Reacting to reports that the City Administration secretly spent $50,000 to hire an outside contractor to investigate a member of the Oakland Police Commission, City President Rebecca Kaplan is proposing an ordinance that reaffirms that the City Charter gives investigative author-ity solely to the Police Commission and the City Council.
The proposed ordinance “reiterates the importance of an independent police commission and that neither the City Administrator nor the Chief of Police are authorized to engage in any action against commissioners, nor are they authorized to assume the powers granted to the Council, the Ethics Commission or the Police Commission.”
This conflict between the authority of the council and the administraor authority has been brewing for a while, focusing on repeated moves by the Chief of Police Anne Kirkpatrick and the City Administrator Sabrina Landreth against Oakland Police Commission Vice Chair Ginale Harris.
“Several meetings ago, I requested a copy of the contract between the City Administration and the outside project investigator who apparently was hired to investigate a police commissioner without notice to council, without a vote of council,” said Kaplan, speaking at Tuesday’s Public Safety Committee meeting.
This administrative action “was felt by police commission members as intimidating and harassment of them,” said Kaplan.
She never received the copy of the contract from the City Administrator but was eventually given a copy this week by a blogger, known as Hyphenated-Republic (hyphenatedrepublic.com), who had obtained it through a Public Records Act request to the city.
The contract confirms that the administrator in November 2018 hired a company to investigate “a specifically named member of the police commission,” Kaplan said.
“I believe that what was done was illegal,” she said.
“The charter of the City of Oakland states that it is the City Council that has the power to remove a commissioner for misconduct,” said Kaplan. “I don’t see any authority anywhere for the city administrator to independently decide to undertake an investigation.”
In a memo accompanying the proposed ordinance, Kaplan noted that Measure LL, which estab-lished the police commission, specifically quoted the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement about the key importance of creating a commission with “independence from the executive branch of government.”
According to the City Charter, as quoted in the memo, “The City Council may remove members of the commission for cause as provided in Section 601 of the charter, or members of the commission may be removed by a majority vote of the commission, only for conviction of a felony, conviction of a misdemeanor involving moral turpitude, a material act of dishonesty, fraud, or other act of moral turpitude, substantial neglect of duty (and) gross misconduct in office.”
A more recent incident involving an attempt to remove Harris took place in November 2019 when OPD Chief Anne Kirkpatrick complained about Harris to Police Commission Chair Regina Jackson by phone and email. In the email dated Nov. 19, Kirkpatrick mentioned an “anony-mous” call to internal Affairs concerning a verbal dispute between Harris and an administrator at her child’s school in San Francisco.
“While Harris’ style is more ‘sharp’ than some, her observations have often been proven to be accurate This sort of treatment feels like bullying,” said Jackson in an email to the Oakland Post.
“The Police Commission was voter approved by 83 percent of the citizens of Oakland,” Jackson continued. “We are volunteers seeking to understand and improve structures and policies in order to support OPD in being more emotionally intelligent and transparent in their accountability to communities they serve. We take our jobs seriously and have been resisted since we started.”
This latest incident, which led to coverage by the Bay Area media, predated the City Administrator’s hiring of the investigator by one year and involved different allegations.
The city administration also has filed two or three Public Ethics Commission complaints against Harris, and she was exonerated in all these cases, according to Commissioner Henry Gage.
“The question of who investigates the commission is an important one,” Gage said. “We don’t want someone who is too close to the police department to turn around and investigate the commission.”
“The administration should be on the side of increased police oversight,” he said.
The criticisms of Harris “seem very trivial,” said civil rights attorney Dan Siegel, who is repre-senting Harris.
“The city administration does not have the authority under the charter to be investigating members of the police commission,” said Siegel. “It does not seem like the City Administrator is justified in dealing with this like she is an employee.”
Representatives of the City Attorney and the City Administrator who attended the committee meeting said they didn’t have the information to be able to comment on the issue.
This conflict over the police commission reflects a broader problem: the city administration ignores, subverts or buries City Council decisions that the administration does not like, according to Rashidah Grinage of the Coalition for Police Accountability.
“Basically, Oakland is replicating Washington, D.C.,” said Grinage. “We have an administration that basically thumbs its nose at the City Council and decides what decisions it wants to implement.”
“Once something passes the City Council, it goes into a black hole. It is really quite astonishing,” she said.
The decision on Kaplan’s proposed ordinance was postponed to the Tuesday, Feb. 11 Public Safety Committee meeting, to give the City Attorney a chance to look at the proposal.
Kaplan Proposes Law to Protect Police Commissioners
From Official ‘Intimidation and Harassment’