Blogging Bayport Alameda

November 21, 2019

Lacking pizzazz

Filed under: Alameda — Lauren Do @ 6:01 am

So if you didn’t see the post yesterday afternoon, the transcript AND audio is out.   I’ve listened to it AND I’ve read the transcript.  I may have followed along with the transcript while listening.   And my first impression is: that was a huge letdown.

I mean, I guess I expected more fireworks and smoking guns and maybe a bigger shakedown, but it was just: meh.  The transcriptionist managed to butcher every single spelling of every name.  The redactions were done pretty perfectly to convey that we’re missing very little of the nut meat of the conversation.

I guess the big red flag for Malia Vella and Jim Oddie was when Jill Keimach started in with this after the small talk and the “why we’re here conversation”:

Screen Shot 2019-11-20 at 4.19.18 PM

I mean, who talks like this in a normal conversation that is not being overheard or taped?

FYI for those reading and not listening here’s a helpful guide to the phonetic transcribed names:

    • Rousseau = Russo = John Russo
    • Jeff Debono = Jeff Delbono
    • Ann Marie Galland = Ann Marie Gallant
    • Kappler = Kapler = David Kapler
    • Doug Dehahn = Doug deHaan
    • Dave Rosha = Dave Rocha
    • Sherettes = charettes
    • Buy Right = by-right
    • Ship Place = Shipways
    • John Lei = John Le (thanks Serena!)
    • Michael Walsh = Michael Roush
    • Ferris/ Ferris’s = ferries (thanks MP!)


I imagine that those of us with pre-conceived ideas and opinions will not have our minds changed by the recording or transcript.   In fact we may find things within the recording and transcript that we believe bolster our positions.

My overall take is that if you listen to the recording in a vacuum as a whole it seemed — with a few noted strange patches — to be a reasonable conversation between three adults who may be trying to get along and play relatively nice.   In some parts everyone came off as earnestly trying to communicate and figure out the best path forward.  But with all the other actions that were swirling around in addition to this conversation the Grand Jury report had a pretty accurate take on the environment, at that time, as a whole.

In general though, it appears that a lot of the hurt and the bad feels originated from a place of miscommunication all around.   Based on just this audio and transcript it seems as though had all parties gone into this meeting with a willingness to actually hear what the other parties were saying maybe the whole business would have ended differently.


  1. One part of the transcript that surprised me was how Keimach was complaining that people were not building relationships with her, then CM2 spoke up and said that was why they were having the meeting, to help build those relationships. I heard three adults communicating and sharing concerns – isn’t this supposed to be how our government works? I no doubt believe Keimach when she said she felt “pressure from the Fire (dept),” but she was conflating that with the councilmembers’ inquiries (which they were legally allowed to do) out of paranoia, because I did not read or hear anything in the transcript that crossed a line.

    Comment by JRB — November 21, 2019 @ 7:06 am

    • “Paranoia”, Dr. JRB?

      Comment by MP — November 21, 2019 @ 7:29 am

    • Terminology check.

      Is the following – and there are many other examples – an “inquiry” or something else, say, an assertion of an opinion intended to influence?:

      MALIA VELLA: But I also think that he’s — JIM ODDIE: Um-hmm.
      MALIA VELLA: — not going to have a lot of
      trust, because he – as much trust, because he’s not a long-timer, and people are go – people think —

      Comment by MP — November 21, 2019 @ 7:44 am

      • You said “influence.” That is NOT the same thing as “interference,” which the charter specifically forbids. Are we moving goal posts now? Where in the transcript constitutes interference? I will wait.

        Comment by JRB — November 21, 2019 @ 8:45 am

    • The “relationships” discussed were only with unions, almost entirely the IAFF. Fair amount of time spent encouraging Keimach to stay in daily contact with fire union head — how on earth is that necessary to run a safety operation? Vella in particular used first person plural to refer to union interests, which is telling of her overall motive (though not news, we’ve always known her constituents are the unions, not the citizens). Vella has publicly said she was advocating for “community” interests. Tape & transcript show us what a whopper that was.

