The city auditor’s report on Non-Interference in Administrative Affairs Performance Audit found that five council members or their aides interfered in administrative affairs and violated section 218 of the Oakland City Charter, which states that council members or their aides cannot interfere with daily activities such as “contracting, hiring, appointing or firing City employees, or giving orders to City employees who are under the City Administrator’s supervision.” City Auditor Courtney Ruby called this provision “the underpinning of an ethical structure” that was created to protect citizens and businesses of Oakland alike. According to the report this ethical structure is being threatened, something that is troubling at a time when Oakland is working to earn the trust of its citizens.
The audit, conducted from 2009 through 2012, analyzed 27 anonymous reports, 67 hotline tips, 40 individual interviews, tens of thousands of emails and all applicable phone calls. The audit found that the administrative interferences originated from two council members’ offices and that those two council members “violated the law by exerting inappropriate influence in City contracting and operations.” The council members will remain on the Oakland City Council, but if they are found guilty of a misdemeanor crime for administrative interference they will be removed.
The first finding was that District 6 Council Member Desley Brooks interfered in management and renovations of two city recreation centers: The Rainbow Teen Center, for which the city auditor received many anonymous calls about interference, and The Arroyo Viejo Center. Brooks was involved in selecting and negotiating contractors, as well as hiring staff — clearly a violation of section 218. More than that, Council Member Brooks serves on the Finance and Management Committee, clearly the kind of conflict of interest the section 218 provision was created to protect against. If the council member from District 6 wants to be involved in the daily activities of managing the recreation centers she can do so when she retires from City Council.
The second finding was that Council Member Brooks and District 7 Council Member Larry Reid interfered in the administration of the redevelopment and contracting process for Oakland’s Army Base demolition contract, also known as the Building 6 contract — worth approximately $2 million dollars. To make matters worse, Council Member Reid is a member of the Rules and Legislation Committee. He should know better.
The third finding was that Council Member Brooks threatened to remove city staff from a redevelopment project in her district — an egregious abuse of her power. The last instances of interference the audit found were of council aides from District 7: one council aide who directed the parking department to eliminate two of the council aide’s personal parking tickets and one council aide who is continuously abusive and unprofessional to staff working at Sobrante Park on the City-Council Neighborhood Project.
The city auditor’s report found that “there is a general culture of interference within the city … across many City Departments … from multiple Councilmembers.” This is called corruption. While some Oakland City Council Members obey the rules and regulations others do not, which is not to say that they do not have the city’s best interest in mind; just that they have other interests. That is not okay. City interests, business interests and personal interests must be kept separately and the consequences must be fully enforced.