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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By spring, Gallant and City Attorney Teresa Highsmith suspected that Tam was illegally leaking confidential city information to SunCal. They paid a law firm $60,000 to investigate, and the firm concluded that Tam had leaked confidential e-mails not only to SunCal but to the Alameda firefighters union, which was battling Gallant over staff cutbacks. Tam was also accused of blind-carbon-copying Gilmore on many of the e-mails, raising suspicions that they were working in tandem against Gallant. The firm that Highsmith hired urged the district attorney's office to press criminal charges and remove Tam from public office.

The embattled councilwoman, meanwhile, denied the allegations, claiming it was an attempt by Highsmith and Gallant to undermine the SunCal negotiations and punish her for not falling in line with their vision. As SunCal's July 20 deadline approached, Gallant lobbied the council to kill the deal, and it did, voting 4-0 to send the developer packing. Tam was the abstaining vote.

In September, the district attorney's office announced that it would not press charges against Tam, citing a lack of evidence. Tam, in turn, immediately called for Gallant and Highsmith's removal. The scandal deepened when SunCal sued Gallant for alleged fraud, claiming that she had hatched a "secret plan" to have the city redevelop the former Naval Air Station in an effort to elevate her stature as a city manager. "This is a case of a governmental bureaucrat gone out of control and taking advantage to enrich herself," the company alleged in its legal complaint.

The lawsuit also accused Gallant of participating in the same kind of backroom shenanigans — leaking and destroying confidential e-mails, withholding public records — that Tam was allegedly involved in. The developer also sued the city for more than $100 million, claiming the city had received, free of charge, all the company's plans and research for the development of Alameda Point — work that cost SunCal $17 million. However, the developer's complaint is short on supporting evidence, and Gallant's attorneys have ridiculed SunCal's allegations in court.

All of this made for a particularly rancorous fall campaign season. SunCal may have been ousted from negotiations, but the company made its presence felt on the island by distributing thousands of mailers accusing Gallant of corruption and likening her management to the egregious acts of embezzlement committed by Bell city officials in Southern California. "We've been infiltrated with Karl Rove-like politics," said Gene Oh, owner of Alameda Bicycle. In an op-ed in the Alameda Sun, he objected to the nasty political discourse on the island: "This smells of big money in a small town."

In the end, the November election reshuffled the power structure on the Alameda City Council, and thereby sealed Gallant's fate. Although Gilmore publicly denounced SunCal's attacks on Gallant during the campaign and promised to not bring back the developer, she won the mayor's chair by defeating a strident SunCal opponent, Councilman Frank Matarrese, and deHaan, who also strongly opposed the developer. Tam, her old friend Bonta, who managed her 2006 council campaign, and Johnson won the three open council seats.

In other words, the election results meant that the city manager who had steered the city through difficult economic times would only be able to count on two members of the five-member council for support.

Alameda's year of scandal and subterfuge ended December 28 with the closed-door meeting in which Gilmore, Bonta, and Tam voted to show Gallant the door. In the same session, the council voted unanimously to dismiss Highsmith as well, for taking a second job as city attorney in Barstow that her Alameda bosses only learned about through a YouTube video.

Few people have argued against the decision to dismiss Highsmith, but the move to oust Gallant immediately fueled suspicions of foul play. Under city law, Bonta was prohibited from voting to fire Gallant within ninety days of the election. So he, Tam, and Gilmore found a loophole in the law that effectively allowed them to lock her out of her City Hall office. The majority voted to put her on paid administrative leave and agreed to not renew her contract when it expires March 31. "The reason for the closed-door meeting was legitimate," said Dennis Evanovsky, editor of the Alameda Sun. "But who in the world would send someone home for ninety days with pay? They wanted to fire her but couldn't because Bonta wasn't on the council for ninety days."

Gilmore contended that they had no choice but to make a decision before the end of 2010 because Gallant's contract stipulates that the city must provide her with a minimum of ninety days notice if she won't be granted an extension. Gilmore and Bonta also denied allegations that the decision to oust Gallant was political payback for the city manager's actions involving Tam. "That's absolutely wrong," Gilmore said.

But both have refused to explain why they voted to send Gallant home, arguing that their reasons are confidential. "That's why it's a closed session," Bonta said. "We had a five-and-a-half-hour session where we discussed the issues, and I listened closely. ... I made the decision I thought was best for the city."

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