      The Raymond Zack stuff was chilling, though. What CM’s thought was a low key, well cloaked “note” was a clumsily & thinly veiled threat.

      It was pretty funny to read the cannabis union stuff toward the end, as she advocated for union cannabis jobs even at 2-3 employee shops because unions provide “eyes and ears” for the city, just as they do in the liquor business. Lack of self awareness is the basis of much comedy.

      This release changes very little, but confirms a great deal.

      Comment by dave — November 21, 2019 @ 8:03 am

  2. What “miscommunication” was the origin of hurt and bad feels?

    By “the Grand Jury report had a pretty accurate take on the environment, at that time, as a whole”, do we mean that its conclusion that both councilmembers violated the City Charter by attempting to influence the City Manager’s fire chief hire decision was “pretty accurate”?

    If “all parties” had gone into the meeting with a “willingness to actually hear what the other parties were saying”, what specifically would they have actually heard that would have resulted in a different end to the whole business?

    Answers to the last question might address some of the things occurred after the meeting. For example, on thing that happened weeks after the recorded meeting, one of the two councilmembers attempted to take the City Manager into a meeting with the state assemblyman (who also happened to be the employer of the other councilmember) for the purpose of advocating for the same candidate the two councilmembers were attempting to the influence the City Manager to hire during the recorded meeting (“Advocacy” is a kind term. It was more like a threat to the city budget if the political appointment was not made).

    Comment by MP — November 21, 2019 @ 7:28 am

    • Miscommunication between the City Manager and other City Staff. Everyone was so quick to accuse the other party of lying or having bad intent, is it any wonder these relationships devolved as quickly as it did?

      Had the City Manager been willing and open to hear that Malia Vella and Jim Oddie were giving her solid, if unsolicited, advice on how to handle someone they knew pretty well, maybe she wouldn’t have felt threatened. And if Malia Vella and Jim Oddie had been willing and open to hear that the City Manager felt as though she was being asked to go above and beyond what she considered “normal” communications with a City employee, maybe they would have backed off giving their unsolicited opinions.

      This meeting should have never happened, not because it was untoward or wrong because evidently the consultant in charge of the job search recommended a sit down, but because not one person who entered that room was willing to 100% hear what the other person had to say and really process how that other person was feeling.

      Comment by Lauren Do — November 21, 2019 @ 9:09 am

      • [This meeting should not have never happened..because]…and also maybe, just maybe, because the purpose for the meeting – to influence who the City Manager would hire as the next fire chief – is expressly prohibited by the City Charter?

        Comment by MP — November 21, 2019 @ 10:35 am

        • MP – again, you keep saying “influence.” This is a very subjective term and reeks of moving the goal post, as it is not the term used in the city charter. The word you’re looking for is “interference.” Expressing opinions and making inquiries is permitted. Please cite where they interfered. If you need help finding the transcript, here it is:

          Comment by JRB — November 21, 2019 @ 10:56 am

        • Here you go Ranking Member Nunes (or is it Sen. Lindsey Graham who is always talking about moving the goal posts?):

          City Charter 7-3 “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.”

          But if you want to talk about interference, sure, there was that too, as confirmed by Mayor Ashcraft, Vice Mayor John Knox White, and Councilmember Daysog, who unanimously agreed with the Grand Jury conclusion that: “In violation of the City’s Charter they had sworn to uphold, two Councilmembers did interfere with the City Manager’s ability to conduct an open and transparent recruitment for a new Fire Chief”

          Comment by MP — November 21, 2019 @ 11:06 am

      • I guess you could call this solid advice:

        MALIA VELLA: But I really feel that this is the chihuahua that’s like going to keep barking at you until you’re like, give it a little attention, and let it know it’s okay, and this is what’s going on, and —
        JILL KEIMACH: Right. When does it get better (unintelligible)?
        JIM ODDIE: And then it runs around, and then it falls asleep, and then you can (unintelligible)
        MALIA VELLA: And then you’re good.
        JILL KEIMACH: Until he wakes up.

