By Ken A. Epstein
Community members and local leaders spoke out out this week at the first City Council meeting since Auditor Courtney Ruby released a report targeting Councilmembers Desley Brooks and Larry Reid for interfering with city staff.
While the main issues on the agenda concerned the city’s new budget, over 91 speakers had signed up for the Open Forum part of the meeting. Many of those who spoke challenged the methods and conclusions reached by Ruby in her March 21 audit.
“The auditor’s report, as far as we are concerned, was false. (There weren’t) any facts in that report,” said Len Turner, president of Turner Group Construction.
The audit charged that Reid and Brooks in 2011 interfered with city staff, attempting to steer a contract worth at least $2 million to Turner Group, a local minority-owned construction company.
“The auditor never gave us an opportunity to speak to those false accusations,” Turner said. The report talks about favoritism, he said, but “Turner Group… has only received two contracts from the city in the last five years, each equally less than $50,000.”
At the time the contract was being negotiated, he said, “We met with about everyone on the council about the Army Base project,” including Councilmember Pat Kernighan, who is currently council president.
“Hopefully, you have received our rebuttal from our attorney,” he said.
“I think we are getting the message about your feelings about the auditor’s report, said Kernighan in response to Turner.
Derek Barrett, president of the National Association of Minority Contactors, Northern California chapter, said the audit was unfair.
“I’m awfully discouraged with that rush to judgment concerning one of our local minority contactors,” said Barrett, who is a painting contractor in Oakland.
“Turner Group Construction has been a solid contractor. We feel that there has been unfair treatment due to the fact that you didn’t even get their side of the story.”
“Councilmember Reid and Councilmember Brooks, we thank you for caring that there is fair participation with the local (small businesses),” he said.
City labor leader Dwight McElroy, who attended the council meeting with hundreds of members to demand raises, also defended the two council members.
Speaking of “Brother Reid and Sister Brooks, there’s a smell that’s emanating from the accusations that (are being made), and the smell is not coming from either one of them,” said McElroy, a city public works employee and Oakland chapter president of SEIU 1021.
“The city’s auditors report falls far short of the truth,” said Tom Chasm of Urban Recycling Solutions, alleging that issues of interference originated from Phil Tagami, master developer of the Army Base development project.
According to Chasm, his company was working to bring recycled dirt for Army Base cleanup at no cost to the city, and the staff was encouraging him.
“We were told in August (2012) that things changed,” he said, “that the developer had other plans to import fill, barging 2,800,000 tons of soil at a cost of $40 to $50 million.”
“You ought to investigate why the developer is not creating jobs and saving this town $50 million,” said Chasm.
Heather Ehmke challenged Kernighan for statements attributed to her in the media that the City Council should develop a process for censuring council members.
“The audit report was reckless and unsupported by evidence. If there was a crime council members should know before this is released to the media. No evidence was quoted or cited in the report,” said Ehmke.
“There was no crime for anyone to be censured (about).”
“There was no crime for anyone to be censured (about),” said Ehmke.