In response to questions from the Post, City Auditor Courtney Ruby disputed criticisms raised by a Post reporter and community leaders on the quality of her “Performance Audit” that targets interference with city staff by Councilmembers Desley Brooks and Larry Reid.
Ruby, speaking in a phone interview, said that the two council members’ vote for the lowest bidder, Downrite Construction, in June 2012 did not contradict the auditor’s finding that they were trying to steer business to Turner Group Construction.
“To interfere and coerce staff, a councilmember does have to be successful,” she said. “It is the act of coercing or interfering.”
She disagreed that the audit’s finding were undermined by the failure to include evidence of wrongdoing. None of the witnesses were quoted, and none of the 10,000 emails and many phone records reviewed were specifically cited.
“We go by government standards,” Ruby said. “Everything that is in the audit report has been independently reviewed and substantiated ” by an outside and independent reviewer.
She was asked why she did not go back to 2009 to examine Phil Tagami’s involvement in derailing an open bidding process and attempt to give a sole source contract to Top Grade Construction, which was part of Tagami’s team.
At that time, pressure on staff did not come from councilmembers but from Tagami, who was negotiating to become master developer of the Army Base project, in an email dated Oct. 15, 2009.
“(We) must insist that the bid solicitation be rejected and the process significantly revised with our direct involvement before being re-started,” Tagami said in the email to Walter Cohen, then director of Oakland’s Community and Economic Development Agency.
But Ruby’s focus was on interference by two council members – not what was happening or why.
“The object of the report was to look at interference,” she said. “Where we have documented findings is related to interference. It is not about the (Army Base) contract. This is not an audit of the (open bidding) process.”
According to the two council members, what they were doing at the time was saying in public meetings that they would not vote for the a no bid contract, and they were insistent on following the city’s open bidding policy.
“The instances identified in the audit are clear interference,” she said. “Whatever their motivations and reasonings are, these are clearly instances of interference.”