An Alameda Power Play? 

Some island residents worry that a new three–member council majority intends to undermine the city's strong–city–manager form of government.

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As for Tam, she was less circumspect about why she voted to put Gallant on paid leave. The councilwoman said there was concern that Gallant's presence in City Hall would create awkwardness for the human resources director responsible for helping the council recruit a suitable replacement, especially if Gallant wanted to keep the job. "We put her on paid administrative leave because we are recruiting for a permanent city manager," she said. "I think there would have been some inherent awkwardness and I wanted to avoid any conflicts of interest."

Still, for some, the behind-the-scenes maneuverings smelled of a possible power-grab. Former Vice Mayor Arnerich notes that the city charter makes it clear that Alameda is a strong-city-manager city, not a strong-mayor city. The council can hire, fire, and direct policy with a three-vote majority, but it's the city manager's job to run the day-to-day operations, while the mayor is the chair of the council and a ceremonial figurehead. "The mayor is an official ambassador for the city," Arnerich said. "Technically, under the city charter, the council cannot interfere with a city manager's decision. You can't have two bosses."

But if the council replaces the assertive Gallant with a city manager more inclined toward the rubber stamp, the locus of power could shift from the city manager's office to the mayor's chair. And the circumstances surrounding Gallant's ouster have convinced some islanders that the Gilmore-Tam-Bonta majority appears to be willing to use strong-arm tactics to achieve its political goals. "They're trying to make this into a strong-mayor government, but if you want to do that, change the charter," said Sun editor Evanosky. "The spirit of the charter is not for the mayor to tell the city manager what to do and, you know what, if you don't like what I say I'll have my two friends on the council fire you."

Gilmore, Bonta, and Tam all deny that the decision to get rid of Gallant means they're trying to change the government's power structure. "I think the whole idea is ludicrous," Gilmore said. She said she wants a city manager who is tough and willing to act as a check against the council when necessary. "I don't want someone that the council can just bulldoze," she said. "I'm looking for a strong city manager who will be independent and give his or her best professional judgment."

Vice Mayor Bonta also said the consensus on recent council votes shows that the idea that a power shift is occurring is wrong. He said there are no majorities, minorities, or political factions on the council, just people trying to make difficult decisions. The new council has agreed, for example, that the next attempt to redevelop Alameda Point should involve a concerted effort to bring the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's planned second campus to the island. "Mostly everything we've voted on has been unanimous, with the exception of one or two items," Bonta said. "That means we share a common vision for how to move the city forward."

"Moving forward" – that's the mantra on every councilmember's lips these days. But whether it's a genuine effort to get beyond the acidity of the past year or a defensive measure to soothe voter angst is anyone's guess. Nonetheless, if Gilmore, Bonta, and Tam do team up, especially on the decision of who will be the next city manager and city attorney, then there's reason to believe that Johnson, deHaan, and their supporters will have much less of a voice in how the city is governed.

In the months ahead, it also will be interesting to see if Gilmore, Bonta, and Tam, along with the new city manager and city attorney, decide to settle the lawsuit that SunCal filed against the city or fight it to the bitter end.

Islanders, in other words, might want to brace themselves for another turbulent year.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled the first name of Ann Marie Gallant.

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