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Tam supporters: City Manager, City Attorney should go; pair stand by investigation

Submitted by on 1, September 8, 2010 – 4:50 am14 Comments

John Knox White and Jeff Mitchell held a press conference Tuesday evening to ask the City Council to put its top two managers on leave. Photo by Michele Ellson.

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.”

14 Comments »

  • Tom Schweich says:

    It seems to me that Ms. Gallant was really good as a city financial officer. She quickly made sense of the city’s financial condition and brought the information to the city council in a clear manner. I remember being impressed by her presentations to the city council.

    Now, however, as the interim City Manager, she seems to have emerged as a divisive force in city management, embarking on what appears to be a personal political vendetta against one of her employers, a city councilwoman. She could have chosen other less divisive means of dealing with the issues she thought she saw.

    No organization can afford to keep a divisive force employed, regardless of how good they are at the technical aspects of their job.

    The city council now has to weigh whether positive things the Ms. Gallant brings to her job are not out-weighed by the divisiveness she brings to city management.

  • j cloren says:

    I would like to thank the city manager and staff for protecting Alameda from Sun Cal, something all sincere politicians should be willing to do.

  • DaveL. says:

    Okay everybody, do you really think Gallant is good for the city? If so, now would be the time to decide whether or not to extend her contract.

    If DeHaan and Mataresse and Mayor Johnson want to vote to keep her on, let’s do it now.

    Let every voter see that you support this kind of smash-mouth politics on our island.

  • Jon Spangler says:

    J Cloren is grateful to “the (Interim) City Manager and staff for protecting Alameda from Suncal…”

    Is s/he also grateful for the acrimony and divisiveness that is disrupting city governance while appointed and elected officials pursue illegal electioneering? That is also clearly coming from the ICM’s office….

    Suncal (whose AP plan by Peter Calthorpe I still support) did a fine job of “protecting Alameda from Suncal” by its own political insensitivity and strategic mistakes. The City of Alameda neither needed the partisan approach of the ICM and the city staff in opposing Suncal nor benefitted from that negative (and possibly illegal) approach in which the City failed to negotiate “in good faith” as required by the ENA.

    And that failure to negotiate “in good faith” may cost the City of Alameda millions of dollars.

    Will J Cloren still be grateful if the City loses its shirt in court to Suncal because if the ICM’s actions?

  • ct says:

    j cloren,

    I’m very curious to know what you think about Interim City Manager Ann Marie Gallant’s wasting your taxpayer dollars on a personal vendetta against a council member?

    Gallant and City Attorney Teresa Highsmith absolutely need to be held accountable for misappropriating $100,000 of City funds.

    If Gallant and City Attorney Teresa Highsmith plan to continue their persecution of Councilwoman Lena Tam, their resignations must be called for. It’s up to Mayor Beverly Johnson, Vice Mayor Doug deHaan, and Councilman Frank Matarrese to put right what has been wrong since Gallant was hired to be interim city manager.

  • EastBay2010 says:

    Does anyone know where there is a breakdown of the full cost of this investigation broken down by line item? That should include the County’s time, City’s time, including any outside attorneys and consultants both for and against, time not spent on other City matters, cost of the electricity that went into this, etc. etc. After we can ascertain the true costs, those who pushed this forward should be made responsible for paying it off, NOT THE TAXPAYERS. Also, does anyone know if the City Council voted to initiate this investigation or was it done by staff without Council’s direction? I’m not really sure how all of this works. I do know one thing, how on earth could dollars be spent on this if it wasn’t an open and shut case? I don’t know about anyone else out there, but I sure don’t have a lot of spare change laying around these days. I want my tax money back.

  • William Smith says:

    At last night’s council meeting I made a suggestion on how our Council could restore a functioning government. I suggested that the Council adopt a set of rules clarifying the rules for closed sessions, especially regarding forwarding of materials distributed for a closed session. Every Council member would sign the rules, and agree to abide by the decision of the other Council members should they be accused of violating them.

    The Interim City Manager and City Attorney do have a legitimate concern about leaking confidential information to labor unions and to developers. And with labor negotiations coming up and the SunCal lawsuit, it is vital that the City be able to discuss legal strategies confidentially.

