Grand Jury May Loom on Council’s Horizon

 

At a closed-door meeting on Monday, the City Council unanimously voted to instruct City Attorney Janet Kern to “refer the audio recordings to the Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley.” Jill Keimach made the recordings of two City Councilmembers when she was serving as City Manager.  Some hope that O’Malley will turn the tapes over to a civil grand jury.  

Like other counties across the state and country, Alameda County has two types of grand juries: criminal and civil. Criminal grand jurors review evidence produced by the district attorney to determine whether persons should be indicted for criminal offenses. The civil grand jury, on the other hand, investigates the workings and efficiencies of county and local governments. Among its several duties, a civil grand jury is charged with investigating charges of willful misconduct by public officials or employees. 

In the eyes of some, willful misconduct in this case involves Keimach’s surreptitious taping of Vice-Mayor Malia Vella and Councilman Jim Oddie. Keimach alleges that the pair were trying to pressure her into hiring the Alameda firefighters’ choice for a new fire chief, Domenick Weaver. 

In the eyes of others, the willful misconduct involves Vella and Oddie allegedly interfering with Keimach’s hiring of Edmond Rodriquez instead of Weaver. Did Keimach break the law or was she protecting herself? Did Oddie and Vella break the City Charter or were they pressuring Keimach to hire the best person for the job?  

The legal answers to these questions now lie in O’Malley’s hands. 

This brings the matter full circle back to closed-door meetings. Did the City Council have the right to discuss these matters, hire an investigator at taxpayers’ expense, receive that report and vote on Keimach’s fate all behind closed doors?

Investigating matters that city councils choose to ponder outside the public eye is nothing new to the grand jury. During its last session the grand jury investigated complaints that the Oakland City Council made important decisions about the development of city-owned property behind closed doors. 

The grand jury examined City Council actions concerning three parcels of city-owned property. Council and staff held more than 45 closed-session meetings for these projects, valued at more than $500 million. The grand jury found that the Oakland City Council “discussed key matters such as project vision, feasibility, and proposal requirements in closed session. In addition the Oakland City Council deliberated about and selected the project developers in private meetings not subject to public scrutiny. 

“When deliberations occur in closed sessions, the public and those doing business with the city are given the perception that backroom deals are being made,” the grand jury stated as part of its conclusion in the matter. 

In addition the grand jury concluded that people 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 grand jury stated. 

Will conclusions like these play out in any investigations stemming from the tapes the city will soon hand over to O’Malley?