By R.M. Arnold,
The Public Ethics Commission (PEC) staff released a report Monday accusing Councilmember McElhaney of violating the city’s ethics rules when seeking to get an out of town developer to build according to the code.
“I take our city’s ethics laws seriously and I look forward to this matter being finalized on July 31 by the Public Ethics Commission,” she said.
The controversy stems from an appeal the Councilmember’s husband filed on behalf of the neighbors impacted by a questionable condominium project.
“I was the one that got my wife involved. The guy was extremely disrespectful to my neighbor, and all we wanted him to do was build right,” said Clarence McElhaney Jr. who filed the appeal.
“At the outset when my husband brought the issue to my attention, I asked our City Attorney for guidance about whether I could assist my neighbors with the condo project given that it is next to my house, and I followed the advice I received,” said Councilmember McElhaney, who maintains that she did nothing wrong.
Community members had spent over a year trying to collaborate with the property owner and the planning staff, to improve the design to complement the neighborhood and address safety concerns, but their concerns were ignored.
“They came to me as a last resort,” says McElhaney, who expressed concerns that there is a pattern and practice of ignoring Black residents when out-of-town developers seek to get permits.
McElhaney’s husband then followed the same public process available to everyone to bring the issue to the city Planning Commission. During the appeal process, there was an issue as to whether the design of the project met the city’s open space requirements.
“I felt like the commission would benefit from having a subject-area expert opine, so I asked a local architect to testify on this specific technical question,” said Councilmember McElhaney. “If I had thought asking the architect for help could implicate the ethics laws, I, of course, would not have done so. My husband paid an independent planner to represent the neighbors, so if we thought that we had to pay for the expert testimony, we would have done so. There is no guidance we received that suggested that this was necessary.”
After numerous allegations against the councilmember, the only issue that must be clarified now is whether asking an architect for help on behalf of a community effort is a gift to the councilmember.
“I appreciate the PEC staff and the important work they perform on behalf of the city,” she said. “But I also believe that this matter exposes important public policy questions such as this that should be answered by the full Commission in a public forum. I look forward to resolving this matter with the Commissioners on Monday the 31st.”
The meeting will be held 6:30 p.m. at Oakland City Hall, Hearing Room 1.