Commissioner Claims City Administrator and City Attorney Are Obstructing Police Commission

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caption: City Attorney Barbara Parker (left) and City Administrator Sabrina Landreth (right) appear at press conference with Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick and Mayor Libby Schaaf. Photo courtesy of Oakland Magazine.

The Oakland City Administrator’s Office has prevented the Oakland Police Commission from fulfilling certain elements of the Police Commission enabling ordinance, the law that grants the Commission its legal status and powers over the Oakland Police Department, according to public statements by Police Commissioner Edwin Prather.

Prather spoke during a public comment period at a Public Safety Committee meeting April 9, bluntly describing City Administrator Sabrina Landreth’s actions as “dilatory and obstructive.”

He also called Landreth’s report “offensive.”

Prather’s comments followed an oral report by Stephanie Hom,  deputy city administrator, outlining Office of the City Administrator’s interactions with the Police Commission, including the posting of job notices for key positions at the commission – the Inspector General and Independent Legal Counsel.

Council President Rebecca Kaplan, a member of the City Council’s Public Safety Committee, also had unusually harsh words for the City Administrator’s report, saying that it “almost seems like an attempt to deceive the public.”

The most contentious issue in the report centered on the ongoing power struggle around the hiring of the Inspector General, a Police Commission position specified in the council-approved enabling ordinance.

Prather claimed that the commission crafted the position according to the language in the enabling ordinance, which puts the Inspector General position under the control of the commission, and then sent the job description to Landreth’s office in  October 2018.

According to Prather, Landreth’s office did not reply until February 2019 and then sent back a significantly altered job description. The commission balked at agreeing to the changes, and the position has remained in limbo since then.

The enabling ordinance passed by the council contains no ambiguity about the job description and hiring being under purview of the Police Commission, even noting that background checks can only be submitted to the commission.

Prather also said that the City Attorney’s Office has put similar obstacles in the way of the Commission’s independent legal counsel hiring specified by the enabling ordinance. He also said the current counsel, who reports to the City Attorney, shared privileged information from a closed session with the City Attorney against the express instructions of the Commission.

Prather added that the commission’s administrative assistant has been instructed by the City Administrator’s Office to forego attendance at the commission’s twice-monthly meetings.

Hom explained that Landreth, following  City Attorney Barbara Park’s opinion, said that the Inspector General position violates the Charter and chose not to follow the enabling ordinance as passed by the council.

The City Charter in two different sections, however, directs the City Administrator to enforce and carry out laws as passed by the council.

This ongoing power struggle arises from the contentious efforts to pass the enabling ordinance, which fleshes out the powers in the voter-approved Measure LL, creating the Police Commission as an amendment to the City Charter.

The process has taken years: first delayed by “meet and confer” requirements with the Oakland Police Officers Association (OPOA), which was required by the City Administrator and lasted nearly a year.

In another delay, the City Attorney declared the Office of the Inspector General position was illegal as defined by the charter. The legislation finally made its way to full council in June 2018 where, despite the ongoing opposition of the City Attorney and the City Administrator, the Council voted 6 to 1 to accept the enabling ordinance with the Office of the Inspector General, including making the position independent of the city administration.

At the time, Landreth took the unusual step of prefacing the second reading of the vote in favor of the enabling ordinance with a prepared statement sternly warning against passing the ordinance.

As Kaplan noted, and Hom corroborated, the legal opinions upon which Landreth is currently basing her findings are the arguments the City Attorney offered in 2018. Those were rejected by the council when it passed the enabling ordinance.

As Kaplan also stressed, during a period between June 2016 and January, 2017, Landreth functioned as interim Police Chief after the resignation/firing of Sean Whent during the Celeste Guap rape scandal.

If Landreth’s interpretation of the role of Inspector General were to be enacted, she would have the power to supervise or fire the official who could investigate events that happened during the City Administrator’s time as chief.

The committee voted unanimously to submit a resolution to the immediate Rules Committee on Thursday, April 11 for scheduling as an item on the next City Council agenda, obligating the City Administrator to release the job positions as the Commission intended.

At the meeting, the City Attorney requested time to review the legality of compelling action from the City Administrator. She agreed to complete the process in time to place the issue on the April 30 City Council agenda.

 

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