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City Hall Confidential

Submitted by on 1, October 1, 2010 – 4:50 am31 Comments

Should we just call Alameda the ‘City of Interim’?

Word is that at least one retired fire administrator has heard from Alameda’s interim city manager about the soon-to-be-announced opening for interim fire chief. Current Fire Chief David Kapler was put on administrative leave on September 2 pending an investigation into allegations he misused city gasoline. He was photographed in August filling up his BMW at city pumps.

The big outstanding question is, will Chief Kapler be removed before the end of the day Friday – when his city pension and health benefits kick in – or will the city become liable for his ongoing health costs and pension payments? Apparently this has been of big discussion at City Hall, with City Attorney Teresa Highsmith arguing that Kapler will sue the city should officials force him out before he gets his benefits. If made, the move will leave the city – which is already short a finance director and planning director – with an interim city manager, interim police chief and an interim fire chief.

How much is that lawsuit in the window?

Last week The Island’s editor, Michele Ellson, highlighted an inconsistency in City Attorney Teresa Highsmith’s communication with the City Council. The topic of the discussion – the cost of the investigation into Lena Tam – has now been clarified. Apparently through August, the city paid Michael Colantuono $62,799.83, an amount that does not include any September billing, which will include his appearance at the September 9 council meeting, and the September 20 communication to District Attorney Nancy O’Malley.

Nearly $12,000 more was spent in April purchasing the software that allowed Interim City Manager Ann Marie Gallant and Colantuono to read council members’ e-mails. However, staff has stated that the purchase was made in advance of SunCal’s legal filings and only coincidentally came at the exact time top officials began investigating Lena Tam.

Survey Says …

Magellan Strategies, a polling company, this week released the results of a recent telephone poll of Alameda voters. In the mayor’s race, the poll shows a statistical tie between Marie Gilmore (18%) and Doug deHaan (17%) with third place going to Frank Matarrese (10%) and Tony Daysog (9%). It should be noted that the poll had undecideds at 42%.

Apparently, there was an unpublished portion of the poll relating to the City Council race which had Beverly Johnson and Lena Tam in the top two spots and Jean Sweeney, Rob Bonta, Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft and Tracy Jensen all tied up for third. Because the top two mayoral candidates are sitting council members with two years left on their terms, there’s a good likelihood that third place will be a winner as well.

Getting WISE …

Frank Matarrese moved his campaign headquarters out of their Webster Street digs in order to make way for a new nonprofit operation that’s moving in. Apparently the Women’s Initiative for Self Employment, a nonprofit aimed at supporting women-owned startups, is opening an incubator on Webster street that will allow eight to 10 startups to occupy the space at any given time.

The project was launched by Leslie Little in the city’s Community Development department, who wrote the original grant and has apparently worked for a couple of years to make the effort happen.

The Matarrese campaign’s headquarters is reportedly headed to Park Street for the rest of the campaign.

“We gladly stepped aside,” Matarrese said. “It’s good for Webster Street and good for Alameda.”

Got a tip? Contact City Hall Confidential at confidential@theislandofalameda.com.


  • Pam says:

    Oh no! We have the same mantra being said on Alamedans.com and now we have it on a reputable news source. Let’s hope this is a fluke.

  • Steve says:

    Regarding that survey:

    “Apparently, there was an unpublished portion of the poll relating to the City Council race which had Beverly Johnson and Lena Tam in the top two spots and Jean Sweeney, Rob Bonta, Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft and Tracy Jensen all tied up for third.”

    How did you get access to the poll? Did you actually see it or did someone tell you about it? When you say, “apparently” what does that mean? What was the percentage for each candidate? What percentage were undecided? What was the survey’s confidence level and margin of error? Surveys are sometimes used more to manipulate public opinion than determine it.

