Thursday, October 20, 2016
[Alameda County] Oakland City Council delays action on McElhaney flap
A civil grand jury report about ethics breaches has incited a political fight at Oakland City Hall, as council members grapple with whether to discipline one of their colleagues.
The City Council decided Tuesday to postpone action on the report about Council President Lynette Gibson McElhaney, who could face censure for interfering with a town house development planned for the lot next to her home.
The delay angered Councilwoman Desley Brooks, who often butts heads with McElhaney and who has fought ethical battles of her own. The council considered censuring Brooks two years ago in a separate ethics incident, but ultimately backed down.
“Shame on this council,” Brooks said at the meeting. “When I thought you were coming after me, you were all gung ho.”
McElhaney was absent for the discussion Tuesday, but showed up at the end of the council meeting.
The grand jury report released in June found that McElhaney broke city and state ethics rules by obstructing the approval process for the town house project, which now appears to be dead.
The flap started in January 2014, when McElhaney called Oakland’s Planning and Building chief Rachel Flynn to complain about the five-unit town house project. Flynn then visited the lot, decided that the design was subpar, and pressured the property owner to make several modifications — decreasing the height, reducing the number of units from five to four, and directing the views away from McElhaney’s house.
McElhaney’s interventions delayed and ultimately derailed the project, the report said, and the property owner is now offering the lot for sale.
Oakland’s Public Ethics Commission is investigating the claims and expects to conclude its probe by the end of the year. Commission chair Sonya Smith said in a letter to Alameda County Superior Judge Morris Jacobson that the commission has also ramped up its ethics training for city officials.
Councilman Larry Reid said in a letter to the grand jury that the council will wait for the Ethics Commission’s findings before it decides whether to punish McElhaney.
Brooks accused the council of not having the political will to carry out a disciplinary hearing. She argued that McElhaney and her supporters have thwarted the process by not holding meetings of the council’s rules committee, which schedules public hearings.
McElhaney chairs the rules committee, which hasn’t met since Sept. 30 — the day that Brooks seized the public microphone for a 40-minute tirade, ultimately forcing her colleagues to shut the meeting down.
Brooks and her supporters accused the committee’s four members — McElhaney, Reid, Dan Kalb, and Abel Guillen — of staging a “sick-out.”
“The grand jury got it right,” said Noni Session, who is trying to unseat McElhaney in November.
October 18, 2016
By Rachel Swan