Alameda Politics: Time to Move Forward

The summer (and early fall) have not been kind to Alameda.

The Island has garnered attention from across the Bay Area for the issues engulfing both the Alameda City Council, city administrators and the Alameda Fire Department.

It’s certainly time to regroup, and we should start with some clear guidelines on – for instance – electronic communications, disclosure, benefits, spending on special projects (legal and otherwise). This is quite a list.

One anonymous commentator wrote on the Island of Alameda website: “Alameda is the laughing stock of the Bay Area right now. I know that is tough for some people to hear, but it’s true. In order to get some pride back, staff and any councilmembers involved in this witch hunt need to be accountable now, and not in November.”

It doesn’t seem possible at this time, given present levels of animosity, to resolve the many issues connected with the investigation of City Councilmember Lena Tam before the elections.

However, it is possible to ask serious questions of the candidates running for mayor and city council: How would you work to ensure that we don’t get caught up in lawsuits, public investigations and other matters that distract city leaders from the longer-term issues affecting Alameda?

Perhaps we should start with: What are your definitions of integrity, honesty and civility?

And there’s also the matter of how city leaders and staff members will act in a crisis and resolve controversial matters, such as negotiating with SunCal. We can’t fully anticipate candidates’ actions; they are human, after all.

But, we can certainly probe the candidates and seek to elect those that have (or, at least, appear to have) the ability to reach compromises and act decisively in ways that further Alameda’s interests, rather than their own.

Finally, for these who want to follow the candidates’ campaign documents and contributions as of June 30, 2010, there are disclosure statements available online. Review the folder that’s labeled “2010-07 Semi Annual Filings.”


Second Council Candidate Demands That City Manager Go

Alameda City Council candidate Jeff Mitchell and Alameda resident John Knox White are calling on the city to put Interim City Manager Ann Marie Gallant and City Attorney Teresa Highsmith on immediate paid administrative leave.

The two Alamedans and their supporters are meeting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, September 7, at Alameda City Hall, just eight hours after city councilmember Lena Tam asked for Gallant to resign and for Mayor Beverly Johnson to apologize for a county investigation of her.

The district attorney conducting the investigation ruled on Friday, September 3, that there was not enough evidence to support claims that Tam violated the Brown Act by leaking confidential city information. The City Council, though, is poised to consider whether or not it should file a civil lawsuit against Tam in a special closed session on Thursday, September 9.

In a press release, Mitchell says that he filed a citizen complaint with the Alameda County Grand Civil Jury alleging “malfeasance of office and misuse of public funds by Gallant and Highsmith to pursue their secret investigation of Lena Tam — an investigation which many have labeled a political witch hunt.”

Furthermore, Mitchell argues that while an audit of the public funds used in the investigation against Tam has not been conducted, Tam claims the amount may be over $100,000.


As DA Drops Charges, Tam Asks Gallant to Resign

Speaking outside Alameda City Hall on Tuesday, September, 7, City Councilwoman Lena Tam said that prosecutors had dropped their investigation into whether she violated the Brown Act by leaking confidential city information, and they will not refer the case to the grand jury.

In addition, Tam called for the resignation of Interim City Manager Ann Marie Gallant and an apology from Mayor Beverly Johnson.

Tam, who noted that the city could have used the money spent on her case for more civic-minded purpuses — such as the operation of the library — is running for re-election to the City Council in November; one of her opponents in the race is Johnson.

The Bay Area News Group is reporting that the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office notified city officials about the decision not to pursue the case in a confidential letter on Friday, September 3, citing insufficient evidence.

Nevertheless, the Alameda City Council is set to meet in closed session on Thursday, September 9, to consider whether the city should file a civil lawsuit against Tam. According to city officials, Tam was only “tentatively” cleared by the DA.

In July, an attorney hired by the city’s interim city manager said Tam had leaked confidential information, including to representatives from the SunCal, who wanted to redevelop the former Alameda Naval Air Station.

Tam also was accused of leaking information to the Alameda firefighters union and of violating the state’s open meeting law by using e-mails to influence other councilmembers.

Michael Colantuono, the attorney hired to investigate Tam, said in a statement: “It is plain that the district attorney has not given Councilmember Tam a clean bill of health, but suggests instead that the City pursue other remedies (like a lawsuit) or that the voters solve this problem on November 2.”

While the City Council may resolve the issue later this week, Tam’s request for Gallant’s resignation and Johnson’s apology will certainly resonate with voters for the next two months, at least.