    If Ms. Tam agrees to abide by the first rule, to respect the restrictions on distribution of documents as determined by the City Attorney, unless the City Attorney is overruled by a majority of the Council, then the closed sessions can proceed.

    Ms. Tam does have a fiduciary responsibility to the City to support the City in litigation, even if she disagrees with the City’s position as determined by a majority of her colleagues.

    Often having someone close to the both parties in a dispute, as Ms. Tam is for both labor and SunCal, can help improve communications between the parties and prevent needless and counterproductive misunderstandings.

    Ms. Tam is also be in a position to help both sides put their best case forward initially, which is absolutely essential to a defensible legal outcome. In other words, she could play the role of a neutral facilitator of the conflict, a role for which her years of leadership in the League of Women Voters has prepared her well – should she choose to play such a role.

    For complex problems like labor and development negotiations, both sides are often better served if they agree to avoid rolling the dice in our unpredictable and adversarial legal system. If all sides to the dispute among our Council members and our City staff chill out and take a more collegial approach, we the residents will likely be better served.

    I know all of our City leaders personally, many for over 10 years, and know them all to be competent when acting individually. I also have interacted with and observed our City staff, including the Interim City Manager, the City Attorney and other top-level City managers. I know that they, too, are competent.

    These are VERY tough economic times to be responsible for a City, and in my judgment changes in staffing are not likely to solve the lack of leadership that our community, not just our Council members, has provided for our City staff in these very difficult times.

    We simply must heal our community ourselves – no court or new City Manager or new City Attorney can do that for us. Other diagnoses or prescriptions for what ails our community?

  • Dave L. says:

    William, look at Gallant’s past work history and tell me honestly if you think this is going to end well.

  • Denise Shelton says:

    William Smith is the voice of reason! Thank you for your comments. Hopefully, more people can adopt your intelligent approach to the situation. All too often, citizens of our fair city are ready to throw the baby out with the bathwater. I too believe that given her actions, which she does not deny, Ms. Tam was in violation of her responsibility to guard information. Nobody owes her either an apology or their job. That said, do I want to waste more energy on this issue when our attention should be directed toward choosing a new mayor and council members who can competently lead the city forward? Not so much. I’m focusing my efforts on responsible study to decide who I believe should be chosen in November and supporting their campaigns. Someone recently said that, lately, our country is great at producing outrage and not much else. Let’s not get bogged down in finger pointing, conspiracy theories, and other distractions. We have real work ahead and need to support those ready and willing to do it.

  • ct says:

    Mr Smith,

    I agree with and quote below Lauren Do’s response to your comment, which you also posted on her blog:

    “William Smith: If the City Attorney and the ICM had a ‘legitimate’ concern about the leaking of confidential documents, then the DA would have had a case to send along to the Grand Jury.

    You have Councilmember Lena Tam bearing all the weight and accountability for her perceived actions, but demand no accountability from those who expended city resources to drag her name through the mud conveniently during what is shaping up to be a highly contentious election season.”

    Ms Shelton,

    You say that “nobody owes [Tam] either an apology or their job.” Then what would you suggest is an appropriate remedy for Ann Marie Gallant’s spending $100,000 of taxpayer money on an attempted character assassination?

    As for feeling “bogged down in finger-pointing, conspiracy theories, and other distractions,” the comments posted after the D.A.’s announcement have been civil and on topic, due largely, I suspect, to the absence of the pro-Gallant contingent.

  • Barbara Thomas says:

    31 confidential emails to those not entitled to their dissemination. Every voter should have received copies, not just SUNCAL and GILMORE. ICM and CA were just doing their jobs. TAM was not. Look forward to SUNCAL’s return if TAM, BONTA and IZZY ASHCRAFT are elected to lead this City.

  • Denise Shelton says:

    CT – The money our Interim City Manager, City Attorney, and any one else with authorization is spent in the commision of their jobs and it is what the money so allocated is for. You call it character assassination, I call it pointing out possible misconduct, which is part of what they are hired to do. I don’t know Lena Tam and have nothing against her personally. I was in a meeting with Ann Marie Gallant once was impressed by her intelligence, attitude, and work ethic. What I saw I liked. Maybe you have had a similar experience with Ms. Tam. If so, your familarity with her has convinced you that she is blameless, just as my familarity with Ms. Gallant has convinced me that she was not on a political witch hunt. To be sure, neither one of us will every really know what was in their hearts to begin with and whether or not they deserve the criticism they have received. In spite of my support of Ms. Gallant, I hope I have managed to stay civil and on topic. See you at the polls!

