Voter Takes City to Task


Alameda purposefully has a structure where the City Council has limited powers with a focus on policymaking. It is noble some choose to give of themselves in this capacity. This acknowledged, I find it very good for Alameda we don’t rely on the City Council for more. I don’t think that most current Councilmembers can follow their own policies. I learned this by reading the entire 100-page report regarding the hiring of the new Fire Chief and financial settlement with the former City Manager. 

I found the report to be a tight breakdown of events based on strict legal interpretations, correct for the purpose it was undertaken.  However, as someone who lives and pays taxes in Alameda, I am part of the constituency to which the City Council (and our city services) must answer. So, after seeing what I feel are the City Council’s improper actions and how they  cost us nearly seven figures, assessment of the report findings from the residents.  I offer my perspective. 

Councilmember Jim Oddie
I think that Councilmember Jim Oddie crossed the line of his oath by signing his name to a specific candidate endorsement while acting in his official capacity. The investigative report clearly calls him out as guilty of this on pages 12, 66, and 70. 

Not only this, the report further flat-out questions the sincerity of statements he  made to the investigation team on page 11. I find statements he made since the report’s release regarding Section 7-3 ambiguous and laughable given what he did. I thiink it entrenches his lack of integrity and adds arrogance. I also think that he has proven himself a liability both ethically and financially, to really do what’s best for our city, I think that Oddie should admit his mistakes and accept the fact that actions have consequences and step down. 

Vice Mayor Malia Vella
The Vice Mayor took the trust I placed in her at the time of her oath and disrespected it. The timing of her meetings with the firefighters’ union and former City Manager Jill Keimach, along with the consistent outcome of various people’s notes and interviews cause me to legitimately question her integrity. 

I wonder why Malia Vella had so many meetings with the firefighters’ union. I think that these meetings went beyond process questions and were directed toward candidate preference. This happening once is somewhat excusable. However, I  question why continued discussions focused on which candidate to select and find this inexcusable.

As if this is not already highly questionable, Vella submitted a brief that I thnk claimed her first-amendment protections preclude the responsibilities of her oath to not commit malfeasance and “assure integrity in government” (page 17).  

Reading and knowing what one has signed up for is fundamental So, how can I not believe that an oath means nothing to Vella? I think that lack of responsibility screams that she is tied to consideration beyond her purview and not in it for the betterment of Alameda.  

Even without knowing what the recording has on it, I will question and scrutinze everything Vella does in Alameda from here on out For however long she stays, I  will never forget that she earned this added attention.

Councilmember Marilyn Ashcraft  
I find Councilwoman Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft a more savvy version of Vella,  She took grey-area actions in specific candidate support. I think she did it in a way that lent to corrupting the vetting process (pages 35 and 36). With no mention of what defined process would dictate, I wonder why did she suggested that Keimach meet with one specific candidate?  

Despite her comments about taking notes on page 27 and even the investigators making a footnote of her very detailed notes on page 9, I  wonder how or why Ezzy Ashcraft neglected to tell the investigator she shared with others that she was going to arrange a lunch between Keimach and someone who was exerting pressure in hiring the Fire Chief.

Since Ezzy Ashcraft didn’t admit to this, I am glad the investigator figured it out (page 40). Like with Vella, I do not think that Ashcraft’s actions build trust and inspire leadership.  I hope that most voters will remember this when it’s time to vote for Mayor.  

Matarrese & Mayor Spencer
I find it amazing that doing his job correctly allows Councilman Frank Matarrese to stand out in the best of ways. Good on  him.. I think that Mayor Trish Spencer also did well to stay out of the fray. Thanks for that.

Former City Manager Jill Keimach
Jill Keimach threw the kitchen sink of reasons into her October letter. I did not find her perfect in all this, but after having Oddie’s letter in hand and experiencing what I feel were repeated Vella and Ashcraft self-insertions, I can reasonably see why Keimach was worried.  

In fact, the City Council apparently agrees with Keimach. It just settled with her for more than $900,000, a large premium over what remained on her contract. 

The City Council won’t apologize for, or take responsibility for, its own actions but it will pay taxpayers’  money to close this “unfortunate” (to quote Ezzy Ashcraft) chapter in the city’s history.

Firefighters’ Union
One of the side “benefits” of the investigative report unveils  the union’s true character and motives. What reeked for me in the report from many different sources and perspectives was what I found to be a straight-up undermining and disregard for obtaining the best-of-the-best for serving Alameda.  

I found extensive exampes. They range from the stacking of those who sit on the Fire Prevention Bureau (page 25); to threatening to limit the Fire Chief applicant pool (page 10); and then the failure to provide mutual aid (page 31). 

Via the union’s actions, its desire to be seen as a brotherhood duty-bound to serve others is seriously deflated. As a voter I don’t have a choice in selecting city services. But it would serve the voters well if they did for fire services. The competitive landscape could place the firefighters’  union’s actions in check and push its members to answer this question: How is the union working in the interest of Alameda residents?  

Council & Firefighters’ Union
What have I learned from all this? It is that these two entities, the City Council and the firefighters’ union, “got away” with something.” A look at the early outcomes may indicate that they have. As of now, the three Councilmembers the firefighters’ union most strongly backed remain in their positions. Actions I view as obstructive and perhaps even derelictions of duty by firefighters have not been called out. A City Manager who impeded their agenda is now gone. The City Council and union might consider all these wins. But some things are changing. 

Thanks to their actions and directly resulting from a very costly investigation and settlement, voters here and in other cities may view candidate endorsements from the firefighters’ union as a strike against the candidates.  

Voters might look for candidates willing to strongly support the curtailing of pensions out of tune with economic reality. As a legacy of this investigation, voters may question more deeply whether City Councilmembers and firefighters really will perform their sworn duties when called upon.