  • Denise Shelton says:

    I was one of the lucky few included in the telephone survey. It was obvious by the selection of questions and the way in which they were worded that whomever hired Magellan was a firm backer of the so-called “Sun-Cal Slate” (yeah, yeah, I know, no such thing, right? 😉 Readers who access the survey results should know that the “verbatim responses” are edited and not all questions asked, particularly the one about the perception of Lena Tam, have been included. Polls don’t just happen, people. Somebody pays the firm and supplies the questions they want asked and the way in which they want them asked. I would also caution anyone from drawing conclusions from such a low number of respondents (under 400). Alameda voters must be especially vigilant and consider the source of the information they receive about candidates this year.

  • Hi Denise,

    There have now been four surveys (not including the Push Poll). I believe you are referring to the 3rd poll, which was a longer poll. The Magellan poll was more specific to just “who would you vote for” much like the fourth poll that was conducted two days ago.

    Steve, my understanding is that the undecideds were less than, but in line with, the mayoral race. somewhere in the high 30’s.

  • Jack B. says:

    Oh great, JKW gets a gossip column on The Island, which I thought was our refuge from political hit jobs. I am shocked and saddened.

    Steve asks some good questions. And I’m wondering how “I didn’t open those emails” JKW gets this confidential access to unpublished polls?

  • Steve says:

    Regarding WISE, you have the wrong group. It is the Women’s Initiative for Self Employment that has opened a space on Webster Street. They are a local organization. Here is the correct link:

  • Jack,

    In response to your comments here and on Facebook – this is, and will continue to be, a refuge from “political hit jobs” (and if you read today’s column, I don’t think there are any of those in it). I think the overriding consideration for me here, as it is always, is the value of the information someone can bring to the table. John has a level of access at City Hall that frankly I don’t, and I don’t think much people do. And I think I’d be doing you a disservice by not offering that. That said, this column did, and will, go through a rigorous fact-checking process before it goes out to ensure you’re getting high-quality information, and not a party line. And I encourage anyone who sees an item they view as being a “hit job” to contact me, at michele@theislandofalameda.com.

  • Susan says:

    Michele, In the past, I have greatly enjoyed your site because I felt it was an excellent source to turn to for local news. Whatever your personal views, I always felt you made balanced, neutral, fact-based reporting your focus, and I admired you for it. -It was invaluable to have a site to turn to that did not include attempts to subvert the political process; Oh well.

  • anotherfrank says:

    I have answered the questions in the same election poll the last two evenings.

    In each case I responded that I was going to vote for candidates who I have no intention of voting for.

    Maybe if more people do this there will be less polling.

  • Ani Dimusheva says:

    There are two “Apparently”s ad one “Word is” in this column. This is not sourcing. Michele, as a contributor, I would be embarrassed to submit a story like this to you, frankly, I doubt you would run it. I am shocked. I hope you hold all your contributors to the same standard, or you risk losing the respect you now enjoy.

    I second Jack B thoughts: JKW, who vigorously denied opening or reading any confidential information in connection with the Lena Tam emails, is running a City Hall Confidential column! He either is or isn’t on the receiving end of publishable information. If he is, he needs to source it, not run a rumor mill.

  • Lauren Do says:

    I realize that most of the comments are about the author of the piece and not the information itself, but I am excited about the addition of WISE to Webster Street. According to JKW, evidently Leslie Little should be credited with the grant writing and bringing WISE to Alameda. While 10 start-ups of women-owned businesses may not be as sexy as VF Outdoor or Peets, it’s nice to know that someone in the City sees the value of lending a hand to start-ups.

  • Ani Dimusheva says:

    Michele, then why not include the sources and supporting documents? You have done so in the past, very much to your credit.

  • Ani,

    Let me think about how or if that could be achieved without outing a source.

  • Jack B. says:

    This reminds me of that Matt Taibbi piece….


    “For quite a long time political journalism, particularly in Washington, has been reduced to an access-trading game, where reporters are rewarded for favorable coverage of those in the know with more time and availability.”

  • Adam Gillitt says:

    John White serves no form of truth, he only serves his and his buddies’ political agendas. Why this unethical hack is allowed another mouthpiece to spread his biased worldview is incomprehensible.

    The Island has sunk to new lows. What was once a moderately respectable news site is now publishing gossip and rumors from a known political operative like a tabloid rag.

    This is sad. Michele, you can do, and have done better.

