Community members are responding angrily as news has began to spread that City Council President Pat Kernighan has called a special City Council meeting to reprimand District 6 Councilmember Desley Brooks for violating the City Charter for interfering with staff.
The meeting will be held Thursday, July 25 in the Council Chambers at 6:30 p.m. Though the motion to censure Brooks carries no formal penalties, it could potentially impact next year’s District 6 council race.
“I think this is a political witch hunt – it has bigger political implications in terms of the mayoral election and future political races – because it is much to do about nothing,” said Ron Muhammad, West Oakland community activist.
He said the council should not be considering censure because “there’s not a process in place to judge her, but propaganda has created the momentum.”
The move to censure Brooks originally started out because she was able to build a teen center in District 6 utilizing significant support of volunteers and donations before former Councilmember Nancy Nadel could complete one in West Oakland, and Nadel resented Brooks for “leapfrogging the process,” he said.
Brooks’ center was built for $157,000 and in “45 days as opposed to three years” for Nadel’s West Oakland project at a cost of over $3 million, said Muhammad.
In addition, the East Oakland center has state-of-art programs serving young people, while the West Oakland center has until now lacked funds to open its doors.
Underscoring concern over staff’s lack of accountability to the community, Rev. Daniel Buford of Allen Temple Baptist Church argues that responsible council members must make staff accountable to the public.
“Far from keeping council people from talking to city staff, I think they need to be meddled with, they need to be monitored and they need to be censured for encumbering the city in million-dollar schemes that are bilking taxpayers,” Buford said.
“It was the city staff that years ago encumbered the city for millions of dollars to Goldman Sachs,” he said. “ It is that same city staff that is now dragging their feet in resolving the issue,” and is attempting to keep the city from debarring that organization from future dealings with Oakland.
In addition, he said, it was staff that agreed to a contract with Neptune Society to build a crematorium in East Oakland that would burn and pollute the air with the dust of 3,000 corpses a year.
“Once again, staff has gotten the city into something without proper citizen review or environmental quality review,” he said.
While the main charge against Brooks is that she violated the City Charter by interfering with staff, the bigger issue in city government is that “staff interferes and sabotages the decisions of the council,” said Rashidah Grinage, executive director of PUEBLO, which, along with other organizations, has worked for years for police accountability to local residents.
Staff does not carry out city decisions and are even guilty of saying, “they have done things that they have not done,” Grinage said. “This is the far more serious problem about city accountability to its residents.”
As an example, she cited the failure of city staff, including the City Administrator, to properly oversee the Oakland Workforce Investment Board, which has led to failure to fund non-profit job programs in a timely way and to the return of $600,000 in on-job-training funds to the state.
She said the City Administrator also failed to adequately oversee small businesses located at the site of the Oakland Army Base development project. As a result, the city has had to scramble at the last minute to find temporary locations for these local companies, trying to keep them from closing down and laying off hundreds of workers.
“It was entirely foreseeable that they would have to get out of where they were,” Grinage
Further, Grinage said that actions of city staff and the City Administrator have cost city $10-$15 million in court fees, lawsuits and consultants for failing for over 10 years to reform the Oakland Police Department as required by the Negotiated Settlement Agreement, overseen by federal Judge Thelton Henderson.
Grinage is currently contending with City Administrator Deanna Santana for stalling the implementation of the transfer of intake of complaints against police from Internal Affairs to and independent review board.
“She’s supposed to have it done by Oct. 15,” Grinage said. “But it’s already been delayed two years.”
Kitty Kelly Epstein, an Oakland educator and former staffer for the previous mayor, also opposed the motion to reprimand Brooks.
“Censure is a political weapon. It isn’t any prettier in Oakland than it is in the U.S. Congress,” she said. “ Desley Brooks is the only council member who has actually succeeded in getting a teen center operating in her district.
“Instead of considering a censure of her, maybe the president of the council would want to figure out how to get city administration to work in such a way that the other badly needed teen centers are actually built and operating.
“And while she’s at it, Ms. Kernighan could look at how to get some other city policies carried out – like jobs for the residents of East and West Oakland and a reformed police department.”