Open letter to Council

Dear Mayor and Council Members:
Alameda is in the midst of a difficult time, with the tumultuous departure of the City Manager and the associated after-effects. Now that the independent investigation has been completed and the results have been made available to the public, it is time to make right one specific issue: indemnification of all City Councilmembers who were wrongly accused and found innocent of any wrongdoing. 

Specifically, we want to ensure that the Vice Mayor Malia Vella is treated justly, and ensure that future public servants will also be indemnified of expenses related to unfounded accusations. Failure to do so will threaten the desire to serve in public office in Alameda for many people, an outcome we would like to avoid.

Vella was found by the independent investigator to have done nothing wrong, yet she has incurred legal expenses defending herself against false allegations and defamation. As a result of these allegations, she is being subjected to racist and misogynistic rhetoric, including cries to prove she is a citizen and a resident of our city. Again: according to the independent investigator she did nothing wrong. 

When councilmembers have to defend themselves against defamation, and they win, it is good policy for our city to reimburse them for their legal expenses. This is particularly true when the former city manager who made “the tapes” that underlie so many of the defamatory accusations walked away from our city with $900,000 despite currently being investigated by the district attorney.

We don’t know why the Council has not directed city staff to reimburse Vella for her legal expenses, but we are asking you to reimburse her immediately. Historically, councilmembers have been indemnified, meaning, if found to have not done anything illegal, improper, or wrong, the city has reimbursed them for all legal expenses incurred as a result of the accusations. 

This ensures that public servants have some protection from unfounded accusations. If this has been the procedure in the past, why has Council chosen to not indemnify Vella in this case? It appears arbitrary. If this decision stands, we want to express our concerns about the negative consequences and impact it could have on public service in Alameda.

Alameda’s City Council is a volunteer job with significant responsibility and commitment expected of its members. As a democracy, we expect to be governed by representatives of our community; our diverse community deserves and needs a diverse city council. Should the Council refuse to indemnify the Vice Mayor, it will send a chilling effect throughout the pool of active, engaged Alamedans who may otherwise consider public service, limiting the pool of candidates to those who can afford the potential threat of hefty legal fees.

The refusal to indemnify communicates very clearly a commitment to an exclusive, wealthy city council. We want our city to send a message that it will support our public servants and volunteers and protect against unfounded accusations, and that we as a city will not decide these issues arbitrarily but through consistent and reliable policy. 

We ask you to indemnify Vice Mayor Vella to reimburse her for the legal expenses she has incurred, and to demonstrate to Alameda your commitment to more inclusive and democratic government for our city. 

 

 

Eric Strimling

Editor’s note: Sixteen other Alameda residents also signed this letter, but it is the Alameda Sun’s policy to reference the signer who delivered the let