  • Mark Irons says:

    How horrible! JKW has posted the Beverly is leading in a poll. He must be on her payroll! Adam, you of all people should think twice about accusing others of new lows. Just when it seems you couldn’t be a more hyperbolic, you top yourself. Have a great weekend.

  • ct says:

    A column focusing on City Hall is an excellent way to expose the inner workings of our local government. Readers who don’t like what John Knox White writes can just skip over his column’s link.

  • Tony Daysog says:

    Hey, that’s cool that W.I.S.E is coming to Webster Street! Back in the early 1990s, when with the National Economic Development and Law Center, I used to work with the co-founder of WISE, Barbara Johnson. That’s very good news! It’s great to hear that a a socially conscience, progressive outfit like WISE is opening a satellite project (incubator) on Webster Street — a perfect fit for Webster’s multi-cultural, funky, eclectic flavor. Welcome!

  • Steve says:

    Who are the little birdies providing the author with confidential information? The author is strongly associated with the robins and doesn’t seem to like the bluebirds very much.

    How does one get his hands on a proprietary survey done by one of the candidates? The author is strongly associated with those local candidates endorsed by the Alameda Democratic Club, of which he is a member. Would an opposing candidate leak a private poll to him? Bluebirds aren’t going to provide the writer with confidential information, but the robins will. By its nature, this column will be slanted to one particular political perspective. Its appearance within one month of a high stakes local election rings all sorts of alarms.

    I would hate to see The Island become just another robin rag. My suggestion is to suspend this new column until after the election and, at the same time, seek out a writer from among the bluebirds. Adding a highly political writer to this news source just one month before a crucial election weakens its credibility.

  • Lauren Do says:

    I realize that some folks have their panties in a bunch over JKW writing an opinion column for the Island, but clearly it’s the messenger and not the message that people are objecting to.

    Case in point, the last item about WISE coming to Webster Street characterizes Frank Matarrese as being extremely solicitous in having to abandon his campaign headquarter space to make room for a terrific new tenant. Is that benefiting the robins or the bluebirds?

    Also the unpublished portion of the opinion poll is interesting, but nothing that benefits the robins over the bluebirds or vice versa, given that the Alameda Demo Club endorsements are split between tying for first or tying for third.

    And finally, only a “highly political writer” would be able to write, what appears to be, a political column. Suggesting that The Island’s credibility is diminished because a political columnist has been added to the mix is like saying the New York Times or any other major news publication’s credibility is in question because they have political columnists. It’s beyond absurd.

  • Adam Gillitt says:

    Once again, I must confess how lucky John is to have a big sister like you to fight his battles for him, Lauren… it’s like you have a whole club going, or something!

  • Folks,

    Running John’s column today has helped to expose to the public something I have found to be unique among the cities I have covered: That the dialogue around political issues in this town is driven by about 100 people who totally hate each other and will stop at nothing to try to tear each other down. Even people who agree on some issues seem to delight in engaging in this blood sport, and God help the poor soul who stumbles into this morass on good intentions alone. Why is this, and what can we hope to gain from it? Discuss.

  • anotherfrank says:

    “And finally, only a “highly political writer” would be able to write, what appears to be, a political column. Suggesting that The Island’s credibility is diminished because a political columnist has been added to the mix is like saying the New York Times or any other major news publication’s credibility is in question because they have political columnists. It’s beyond absurd.”

    I get it.

    Let’s call it “The Knox News Channel”. Rhymes with Fox.

    “Fair and Unbiased”

    It would be great if we just could switch channels but is linked in every blog in town.

  • Ani Dimusheva says:

    What Michele needs, and I know this for a fact, is a reporter aka journalist to cover political news. JKW ain’t it. Folks, help Michele. If you know a decent journalist able and willing to cover city hall objectively, let them know they are needed. As a reader, I don’t care of they are robins or bluebirds as long as they are willing to look 360 degrees factually back up their information.

