Blogging Bayport Alameda

January 29, 2021

More devoted to “order” than to justice

Filed under: Alameda — Lauren Do @ 6:09 am

One of the more passive aggressive social media things is to screen shot two things someone has written or said and ask “this you”? This is a long form version in that spirit.

The other day I wrote about Trish Spencer’s appointee to the Open Government Commission, Carmen “Can I talk to Iron Maiden’s manager” Reid and her seeking to over step the role of the OGC and make policy. In the comments Trish Spencer’s last appointee to the Open Government Commission when she was Mayor, Paul Foreman, assured us that Carmen Reid did in fact understand what was going on and was being advised by him:

 I helped Commissioner Reid draft her referral and she clearly understands that the OGC role is purely advisory. I too am sympathetic with the desire of Council to exempt these temporary citizen committees, not only for the reasons you mentioned, but the necessity of training volunteer citizens in the intricacies of the Brown Act. However, we are a government of laws, not men, and section 54952(b) of the Brown Act, could not be clearer that temporary advisory bodies are “legislative bodies” except for a sub-committee of less than a quorum of a legislative body. It is interesting to note that the “ad hoc” exception to the Sunshine Ordinance was inserted into the Ordinance a little less than a year ago. [emphasis added]

He continues:

I also want to be clear that we do not seek to invalidate the work of the Jackson Park and Police reform committees. They devoted many hours of difficult work in reliance upon directions from Council and Staff and deserve our appreciation. Council has already approved the recommendation of the Jackson Park Committee and should move forward in considering the recommendations of the Police Reform Committees. What we do seek is to amend the Sunshine Ordinance to bring it into compliance with the Brown Act.

Let me first tackle that last part which claims that “we” (I guess, at least, Carmen Reid and Paul Foreman) do not want to invalidate the work of the committees. That statement seems to be directly contradicted by public correspondence which seems to seek to invalidate the work of these committees via subjective interpretation of the Sunshine Ordinance.

But it’s the first part about compliance with the Brown Act which is most amusing considering this former OCG Commissioner’s history opining about the Brown Act. In 2015, this Commissioner wrote in the comments of a different blog that he felt as though some of the Brown Act restrictions were too constraining to get work done. Specifically:

I am the Vice-Chairperson of the City of Alameda Open Government Commission that is charged with monitoring the Brown Act and the City’s Sunshine Ordinance.
The opinion expressed below is my own and not an expression of the Commission.

I have been active in communicating with City Council members for the past year and a half and have felt very constrained in trying to buld [sic] a consensus because of the the inability of more than two members to discuss an issue. How the legislature can impose such a draconian limitation on local officials while exempting themslves [sic] from the same requirements defies any logical explanation. There should be no restriction on any number of council members meeting informally to discuss any matter or even to propose specific legislation and work out the languqge [sic] before it reaches the public meeting stage, so long as the the final vote is taken in public after the required prior notice of presentation and public input.

The current system has Councilmembers acting as islands, rather than intelligent candidly interacting human beings. I fully agree with you that it leads to Council being dependent on staff who have no retriction [sic] whatsoever on their discourse with eachother. [sic] It also leads to interminably long council meetings where language is developed on the fly in the course of the meeting. The late night meetings are much more damaging to the notion of transparency than unlimited private discourse between council members. [emphasis added]

I mean the “Brown Act[] could not be clearer” when it comes to governing serial communications. It says you can’t do it:

The Legislature finds and declares that the public commissions, boards and councils and other public agencies in this State exist to aid in the conduct of the people’s business. It is the intent of the law that their actions be taken openly and that their deliberations be conducted openly.

The people of this State do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them. The people, in delegating authority do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created.

The fact that there is a concern, in 2021, after two ad hoc committees met and discussed distinct issues with a focus on racial equity that there might be something incompatible in our Sunshine Ordinance with the Brown Act for an explicitly excluded type of city government serving committee is interesting given publicly stated opinions about a key portion of the Brown Act six years ago. It’s amusing to see someone who wanted to change a lynch pin of California’s signature law on open government to be less “constrained” for elected officials now wants to argue that something which was explicitly omitted from the Sunshine Ordinance’s definition of a “policy body” is some how a violation of the Sunshine Ordinance. Perhaps it has something to do with who sat on those committees and the topics they discussed rather than a real concern about public transparency.

Updated to add because I just checked this a few minutes ago, apparently there is correspondence from the former OGC Commissioner clarifying incoming Commissioner’s Carmen Reid’s intent regarding the communication asking to amend the Sunshine Ordinance. Why she required someone else to clarify her intent, I do not know.

Apparently Trish Spencer in appointing Carmen Reid to the role got herself a two-fer. Both a face on the OGC well known in the community and a behind-the-scenes adviser. I suppose if it wasn’t your idea in the first place to bring up this issue then it would require clarification from the person pushing the issue when your initial correspondence misunderstands the role of the commission you’re sitting on.