  • William Smith says:

    CT,

    Lauren and you have a point – my criticism in the post was focused on Lena, who has been my closest ally on the City Council, and the Sierra Club’s.

    I have known Lena for nearly a decade. She is very talented and dedicated, but, like me, not infallible, especially when frustrated. I will be campaigning hard for her reelection to the Council – although many may find this blog post an odd way to support her. Extraordinary conditions require extraordinary blog notes.

    After closure of the investigation by the DA, Lena is freer to modify her behavior to diffuse the situation. And she has. On Thursday night, she committed to better following City procedures.
    At Thursday’s hearing, Lena did reiterate that when discharging her official duties, she will support her colleagues to protect the City’s interests, even if she disagrees with the action they have taken.

    With Lena’s unilateral overruling of the City Attorney’s determination that some material was privileged, the City Manager and City Attorney do have a legitimate basis to be concerned about Lena’s conduct. I concur that the Interim City Manager and City Attorney had to take action, although I have little doubt that a less divisive action than a civil and criminal investigation would have sufficed. Our Interim City Manager certainly made her point!

    If the Interim City Manager continues to press the case against Lena, and Lena makes good on her committment to respect the City’s procedures, especially for handling privileged information, I will offer my critique of the Interim City Manager’s past actions as well. Until then, I will continue to grant the Interim City Manager the benefit of the doubt as to her choice of a civil and criminal investigation to make her point.

    The City manager gave no indication at Thursday’s Sept. 9th meeting whether or not she intended to drop the investigation. The City’s contract lawyer explained several times that night that the Council could ONLY take NO ACTION, as they had no jurisdiction over the investigation. The vote by the Council was in no way binding on the Interim City Manager.

    Based on her reputation and hardball style, she may only relent if, after her private conversations with a majority of the Council members, our Interim City Manager confirms that they STRONGLY oppose continuing the investigation (i.e. her job will be in jeopardy). Regarding reining her in, the Council is at a disadvantage.

    The City Manager can discern what each of them actually think in private conversations – they, however, cannot discuss the issue privately with more than one other Council member without violating the Brown Act. This also means that Council members can discreetly advise Ms. Gallant that although they oppose continuing the investigations, they won’t insist on it (e.g. fire her if she continues).

    Such cowardly tactics would make the Council look impotent. Publicly council members say they don’t support the investigation, yet the City manager continues the investigation. Council members control the City manager’s budget, they can fire her, and with the district attorney having ruled evidence was insufficient her claim that the situation requires further investigation under the charter is very weak. Sufficiently engaged citizens would be able to embarass and shame the council members into taking decisive action to rein her in.

    In difficult times like these, a hardball style like Ms. Gallant’s may be necessary to bring about change. In the Corporate World, executives like Ms. Gallant are known as turn around specialists with a short term focus. Once their work is done, they are usually replaced with a more collegial executive with a longer term vision.

    I personally admire Ms. Gallant’s skills and have some appreciation for her style. While she is here, she has much to offer, and perhaps she will decide to extend her vision to building a City as well as transforming it.

    In any case, we as a community will be better off if we can learn how to either occasionally rein in an overextended Ms. Gallant (Interim City Manager, Chief Financial Officer, Planning Director ….. and other positions likely to be filled by our future longterm City Manager) or to work together more cooperatively. It won’t be easy, but the reward could be great.

  • Denise,

    The City Manager and City Attorney had many options, including ones that did not require going to court. They chose the nuclear option, that was their decision, and it was a terrible one. In fact it was a disaster. Why didn’t they raise these issues to the council instead of launching a criminal investigation? And then, when it was becoming clear that it was going no where, announce it publicly before it was over?

    The way in which this was rolled out shows much more than just people doing their fiduciary duty. A quick question, why did staff, with the help of Doug deHaan and Beverly Johnson, call a quick special meeting to vote to civilly sue Lena Tam and then, 24 hours later, make a recommendation not to sue because there was no real basis for the suit?

    I did want to say that I enjoyed and appreciated your comments.

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