Findings of Council Investigation Released

 

The independent investigation regarding the Alameda Fire Chief selection process revealed Councilmember Jim Oddie violated the City Charter when he wrote a letter of recommendation for Domenick Weaver to City Manager Jill Keimach.

The discovery came as part of a 100-page investigative report conducted by Michael Jenkins, an attorney for Jenkins & Login LLP. Oddie’s letter of recommendation for Weaver for the Alameda Fire Department (AFD) Fire Chief was addressed to Keimach on July 31, 2017. The report, which was released to the public on Wednesday, May 2, revealed Oddie sent the letter on city letterhead and signed it. Jenkins said the letter “evidences an attempt to influence the City Manager’s appointment decision. As such, in my opinion, it violates the City Charter.” The City Charter Jenkins is referring to is Alameda City Charter Sec. 7-3, which prohibits Councilmembers from attempting to influence the City Manager in the making of any appointment. 

However, Jenkins does place some blame on the broadness of City Charter Sec. 7-3 for the transgression. Even though councilmembers are not allowed to interfere with City Manager appointments, they do have the power to inquire about a City Manager’s administrative services.

“The line between inquiry and opinion can easily and innocently be blurred,” wrote Jenkins. This broadness led Jenkins to recommend Council “propose to the electors a City Charter amendment or enacting an ordinance that delineates with specificity the types of conduct that constitute a violation of this section.”

Oddie agreed with Jenkins’ assessment that the section is too broad. 

“If I violated the Charter by writing a letter of recommendation on behalf of a man I know well and believed would be a great fire chief, then, as the investigator’s report recognizes, the Charter needs to be changed,” wrote Oddie in his response to the report. “There was nothing improper about writing a recommendation letter for a highly qualified candidate. I cannot apologize where the record reveals that I did nothing wrong. I never intended in any way to influence or pressure Keimach in any even slightly improper way.”

The investigation was initiated after Keimach wrote a letter to Council last October (“City Must Fully Investigate City Manager’s Allegations,” Oct. 16) alleging two Councilmembers, revealed later to be Oddie and Vice-Mayor Malia Vella, illegally pressured her to hire Weaver as AFD Fire Chief. Jenkins & Login, LLP were hired shortly after to investigate the fire chief hiring process. Jenkins investigated six claims Keimach made in her letter. He refuted most of her allegations.

Keimach first alleged that her job performance evaluation was delayed in an attempt to tie it to her selection of the fire chief. Jenkins said the delay was due to disagreements over best procedure and similar intra-Council considerations. Evaluations of the City Attorney and City Clerk were similarly delayed. 

The City Manager’s also claimed Vella and Oddie directed her to conduct untenable operations like informing Council within an hour of dispatch of all potential hate incidents and crimes. Keimach believed the purpose was to set her up to fail and create something negative to put in her evaluation. Jenkins said evidence did not support the claim that the purpose of the request was to set her up for failure.

The third allegation was that Keimach’s fire chief selection would have an impact on her evaluation. Jenkins believes this to be true as Oddie and Vella did express to her that her appointment would have such an impact on her evaluation.

Keimach’s also claimed that the two Councilmembers pressured her to hire Weaver because it would be in the best interest of labor peace and avoid an incident similar to what happened Raymond Zack, referring to the 2011 incident where Alameda firefighters remained ashore and looked on while Zack drowned at Crown Beach. This claim was supported in part. Oddie stated in his letter that he thinks Weaver will aid Council’s policymaking involving post-retirement liability. He also explained that past city administrators benefitted when they made internal promotions, according to the report. Keimach claimed the Zack incident was brought up in a threatening manner. However, Jenkins could not identify who brought up the incident or in which context it was brought up. 

The fifth claim was the councilmembers may have violated the Ralph M. Brown Act. This claim was also supported in part. Alameda Police Chief Paul Rolleri told Jenkins that Oddie told him “she better do the right thing” and that there were two Councilmembers ready to fire her. However, Jenkins believes Oddie thought the conversation was private. For the statement to be an attempt to influence the City Manager, there would have to be a set strategy to use Rolleri as a messenger. There is no evidence to this. Also, there was no evidence Councilmembers discussed firing Keimach privately, which would violate the Brown Act.

Keimach’s sixth claim involved threats to potential appointees to get them to withdraw from the hiring process. Jenkins said there was no evidence to support Councilmembers were involved. However, he believes fire union members discouraged potential candidates. 

Vella was cleared of any potential violations of the City Charter.

“The evidence does not support any of Ms. Keimach’s baseless accusations that I improperly attempted to influence her selection of a new fire chief,” said Vella in a statement.

Keimach’s attorney, Therese Cannata, called the report “whitewashed” but was satisfied it validated Keimach’s claim she felt pressured to hire Weaver. 

Twenty-two people were interviewed for the investigation. 

To view the report visit the city’s website, www.alamedaca.gov.