Alameda: Oops We Did It Again… and on Page A1

The latest political news affecting the Island was splashed across the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle on Saturday, January 15: “Alameda City Attorney Wants New Job Plus Old One.”

That big splash on what appears to be a slow-news weekend was not what Alameda needs.

The news that Alameda City Attorney Teresa Highsmith took a job as city attorney in Barstow on December 20 without quitting her six-figure-salary job on the Island is now a topic of conversation across the Bay Area.

You can read what people from San Francisco and other areas think about us — and what some Alamedans are sharing — by browsing the comments section of the front-page story.

Here’s a taste:

– Can anyone explain why the taxpayers of Alameda allow themselves to keep getting financially abused by the people we pay to work for us?

– It may not be a conflict of interest for Highsmith to work for Alameda & Barstow, but it smells like a conflict.

– Why put her on paid leave? Why does she still get paid not to work? Fire her!

– The people of Alameda got royally screwed by some shysters, their own laziness, ignorance and diligent oversight. Or maybe it’s just incompetence on the part of the City Council and mayor.

And these are just a sampling of comments.

Others criticize the decision to let City Manager Ann Marie Gallant go, while a few point to Mayor Marie Gilmore and councilmembers Lena Tam and Rob Bonta as being behind the Highsmith mess.

The news about Highsmith first became known on the Island in late December. Thus, the timing of the Chron story is “interesting,” but most likely stems from a lack of other big Bay Area news.

Regardless of the reason, the Chron’s front-page focus on Alameda is not good. Neither is the fact that both Gallant and Highsmith are on paid leave.

“We were blindsided [by Highsmith taking the job in Barstow],” said Alameda City Councilwoman Lena Tam. “We’re not sure what happened. Right now we’re still in a fact-finding mode.”

The slow response does not bode well for 2011 in Alameda. We need to let our politicians know that we support steps to make things better on the Island — and to not exacerbate the sad paralysis our political situation now seems to be in.

The Highsmith fiasco is certainly not how Alameda should be making headlines… even when it’s a slow-news weekend.

Happy MLK Day!


Alameda Interim City Attorney Reportedly Leaving for Barstow

It began as a video-taped event on Monday, December 20, and Alameda City Attorney Teresa Highsmith’s departure for Barstow remains unconfirmed on the Island as of Thursday, December 23.

The San Francisco Chronicle posted a video clip of Highsmith accepting a job in Barstow on Monday. Blogger John Knox White also notes on the site that she is set to start her new post in Southern California on Friday, December 24.

Know White says that Barstow contracts out its City Attorney position to Colontuono and Levin, the law firm hired by the city to investigate Alameda City Councilwoman Lena Tam earlier this year.

Yvette Abich-Garcia, the outgoing city attorney for Barstow, said Highsmith would take over the position effective December 24, reported Peter Hegarty of the Alameda Journal on Thursday, December 23.

As of Wednesday afternoon, Hegarty says in his story, Highsmith had not resigned from her Island post, and her contract specifically requires that she provide the city with at least a 60-day written notice if she plans to quit or retire.

Barstow is located in San Bernadino County on I-15 (and the start of I-40), north of San Bernadino, west of the Mojave Dessert and east of Bakersfield.

Highsmith’s replacement will join a growing list of interim officials in town, including Mike Noonan, interim police chief; Mike Fisher, interim fire chief; and Anne Marie Gallant, interim city manager.

Also, Alameda may be hiring an interim economic development director next month, when Leslie Little is set to leave the position.