Friday, March 23, 2012

Oakland City Attorney Barbara Parker Takes a Tough Stance on City Council Interference

By Robert Gammon
Fri, Mar 23, 2012 at 11:27 AM

Barbara Parker is proving to be a no-nonsense city attorney — much like City Administrator Deanna Santana. Yesterday, Parker issued a tough new memo to city employees, reminding them that Oakland’s City Council members have no legal right to interfere with their work. The memo comes on the heels of a probe by Santana that uncovered evidence that Councilwoman Desley Brooks had interfered with city employees when she engineered a no-bid contract to build a swanky new teen center in her district.

Barbara Parker
  • Barbara Parker
Parker’s memo, like Santana’s investigation, is particularly noteworthy because top Oakland city officials over the years have been reluctant to rein in the actions of council members who have a history of violating the city’s separation-of-powers law, because of fears that the council members would retaliate. Parker’s actions also display refreshing independence because it was the council who appointed her to be city attorney after her predecessor, John Russo, left Oakland to become Alameda’s city manager.

Parker’s memo also follows the recent rebuke delivered by her deputy, Doryanna Moreno, to Brooks. At a council meeting earlier this month, Moreno repeatedly told Brooks that she should recuse herself from a vote on whether Santana should continue the investigation of Brooks because Brooks has a conflict of interest. Moreno noted that Santana’s probe had already uncovered evidence that Brooks may have violated the city’s separation-of-powers law.

Moreover, Moreno’s actions and Parker’s memo strike a stark contrast between Parker and Councilwoman Jane Brunner, who plans to run against Parker in the November city attorney’s race. Brunner, along with Councilman Ignacio De La Fuente (who plans to run for mayor if there’s a recall election) both rushed to Brooks’ defense and voted against a proposal earlier this month to appoint an independent investigator to further probe Brooks’ conduct with the teen center. At the council meeting in which Moreno confronted Brooks, Brunner also stated that she couldn’t “understand” why Brooks would have a conflict of interest if Brooks voted on a proposal to further investigate Brooks and other council members. Brunner and De La Fuente appeared to be obviously pandering to Brooks as they prepare to run for city attorney and mayor, respectively.

In her memo to city employees, Parker points out that interference by councilmembers with city employees’ work constitutes a criminal misdemeanor that would force the councilmember to be removed from office. Parker listed the following prohibitions that would constitute interference in violation of the city’s separation-of-powers law that would require removal from office:

1. A City Councilmember may only contact City administrative staff only to make inquiries. All other communications about the administration of the City must only be through the City Administrator or Mayor.

2. A City Councilmember shall not give orders to any administrative employee, either publicly or privately. A City administrative staff person shall not carry out the orders of a City Councilmember. Instead, the staff person should consult and follow the direction of the City Administrator or department head.

3. A City Councilmember shall not attempt to coerce or influence the City Administrator or any administrative employee in respect to any contract, purchase of supplies or any other administrative action. A City staff person should not be influenced in respect to any contract, purchase of supplies or any other administrative action by a Councilmember.

4. A City Councilmember may not in any manner direct or request the appointment to or removal from office of any person by the City Administrator, City Administrator subordinates or any other such officers.

5. A City Councilmember may not in any manner take part in the appointment or removal of any administrative employee.

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