursement of legal fees mostly will reflect the politics of the person espousing the opinion.
    Oddie & Vella stated their preference for the filling of an important city position. If Keimach didn’t like that she should have told them to get the hell out of her office. Frankly, anyone who doesn’t have the gumption to be straight with someone and tell them their input is unwanted, but instead secretly records them doesn’t deserve to be in their position much less walk off with +$900K. Where’s the outrage about that? Oddie and Vella ended uo having to defend themselves against charges resulting from the dishonest actions of the city manager. I’m pretty sure their legal fees won’t approach the level of Keimach’s golden parachute.

    Comment by Mike Henneberry — August 2, 2019 @ 7:56 am

    • You’re right that she probably should have elevated/dragged down the discussion to light profanity (“get the hell out of my office”). According to the Grand Jury (based on the tape), the more polite approach wasn’t working: “It should be noted that the city manager protested several times during the meeting that she did not appreciate the pressure, yet CM1 and CM2 did not even acknowledge these comments in a meaningful way.”

      Comment by MP — August 2, 2019 @ 8:19 am

    • If Keimach didn’t like that she should have told them to get the hell out of her office.

      ———————————–

      If the banker didn’t want to be robbed, she should have told them to get the hell out of her branch.

      Comment by dave — August 2, 2019 @ 8:24 am

    • Yeah, she should have told those two councilmembers that write and had postponed her yearly evaluation, and had threatened her via the police chief, TGTFO. Yeah, that’s how Mikey walks the walk. Let Mikey do it.

      Comment by KAG — August 2, 2019 @ 12:17 pm

  5. They don’t have to take this money out of their pockets; they can create a legal defense fund and solve the problem they same way they created it; by soliciting funds from their deep-pocketed patrons.

    Comment by Allan Mann — August 2, 2019 @ 8:08 am

  6. Oddie and Vella ended uo having to defend themselves against charges

    ————————

    What were they charged with? When was the arraignment, when was the trial? What was there to need a lawyer for?

    Comment by dave — August 2, 2019 @ 8:26 am

  7. I feel that the small stipend for city councils is by design to make sure only folks in a socioeconomic bracket that can afford to do this work virtually for free will do it. If they offered real pay, I think we might see some regular working class folks sitting up there.

    Comment by Rod — August 2, 2019 @ 9:51 am

    • The job is only intended to be part time and councilmembers are expected to secure their own livelihoods the same way ordinary taxpayers do.

      Comment by dave — August 2, 2019 @ 1:10 pm

      • The pay for Alameda city council members is far below what it should be. Yes, part-time job, emphasis on job. The Alameda LWV did good research on comps. I recommend taking a look when you’re not dominating the conversation here with your tired points,dave.

        Any city manager that can’t manage electeds needs to find a new line of work. I hate to say it, but Trish was right to see that Keimach wasn’t up to the task.

        Comment by Gaylon — August 2, 2019 @ 2:00 pm


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