        Comment by MP — November 21, 2019 @ 10:56 am

  3. Add to transcript errata?:

    “Ferris (phonetic)? Ferris’s” = ferries, plural of ferry?

    Comment by MP — November 21, 2019 @ 7:50 am

  4. Vella told the Jenkins investigator that she did not discuss the job posting on the ride to the wedding, but tape & transcript show otherwise. I don’t have my charter copy handy, can someone check if lying to a city-sponsored investigator is a charter violation?

    Comment by dave — November 21, 2019 @ 8:07 am

    • Lying in the course of what is a mere “distraction” (or to use terms in national currency: “farce”, “witch hunt”, “sham”) is no charter violation, sir.

      Comment by MP — November 21, 2019 @ 8:26 am

  5. John Le is the Assistant City Staff Attorney

    Comment by Serena T Chen — November 21, 2019 @ 9:39 am

  6. Someone needs to refresh my memory where the City Manger’s performance evaluation cycle was at the time of the hiring process. Seem to recall some issues with the City Council being able to complete the evaluation. Wondering if this had any impact on the exchanges occurring at that time.

    Comment by Mike McMahon — November 21, 2019 @ 12:20 pm

    • Yes, the Grand Jury noted the overlap between the City Manager performance evaluation process and the hiring of a new Fire Chief:

      “Rather than using the evaluation process as a tool to communicate expectations, goals and priorities, it appeared that the process was being hijacked to accomplish individual councilmembers’ goals of installing their preferred candidate for fire chief. It is ironic that CM1 described the city attorney’s informative, non-threatening email reminding council about their roles during the hiring process as interference and intimidation while denying that any of his conduct rose to the level of trying to influence the city manager.” (Page 23).

      Click to access Alameda%20Interference.FR.pdf

      Comment by MP — November 21, 2019 @ 12:31 pm

  7. The first words out of Keimach’s mouth might as well have been “speak clearly and into the microphone.”
    Another takeaway is if the former City Manager thinks what she experienced in that meeting was “pressure” she doesn’t know what pressure is.
    And finally if she was really concerned about “undue pressure” she could have turned down the request to meet. But stop the presses, that would have defeated the purpose of secretly recording two council members trying she thought were trying to exert “pressure” on her hiring decision.
    The whole thing seems like a tempest in a teapot brewed up by Keimach.

    Comment by Mike Henneberry — November 21, 2019 @ 2:39 pm

  8. Paraphrasing the national scene to local politics: ‘The degree to which Jim Oddie and Malia Vella (lying) are personally and directly implicated in violating the Alameda City Charger is uncontested now,’ per this redacted tape and the Alameda County Grand Jury findings. Bonta “threatening the Alameda city budget if Dominic Weaver was not appointed speaks volumes on his political ambitions to throw his own city under the bus. I will not be voting for these corrupt politicians ever again.

    Comment by BarbaraK — November 22, 2019 @ 9:08 am

    • Sorry, but “paraphrasing” is an underhanded way of conflating two drastically different events. They are not. Could you please cite the passage from the transcript that supports your statement re: “personally and directly implicated in violating”? MP could not cite anything that meets “interference” as per the city charter, but maybe could argue that some words constitutes “influence,” but not in a conclusive and objective way since many reasonable people could also argue that these same words are within the councilmembers’ right, as granted by the charter, to make inquiries.

      Comment by JRB — November 22, 2019 @ 9:26 am

      • The Charter uses both words, influence & interference, seemingly interchangeably.

        Cut and paste from Charter on city web page:

        Sec. 7-3. 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. Except for
        purposes of inquiry, the Council and its members shall deal with that portion of the
        administrative service for which the City Manager is responsible solely through him or her.
        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.

        In any case, tape & transcript manifestly go well beyond mere inquiry, both influence and interference apply here, and between the GJ and the council’s affirming vote, both happened. Repeated wordsmithing doesn’t change that.