19 Comments »

  1. Is it typical for members of the public to be available at the meeting to answer questions about what a commissioner meant to say? Especially when the member of the public is a former commissioner? Seems like a power grab by the appointing council member to me.

    Comment by Gaylon — January 29, 2021 @ 8:07 am

    • I think it’s very concerning that two individuals associated with “Alameda Citizens Taskforce” are taking a heavy-handed approach with the Open Government Commission, with what looks like over-stepping based on my reading of events and correspondence. My understanding is a seat on the OGC is supposed to be an impartial role to serve all of Alameda, and not a specific advocacy group. The fact that Paul Foreman uses language like “I have discussed this in detail with Commissioner Reid” and “we” and “I will be available at your meeting to answer” insinuates that he probably believes he has a role with the city as some kind of self-anointed official. Several colleagues who have observed Paul on these recent Zoom meetings on housing matters have also opined the same, as they weren’t sure if he was speaking on behalf of the city or an anti-housing group like Livable California or just for himself. It’s important that Paul clarifies what exactly is his current role these days, and more importantly that Carmen exercises a more impartial approach to her new role as commissioner.

      Comment by JRB — January 29, 2021 @ 10:34 am

      • Jason, Sorry for the late reply. Just saw this. If I do not indicate otherwise, I am speaking for myself. When I am speaking on behalf of ACT or Livable California I will expressly say so.

        I do not perceive myself as a “self-anointed official”. In my Pennsylvania law practice I represented a large school district and a redevelopment authority. Due to this, I was from time to time asked to represent other municipal bodies in specific cases. Therefore I came to Alameda with a built-in interest in municipal affairs and found myself addressing Council on several occasions and initiating conversations with Council Members and staff. What has evolved from that is that I started to get requests from these same people to assist them on resolving some City issues. I have never refused such a request whether it came from political allies or others, and is has come from both. No matter how many issues separate us, I have always been able to find areas of common ground.

        With regard to Ms. Reid, she does have a duty to represent all of Alameda and I perceive that is what she is doing. One of her duties as an OGC member is to bring what she sees as an inconsistency between the Brown Act and the Sunshine Ordinance that should not exist. To my knowledge, no organization has taken a position on the current issue. In this case, I am not speaking for her. I am speaking in support of her referral, just as I might write of support the position of any city official with whom I agree.

        Comment by Paul Foreman — January 29, 2021 @ 1:13 pm

  2. My understanding is that the city council has underfunded the alameda police department. Might you want to look into whether this was is a good idea

    Comment by Donna Vaughn — January 29, 2021 @ 8:11 am

    • Please point to the budget line item which shows that the City Council underfunded APD.

      Comment by Lauren Do — January 29, 2021 @ 8:13 am

      • Council recently declined to pay for security camera backup, i believe last week

        Comment by Donna Vaughn — January 29, 2021 @ 9:09 am

        • I believe they asked that this be proposed to come back with the budget cycle in May after the subcommittees on policing are able to present their recommendations. Is that what you consider underfunding? Moving this to the budget discussion where it belongs?

          Comment by Lauren Do — January 29, 2021 @ 9:36 am

        • thank you..Guess thats how rumors start.

          Comment by Donna Vaughn — January 29, 2021 @ 9:50 am

        • I hope you correct who ever gave you that incorrect information.

          Comment by Lauren Do — January 29, 2021 @ 9:52 am

        • yes I did that and they were relieved to hear the info

          Comment by Donna Vaughn — January 29, 2021 @ 10:35 am

  3. Paul Foreman once again hoisted by his own petard. Jeez, this guy is like our island’s own Rudy Giuliani. Giuliani’s “Four Seasons Total Landscaping” press conference blunder reminded me of the time Paul Foreman arranged Jennifer Roloff’s city council photoshoot and it featured almost entirely of white individuals standing behind her, absolutely no reflection of Alameda’s rich diversity. And now he wants to invalidate the two ad hoc committees that seek to address concerns of our diverse community. I’m not saying there’s a pattern, but I’d like to see Paul use more of his volunteerism energy towards helping the more disadvantaged members of our town.

    Comment by Reality — January 29, 2021 @ 9:32 am

  4. Lauren, I view your Blog every morning, even though I often disagree with your conclusions. My motive is to learn from you. You obviously are knowledgeable about City government and your research ability is impressive. However, you have a very bad habit. If you don’t like a person’s message you attack the messenger instead of the message. Today’s post is a clear example. At the end of your post, you quote a paragraph from my letter to the OGC. Thus, you have the entire letter which contains my argument for amendment of the Sunshine Ordinance, including statutory and California appellate court case law. Instead of attacking me, how about publishing it, and presenting your counter arguments? That way the public can learn something.

    In any event, I will respond to your assertion that my 2015 comments published in the Alameda Merry-go-round Blog criticizing the Brown Act’s prohibition of more than two councilmembers privately discussing city business is inconsistent with my current position of insisting on strict compliance with the Brown Act based upon the John Adams axiom that this is a government of laws, not men.

