Proposed Council Rules Change Could Dampen Democracy in City Government


High school students were among those who came out to speak at the Public Safety Committee meeting in Nov. 10 to oppose Oakland Police Department participation in an ICE raid. Large crowds of residents frequently attend meetings of the Public Safety Committee and other council committee meetings.

Three members of the City Council are proposing to change the council’s established Rules and Procedures to allow the council president at his discretion to remove members and chairs of council committees, which some community members see as a threat to free expression and an attempt to suppress oppositional voices —making committee members more accountable to the council president rather than to the public.

The councilmembers—Annie Campbell Washington, Lynette Gibson McElhaney and Council President Larry Reid —voted at last week’s Rules and Legislation Committee to bypass sending the resolution to a committee for public discussion and deliberation and placed the item on the Tuesday, Feb. 6 council agenda.

The proposed change would remove current language of Rule 4 that says the council president appoints committee members and chairs in January for two-year terms. Under the new language the appointments and changes could be made at any time, and a vote of the council to affirm the president’s appointments would no longer be required.

“The modernization provisions … are intended to improve efficiency of Council proceedings. This amendment clarifies the president’s appointment authority and allows for the orderly transition of leadership when such need arises,” according to the resolution.

“This rule change brings Oakland in line with most other large cities and elected bodies, where the president is charged with choosing the chairs and members of committees,” Councilmember Campbell Washington told the Post.

The Oakland Post received a statement from OaklandWORKS saying the rule change would hamper democratic discussion in Oakland city government.

“Council members should be able to lead committees using their best judgement and community input, without the fear of being displaced for taking actions that may be innovative or maybe disliked the person who happens to be council president at the time,” according to the statement.

OaklandWORKS also criticized councilmembers for rushing the rules change to a vote without a full discussion.

“The procedures followed for considering this action have not allowed for adequate community input,” the statement said. “Sending the item straight from Rules to the full council does not allow for adequate notice or deliberation.”

“Whether or not some other cities have less democratic policies is not relevant,” the statement continued. “We are seeking greater democracy, transparency, community input, and policy innovation than other cities as evidenced by our choice of rank-choice voting, what is probably (potentially) the strongest Police Commission in the country, a Race and Equity department, and other innovations.”

Rashidah Grinage of the Coalition for Police Accountability said, “The timing of the rules change is suspicious, and there appears to be a lack of transparenciy about the agenda behind the move.”

It is not clear at present whether the change, if it passes council on Tuesday, would be enacted immediately, retroactively impacting currently sitting committee members and chairs.

Some community members see this change as an attempt to remove Desley Brooks as chair of the Public Safety Committee.

For supporters of police accountability and immigrant rights, Brooks has earned a strong reputation on the committee for her outspoken support of police accountability and willingness to listen to community voices.

At a Public Safety Committee in November, Brooks and Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan, along with a crowd of angry local residents, challenged Mayor Libby Schaaf and Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick for violating the council’s Sanctuary City resolution forbidding the Oakland Police Department from cooperating with ICE immigration raids.

Some say the change is retaliation for the strong stands Brooks has taken in support of the community and that she may be seen as vulnerable in the wake of the negative publicity surrounding the lawsuit against her and the city.

“I suspect they’re trying to pull a fast one on Desley because of public reaction to the court judgment, but that’s bull,” said community activist Pamela Drake, who was working for police accountability.

“Councilmember Brooks is an excellent chair for the Public Safety Committee, asks all the right questions and listens to community concerns,” said Drake. “If they (other council members) have other motivations, they should address them directly. This is not a good precedent to set.”

Police Chief Kirkpatrick and Councilmembers Campbell Washington and Abel Guillén told the Post that there was no communication between the chief and council members about removing Brooks from Public Safety. President Reid and Councilmember McElhaney did not respond to the Post’s questions.

Post Publisher Paul Cobb said he has heard that the chief had been making calls and that the mayor had advocated for the removal of Brooks from Public Safety.

“This a pattern,” said Cobb. “The mayor is trying to remove councilmembers who criticize her and that she perceives as a possible a threat to her administration.”

The vote on the rules change is scheduled for next Tuesday’s council meeting.

Next Week: Interview with Post Publisher Paul Cobb about Mayor’s Schaaf’s retaliation against the Oakland Post for publishing articles critical of the mayor.


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