Alameda City Council: We won’t sue Tam
Alameda’s City Council on Thursday night declined to sue Councilwoman Lena Tam over accusations she leaked confidential information and violated the state’s open meetings law. But the outside attorney who pressed the case unsuccessfully with District Attorney Nancy O’Malley said he’ll try to get her to reconsider.
The council’s unanimous decision came at the end of a dramatic 90-minute public session that was originally scheduled to be held behind closed doors and had the air of a court hearing. But ultimately, council members determined that nothing would be gained by suing their embattled dais-mate, a call that even the attorney, Michael Colantuono, agreed with.
Still, he said he will ask O’Malley to reconsider her September 2 decision not to pursue a criminal misconduct case against Tam or forward the case to a grand jury so they could consider removing Tam from office. And he said it will be up to Interim City Manager Ann Marie Gallant – and not the council – to decide whether to move forward, even as members of the council said they’d prefer he didn’t.
“We started with some serious questions raised. They were investigated and a report was published, which was put in full view of the public. It was given to the district attorney, and the district attorney evaluated it and rendered a decision. And we need to move on now,” Councilman Frank Matarrese said. He later said he’d like any additional findings Colantuono makes to come back to the council.
Mayor Beverly Johnson also declined to support a suit against Tam, though she said that Interim City Manager Ann Marie Gallant and City Attorney Teresa Highsmith were right to bring the information about Tam’s alleged misdeeds forward. She said the matter should now be left to voters. Tam is up for re-election in November.
“It’s wrong to release information that’s confidential information to parties that the city is negotiating with,” Johnson said. “Councilmember Tam has not denied doing what the report said that she did. And that included releasing confidential information to parties, including SunCal, which the city was negotiating with.”
Tam said she’s done nothing wrong. She said Colantuono mischaracterized the content and spirit of the e-mails he forwarded to the district attorney as evidence in his allegations against her.
“When SunCal was selected, a City Council majority supported (their) plan. They were our business partners. The firefighters are our partners. The citizens are our partners,” Tam said, addressing members of the public who told the council they should sue her. “I view those as communications with the community.”
Colantuono followed up the council’s remarks with an impassioned summation of what he said were Tam’s trail of alleged leaks of confidential information to SunCal and the firefighters union and of improper e-mail communications with council members. And he said O’Malley got it wrong when she determined there wasn’t enough evidence for her to proceed with a case against Tam or to ask a grand jury to consider removing the councilwoman from office.
“I’m (well) positioned to make the determinations that I have, and quite frankly, I’m better positioned than your district attorney is,” Colantuono said as he laid out his bona fides.
The attorney also got into a testy exchange with Tam over whether she sent information protected by attorney-client privilege to SunCal, which even appeared to make Vice Mayor Doug deHaan, who signed off on Thursday’s meeting agenda, uncomfortable.
“This sounds like we’re trying a case, and we shouldn’t be there. It’s not fair. You can’t go back and forth without her having counsel too,” deHaan said.
Colantuono said he wants a chance to respond to an August 12 letter Tam’s attorney, John Keker, sent to O’Malley, which he said he didn’t get. Johnson said she didn’t want to spend any more money on pursuing the matter. But Colantuono said that Gallant, and not the council, gets to make that decision.
Councilwoman Marie Gilmore asked how much the investigation into Tam cost the city – and who approved the expenditures. Gallant has to ask for council approval to spend $75,000 or more on any given thing, and Highsmith needs council approval to spend more than $35,000 – something she got just this week to fight a lawsuit filed by SunCal. Gallant said she authorized the investigation and is paying for it with money from Highsmith’s budget.
A few dozen mostly City Hall regulars attended Thursday’s meeting to offer their support for Tam – or Gallant and Highsmith, though people from both camps said the city was facing one of the worst political climates even longtime residents had ever seen.
“I’ve lived here 50 years, and I’ve been active in many issues including the schools and the library,” Tam supporter Honora Murphy said. “There was always controversy in the community. But I’ve never experienced what’s happening right now.”
Tam’s supporters blamed the investigation and Gallant for the tough political climate, while detractors blamed Tam and SunCal, the city’s former master developer for Alameda Point.
“My estimation of this whole thing is, Councilmember Tam is carrying the SunCal virus and she doesn’t even know it. And it’s a sickness that’s infecting the whole city,” Ashley Jones said.
When asked, Tam said she’s exploring her own legal options with her attorney.
“I think what happened this evening may be part of the conversation as well,” she said.