    You have missed the point of the axiom. It is that one can disagree with a law, but one cannot violate it without suffering the consequences. As I made clear in my 2015 remarks, my strong disagreement with this element of the Brown Act has not kept me from strictly abiding by it both before, during, and after my service on the OGC. The relativity of the axiom to the current issue is expressed in your quotation of me at the beginning of today’s post. There is reasonable argument to be made for ad hoc committees to be exempted from the Brown Act. However, Sec. 54952(b) expressly provides otherwise. Council is sworn to uphold the law, not seek devices to evade it.

    Finally, I did not suggest this issue to Ms. Reid. I only met her a few weeks ago. She called me for guidance on the issue and I took great interest in it and offered my help.

    Comment by Paul Foreman — January 29, 2021 @ 9:58 am

    • Your entire letter is linked to, that’s what the hyper link is. My focus is on you speaking on behalf of Commissioner Carmen Reid which is why only that portion was excerpted.

      The interesting thing is that you are both trying to distance yourself from the issue “I did not suggest this issue to Ms. Reid…She called me for guidance on the issue and I took great interest in it and offered my help.” And at the same time embrace the topic as your own “I will be available at your meeting to answer any questions regarding the same.”

      I would, humbly, suggest that someone who provides a level of leadership in the community that you consider your “guidance” through a lens that is more broad than simply that of a comfortable white male. That perhaps taking a broader framing will help you understand why there is a visceral reaction about this proposal which comes on the heels of two committees which focused in on racial equity in Alameda.

      Comment by Lauren Do — January 29, 2021 @ 10:29 am

  5. I haven’t had too many dealings with Paul Foreman, but the most memorable one was during the wellness center debate. Paul positioned himself as some kind of “middleman broker” who wanted to both-sides the issue (even though it was clear to me he was obviously against the wellness center from the beginning) and said that a good compromise between the two parties would be to have the drop-in center (serving Alameda residents only) somewhere on the transit line, and that Webster Street would have been more ideal. When I pointed out that the drop-in center was only 300 feet from Webster Street and even proved it on Google Maps, he said “okay I wish I had never mentioned Webster Street!” and then moved the ACT goalpost to somewhere else.

    In spite of all the lies and blatantly false flyers of Photoshopped tent cities and general fearmongering, Paul stayed silent. He only finally came out against the project publicly (predetermined outcome, anyone?) when he got upset by – get this – the wellness center campaign’s use of an Oxford comma in a mailer.

    I also distinctly remember Paul Foreman overseeing these fliers through his “A Better Alameda” campaign of candidates with what looked like crosshairs superimposed on their faces in a seemingly threatening way. This was in 2016. I had a very hard time explaining to my then 5-year-old son when he saw one of those flyers, why grown adults would do such a thing.

    Comment by JRB — January 29, 2021 @ 10:09 am

    • I am assuming that JRB is Jason Biggs, son of Doug Biggs. Jason, why not put your full name out there so folks can judge the point of view of the source.? At least I put my name on every post. Your description of my statement on Webster Street is accurate, but the reason for it was that Webster Street can be very close or very far from Crab Cove, so my statement was imprecise. I did start out as undecided on the wellness center and did try to moderate the debate, based on facts not hyperbole. When I did finally resolve to oppose it I stated the factual basis for doing so, Now that election is over and I wish nothing but success for the project.

      As for the “crosshairs” they were not crosshairs, but X’s. I was involved in drafting ads and was not comfortable with the idea, but did finally went along with it. In my view, it was a mistake, as was some of our other negative advertising. If you review our adds for the 2020 campaign they limited negative statements to only those supportable by facts. I am learning, just like you.

      Comment by Paul Foreman — January 29, 2021 @ 11:45 am

      • There is a certain irony where above where you attack Lauren for attacking the messenger and not the message when you call attention to who the author is in the very next comment as if to attack him as a source.

        Comment by Just sayin — January 29, 2021 @ 2:34 pm

        • Ding ding ding.

          Comment by He's Right, Paul — January 29, 2021 @ 2:54 pm

  6. Sorry, I missed the link, but I would be interested in your response to the content of the letter. I am not at all distancing myself nor Ms. Reid. I am responding to what I interpreted as your assertion that I was instigating her decision to bring this matter to the OGC. Yes, I can understand someone’s “visceral” reaction”, but would hope the reading of the second paragraph of your quote of my Jan. 27 post would allay that reaction. I am not seeking to invalidate or disrespect the work of these committees. My intent is to prevent future evasion of the Brown Act.

    Comment by Paul Foreman — January 29, 2021 @ 11:25 am

  7. Hey Paul, have you heard this song by local artist Suburban Death March? It might remind you of some people.

    https://suburbandeathmarch.bandcamp.com/track/small-town-tyrants-old-alameda-anthem

    Comment by Rod — January 29, 2021 @ 1:29 pm


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