City leaders are reacting to the publication of a letter that claims Mayor Beverly Johnson and Vice Mayor Doug deHaan plotted to combine the city’s police and fire departments, fire City Manager Debra Kurita, appoint Interim Finance Manager Ann Marie Gallant to the city manager’s job – and lay any blame over the moves on Councilman Frank Matarrese.
Johnson insisted Wednesday she’d never said any such thing, and three members of the council – including deHaan, who has previously said he supported streamlining the city’s operations – said they wouldn’t support merging the city’s two public safety departments. Still, both Johnson and Matarrese said they’d be willing to consider the idea.
All five council members said they have not yet had discussions about their process for appointing either an interim or a permanent replacement for former City Manager Debra Kurita, who resigned on February 26 citing differences over how to achieve the city’s goals. Council member Lena Tam said the council is “still working through the details of a fair settlement” with Kurita.
Council members said it would ultimately be in the city manager’s purview to make operational decisions like merging departments, though Johnson said she plans to plans to ask the council to talk about having more formal oversight of city operations.
The claims were contained in a redacted version of the letter, which was published on blogger Lauren Do’s site on Wednesday. The letter, whose author was not named (looks like it fell under a thick layer of black Sharpie marker), listed justifications that would allegedly be given for combining the city’s public safety departments and firing their chiefs, including “rampant sexual harassment” and overstaffing at the police department and poor management at fire.
The letter, which was dated January 11, 2009, said former City Manager Debra Kurita would be fired by June if she refused to fire the city’s police and fire chiefs, and the justification to be given for that would be that she was not a strong manager and that she failed to recognize the city’s financial crisis.
It also said any credit for the moves would go to Johnson, and the blame to Matarrese.
Matarrese has talked about “flattening” the structure of city government in public council sessions, and he said the city could consider combining its police and fire departments. But Matarrese stopped short of sanctioning the idea outright on Wednesday, saying it would be up to a city manager to decide how that “flattening” would occur.
“There are many ways (to do it). Just show me a plan,” he said.
When asked if his interest in “flattening” the city organization played into the departure of Kurita, said he believed that it was, “because we gave the direction and nothing happened.”
Council members Marie Gilmore, Tam and deHaan all said they would not support a merge, with Gilmore adding that she has been told by elected officials in other cities and a consultant that is conducting an operational review of the city’s police and fire departments that a merge would only work when those department are first established.
The results of that review, by the way, are due sometime in the next two months, and they’re expected to play a role in the budget process for next year.
Speculation was rampant over who could have written the letter, which was reportedly sent to both the police and fire unions and had apparently been circulating at City Hall for the past several days. Johnson and others speculated that it must have been written by someone who is paying close attention to city affairs because of the details it contained.
Johnson, for instance, has not been shy about admitting she is a major fan of Gallant’s. And the Alameda Police Department was sued last month by its top-ranking female cop, who claimed the department harassed and discriminated against her due to her gender and sexual orientation.