Resolving Alamedagate Requires Action

Alameda’s got a lot of mudslinging going on.

Did Councilwoman Lena Tam leak confidential information via e-mail regarding Sun-Cal and fire-fighting contracts and thus engage in official misconduct?

Did a source of these allegations, Interim City Manager Ann Marie Gallant, have a political axe to grind after Tam raised issues regarding Gallant’s job performance?

Does the fact that these issues are being raised before the upcoming fall election and the next Sun-Cal vote before the City Council seem more than coincidence?

Yes, it’s Alamedagate.  And it’s messy.

(To see what Islanders and others are saying about the allegations, infighting and Tam’s self-defense, check out comments on The Island’s  recent coverage and the San Francisco Chronicle‘s coverage.)

As a city without paid political leaders, we rely on good relations between the paid city staff and our elected officials. We certainly know now that we can’t count on a stable relationship in this arena, at least in the near term.

We also need firm accountability when it comes to the performance of both our politicians and our administrators — and that seems very much in flux.

As the city is rocked by these matters and the ensuing political fallout, it’s worth asking: Who should be watching who? Are the pertinent laws and rules being applied to and followed by all politicians and administrators equally and adequately?

Do we as an Island community need to consider starting over with a clean slate – by embracing change and rigorously re-working our government?

It may be worth considering ways that can improve accountability, such as giving each geographic area of our community the ability to elect its own representative, so the political system is less centralized.

It also may be valuable to find other ways to regroup, both at the administrative level and at the elected-official level, so that significant issues — such as the future of Alameda Point — are dealt with more productively and innovatively.

An odd and disadvantageous mix of political interests seems to have hijacked the Island — and residents’ best interests are being lost in the process.    

In this instance, it’s up to us (and not the Coast Guard) to take it back.


Alameda election returns 6:12 am, the morning after

A glance at this morning’s returns (with all Alameda precincts in, but an unknown number of provisional ballots still to be counted) we’re still seeing the same trends as last night. It looks like newcomers Trish Spencer, Niel Tam and Ron Mooney will take seats on the school board, ousting two incumbents, David Forbes and Janet Gibson. In the city council race, it looks like Doug DeHaan and Marie Gilmore have been returned to office (defeating challengers Tracy Jensen and Justin Harrision). Measure P, the city real estate transfer tax, is at this moment passing by the tiniest of margins, just over 300 votes. You can see all election returns here. Mike McMahon is tracking the school board vote here.


Alameda election returns 12:44 am

New returns just in. There’s now 37 of 52 precincts reporting. Measure P has an ever-so-slight lead: 10,429 yes votes to 10, 318 no’s. The school board ranking order is still the same (remember the top three candidates will get seats). Right now that’s Niel Tam with 11,392 votes, Trish Spencer with 8,495, and Ron Mooney with 8,238. Janet Gibson has 8,049 votes and David Forbes has 7,346. In the race for city council, Doug DeHaan and Marie Gilmore have tidy leads (DeHann has 10,068 votes and Gilmore has 9,527). Tracy Jensen trails with 7,533 votes while, at this point, Justin Harrison has captured 5,240

And now for your history in the making moment: At 114, the daughter of former slaves votes for Obama.


Looking to November: Alameda council candidates

Over at Alamedans you can read up on the four candidates for Alameda’s City Council—Tracy Jensen, Justin Harrison, Marie Gilmore and Doug deHaan. Tracy Jensen and Justin Harrison have their own campaign web sites, while the two incumbents, Doug deHaan and Marie Gilmore don’t seem to (if I’ve somehow missed their sites, please let me know). Alameda’s League of Women Voters is sponsoring two forums where you can meet the council candidates. The first will be on Thursday, October 9, at 6:45 p.m. at Cardinal Point and the second on Thursday, October 30 at the Mastick Senior Center. And I would, of course, urge each and every one of you to attend one of those forums and put a face and voice and person to the name. All the better to make a solid choice in the voting booth.


California’s plan to spray light brown apple moth suspended

As many of you may recall, back in April there was a big to-do about the the State of California’s plan to spray synthetic pheromones in plastic microcapsules over Alameda (and other Bay Area cities) in an effort to eradicate the light brown apple moth. The news today is that the state has halted their controversial strategy. You can read the Contra Costa Times story about it here. And Michele Ellson over at The Island has more detail as well.