        Comment by dave — November 22, 2019 @ 10:25 am

      • I see that you now seem to agree – contrary to your assertion yesterday – that the word “influence” is in the City Charter and that it is specifically prohibited with respect to appointments by the City Manager. Or do I misread you and you, in fact, still do not agree? Section 7-3.

        Are you still arguing that what occurred on the tape was in the nature of “inquiry”, as you asserted yesterday, and that it was the result of “paranoia” that caused Keimach to interpret it as an effort to interfere with or influence her decision?

        I don’t think your real argument about interference is with MP, but instead with Mayor Ashcraft, Vice Mayor John Knox White and Councilmember Daysog who voted unanimously to agree with Grand Jury conclusion that: “In violation of the City’s Charter they had sworn to uphold, two Councilmembers did interfere with the City Manager’s ability to conduct an open and transparent recruitment for a new Fire Chief”, and reported the same in a letter dated July 17, 2019, to the Presiding Judge of the Alameda County Superior Court signed by Mayor Ashcraft.

        I’ll be happy to go into what is on the tape – and will. But if you are earnestly calling “inquiry” what is plainly advocacy for a particular candidate (see but one example cited above – actually, discouragement as to a particular candidate, in that example – which you can address, if you want), or earnestly claiming – after writing quite a lot about the subject – not to know that the City Charter, at 7-3, says “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.”, and are not just pulling our legs about those basics, it may take a while. We would seem to have a problem with word definitions that we will have to work through.

        Comment by MP — November 22, 2019 @ 10:45 am

  9. The Odde/Vella Tape – A Different Perspective

    With all the opinions being shared on the merits of the Grand Jury findings and whether attorney’s fees should be paid, I realized that nobody was discussing the concerns that I felt were equally important regarding the impact of the meeting. I am referring to the fairness to the other candidates for the job and the importance of having a transparent process.

    The transcript reveals that both councilmembers contacted the final decision maker (city manager), bypassing the selection panel and not only advocated for one individual, but also criticized the other two internal candidates. Candidates applying for any City job are entitled to a selection process that evaluates each candidate on their qualifications and how the candidate’s training, experience, and skills fulfill the requirements needed to do the job. It seems unfair that certain information was being circulated outside the established hiring process to selected individuals that would impact the decision on who would be the next fire chief.

    The hiring process was supposed to be “an open and fair process, without any pressure,” quoting City Manager Jill Keimach. This meeting, however, was a closed-door private advocacy session for one candidate with the person responsible for making the final hiring decision. It is hard to see how such a meeting promotes transparency in government, which both council members have advocated for in the past.

    Another interesting aspect of this “situation” is the outlook of the individuals involved by re-reading the various public statements they made about the matter before it was clear that the tape would be released. Perhaps the topic of a future post.

    Ultimately, the formal hiring process was followed, and Alameda now has a well-qualified Fire Chief. However, the impact of the irregularities that took place resulted in financial consequences for the City and will bring into question exactly how transparent our government is.

    Comment by Jeff Cambra — November 26, 2019 @ 7:21 am

    • One public statement from May 2, 2018, went this way, in part:

      “I supported the City Council’s decision to retain the independent investigator so he could conduct a thorough, objective review of the allegations in City Manager Jill Keimach’s October 2017 letter. I did so because I knew that none of her allegations against me had any basis in fact, and I had faith that through Mr. Jenkins’s independent investigation the truth would come out.”

      “It has. As Mr. Jenkins concluded, the evidence does not support any of Ms. Keimach’s baseless accusations that I improperly attempted to influence Ms. Keimach’s selection of a new Fire Chief in violation of our City Charter. Contrary to Ms. Keimach’s allegation, Mr. Jenkins found that I “adopted a measured approach” with Ms. Keimach regarding the Fire Chief selection process, and that I never “interfered with Keimach’s performance of her job or attempt[ed] to influence the appointment””

      And, from that same statement, something of interest for those of us fascinated with the art and science of medical diagnosis:

      “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 raised by councilmembers about the process[.]”

      Comment by MP — November 26, 2019 @ 8:21 am

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