  • Jack B. says:

    Michele, I am a huge believer in you and your reporting. I value The Island most for rising above the spin. Maybe Lauren is right and it’s just another feature of your news site, but, then again… I hold you in higher regard than the NY Times (who lied us into war in case anybody forgot) and SF Gate etc… primarily because I don’t feel like I’m getting bludgeoned with spin. I like waking up to the straight story every morning.

    This isn’t about hating JKW. Maybe some of us just don’t think you should be sharing your hard-earned credibility with him. And maybe it doesn’t matter what we think. Alas, as politics heat up I just want to tune out anyway.

  • dlm says:

    I would have to agree w/ others below: Could we please have a voice other than John Knox White’s blaring from the loudspeakers? This city has such rigidly one-sided opinions on the blogs and even in the MSN that it would put North Korea to shame. This site generally (Alamedans.com), named after our city, doesn’t allow participation by columnists who challenge the party line — Michele included. I have been reading this blog for a long time, and I have never seen any opinions here, on The Island, that are anything but in lockstep w/ Lauren Do and JKW. I’m not saying that in anger,either, not at all, that’s just my observation.

    As with the comment that JKW’s column has been “sourced” — whre is the source for the headline? In what way does the interim city manager control the city? We have a city council that is alive and well, and I do not see them losing control over the city.

    The reality here is very obvious and simple: a relentless campaign — a nonstop stream of hit pieces — bordering on fanatical, has been directed against the interim city manager now for months. Part of this is payback over the ICM’s run-in with Lena Tam, but much of it, as we all know, is in furtherance of SunCal’s campaign to get rid of the ICM, the better to force their way back into Alameda Point.

    These exact same disinformation tactics have been used ad nauseum — come up with a coordinated message and repeat it incessantly, all the better to manipulate public opinion, without any regard to ethical considerations or for that matter, any intelligent analysis of the consequences.

    Then Michele asks below why various people hate each other — what I hate, really and truly, is lying. I hate seeing the same falsehoods repeated yet again, very deliberately, after they have been refuted a dozen times over. This is not a discussion — it’s more of cult-like belief in PR and the importance of manipulating rather than informing public opinion.

    I hate it ultimately, not only because it communicates a lack of respect for public opinion, but also because it’s so often dumb, I mean arrogant, self-interested and stupid. Like the endless eager-beaver promotion on behalf of SunCal. Why would we want a bankrupt developer in control of Alameda Point? If you don’t want a city-run process, then do the honest thing and the right thing, give up on getting your brownie points from Democrats and developers, and start working on a Plan B for a master developer.

  • Jon Spangler says:

    You can say what you will about John Knox White (and most readers are free with their words, even when they are insulting or rude), but he DOES have excellent sources and is able to share information that others of us do not have access to.
    And he gets his facts straight.

    I happen to agree with John in many cases, but my biggest concern is whether or not he gets his facts straight. And so far he has done a pretty good job for someone who did not start out as a trained journalist.

    I would be happy to read a credible, accurate column from the other side of the political fence but have not found anyone yet who reports with credibility and – perhaps more importantly – without hysteria or paranoia about conspiracies, etc.

    We all need to regain a sense of mutual respect, as Michele notes. Having two political commentators here on the Island News who could respectfully disagree without the sniping that is so prevalent – and infectious, unfortunately – would be a real delight.

  • Kevin says:

    Hi Michele,

    I like the website. I am probably one of the other 100 people who haven’t discussed the politics of the city and one of the 45% in the poll who are undecided. Though with this, maybe I have become number 101.
    This year I have been more in tuned to the blogs and news sources for this race and had no idea the malestrom that takes place for a mayor or city council race..wow. . This is beyond entertaining.

    Anyway, I am not opposed to different views doing the political pieces on here. I am sure if John says something outside the realm of fact, there will be a comment to dispute it. Or if you see something that doesn’t pass the beyond gossip test, that you would do something about it.

    One question about “interim city manager” that someone can hopefully answer due to my ignorance. Why is there an “interim city manager”. Shouldn’t we have a permanent city manager. Or do we just always have interim ones. Like I said very ignorant of this. And it seems like the “interim city manager” definitely has her friends and foes.. I had no idea one existed until this summer.


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