Tam supporters: City Manager, City Attorney should go; pair stand by investigation
Supporters of City Councilwoman Lena Tam on Tuesday called on her dais-mates to place the two city officials who spearheaded a leaks investigation against her on administrative leave and to call off a meeting where they are slated to discuss suing Tam.
But the officials, Interim City Manager Ann Marie Gallant and City Attorney Teresa Highsmith, said Tuesday that they stand by the results of outside attorney Michael Colantuono’s investigation and that they were doing their jobs by looking into the matter.
The calls came at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, which took place hours after the Alameda County District Attorney’s office said they determined there was an “insufficient factual and legal basis” to conduct a criminal investigation into whether Tam violated the state’s public records and open meeting rules, and that they would not send the case to a grand jury.
Colantuono accused Tam of leaking confidential information to SunCal and the local firefighters union and of violating the state’s open meetings law by blind-copying Councilwoman Marie Gilmore on e-mails she sent to other council members, and he asked the district attorney to convene a grand jury to consider removing Tam from office.
Representatives for SunCal and the firefighters union denied the claims, and Tam portrayed them as a politically motivated attempt to stop her from questioning top city officials about their strategy for handling SunCal, issues with fire department management and Gallant’s contracting practices.
“I think there are mistakes, and there are big mistakes … And I don’t know if this is something that we can just let go by. I’m calling on the City Council to place the City Attorney and the Interim City Manager on administrative leave, effective immediately,” said Jeff Mitchell, a former Alameda Journal editor and City Council candidate.
Mitchell, who said he has filed a complaint against Gallant and Highsmith with Alameda County’s Grand Jury, said the council should ask City Auditor Kevin Kearney to do an audit to determine the full cost of the investigation into Tam.
“We need to have a full accounting of that. The only way to do that is to charge the City Auditor with that task, and have him bring back full report so the citizens of Alameda can know what this witch hunt cost us,” Mitchell said.
John Knox White, a local activist who Mayor Beverly Johnson asked to resign from the city’s Sunshine Task Force when Colantuono said he received confidential information from Tam – which isn’t against the law – accused city staff of “playing politics” by sending out a press release that was “diametrically opposed” to the letter District Attorney Nancy O’Malley sent Colantuono advising him she didn’t plan to pursue the case further and of considering a lawsuit against Tam.
“Your staff is playing games. They’re playing politics. And they are giving the city a black eye,” Knox White said.
Gallant and Highsmith stood by their decision to investigate Tam, and Colantuono’s reports.
“Councilmember Tam did in fact provide closed session and attorney-client privileged information to SunCal. When I learned that, I didn’t look the other way. I did my duty and exposed it,” Highsmith said. Highsmith did not comment on calls for her resignation or that she be placed on administrative leave and replaced.
Gallant said Tam is entitled to ask for her resignation. Tam had called on Gallant to resign earlier Tuesday.
“If they want to give three votes, go for it,” Gallant said.
But Tam accused Gallant, whose office issued a press release on the result of the district attorney’s investigation Tuesday morning as Tam held a press conference on the steps of City Hall, of distorting the result of the investigation. And she said she was simply doing her job as a council member.
“Asking the council to discuss issues of concern to the public, whether the public raises them, whether a city business partner raises them, whether employees raise them, is wholly appropriate and part of my responsibility. Unfortunately, the (Interim City Manager’s) press release didn’t respect the district attorney’s process,” Tam said.
Tam’s supporters congratulated her for being exonerated by the district attorney on Tuesday night, while Gallant’s release called O’Malley’s findings “tentative” and said she suggested the city consider a civil suit against Tam.
In O’Malley’s letter, which was obtained by The Island, she said the district attorney’s office would consider new information but otherwise considers the Tam matter closed. She also said her office “is mindful of other remedies provided for in the Brown Act that remain available to the City of Alameda should it desire to pursue them” but did not specifically suggest the city pursue a lawsuit.
City Councilwoman and mayoral candidate Marie Gilmore said she the district attorney has made a determination on the accusations against Tam, and she thinks the city should move on.
“I would vigorously oppose expending any more tax money on such a frivolous matter,” said Gilmore, who appealed for calm – and echoed calls for an audit to determine the cost of the investigation.
She also questioned why the council is meeting Thursday to discuss a lawsuit and said that if the meeting is held, it should be in an open session instead of the closed-door session typically held to discuss litigation.
“The individuals and attorneys who want to press forward with this case ought to present their rationale for why (they want to) do this in the face of the District Attorney’s rendered opinion that there is no evidence to pursue this,” Gilmore said.
Mayor Beverly Johnson said council members were legally prohibited from having a discussion on the matter, which wasn’t specifically on the council’s agenda, and did not comment further. Councilman Frank Matarrese and Vice Mayor Doug deHaan, also mayoral candidates, did not comment.
Barbara Kahn, a longtime Alameda resident who is active in local politics, said Alameda “is in an unprecedented place of acrimony” and that repairs need to be made.
“I think it behooves this council to abort this ridiculous pursuit of Councilmember Tam and to move toward some kind of conciliation in this community, (and) move past the things that are making us angry with each other,” Kahn said. “I think we’re in a very terrible place.”