CITY HALL: Outgoing city manager cut a wide swath
“There’s this great line in `The Godfather’ – `It’s not personal, its business,'” Ann Marie Gallant told Alameda’s City Council on April 1, 2009, after they installed her in the city manager’s chair on a 3-2 vote. But over the 21 months she worked the job Gallant aroused strong emotions in those who work in and lobby City Hall, most notably earning both fierce loyalty and bitter enmity over what many see as her role in sending former Alameda Point developer SunCal packing.
The City Council voted 3-2 last week to place Gallant on administrative leave for the final three months of her two-year contract to serve as the Island’s interim city manager, putting Deputy City Manager Lisa Goldman in charge of the city until a permanent replacement can be found. A search is set to be conducted over the next several months, with the council slated to talk Tuesday about the qualities they’d like to see in a new manager.
Supporters and detractors alike praised Gallant for steering the city’s finances straight at a time when some feared Alameda could slide into bankruptcy. She has also earned praise for ambitious proposals to reshape the face of the Island, which included an asset management strategy for city-owned property and plans to rejuvenate Alameda’s civic center and the Webster Street commercial corridor.
But Gallant also drew ire over stalled contract negotiations, both with Alameda’s firefighters and with a nonprofit seeking to run the city’s nine-hole golf course, and for her decision to authorize a leaks investigation into City Councilwoman Lena Tam – who would later call for her resignation.
Gallant could not be reached for comment for this story.
Gallant gained the manager’s job on April 1, 2009, a little over a month after her former boss, Debra Kurita, resigned. Tam and now-Mayor Marie Gilmore had voted against Gallant’s move from her post as interim finance director, with Gilmore questioning what she called a lack of process around Gallant’s hiring and a lack of clear performance expectations and goals. (In a city-issued press release, Gilmore – who voted with Tam and Vice Mayor Rob Bonta to put Gallant on leave – said the selection process for a new manager will be “competitive and fair.”)
Gallant’s early months in the city were marked by efforts to improve Alameda’s finances and to provide a clearer picture of them for the public and an appreciative council. As interim finance director, Gallant unveiled a novel strategy for financing some of the city’s retiree benefit costs; when she became interim city manager, the fast-talking former teacher rolled out a whiteboard to lay out the city’s finances in plain English while detailing how she would put out a host of financial fires.
A month after taking the manager’s job, Gallant issued pink slips to 40 city employees, something Kurita had been criticized for failing to do. Earlier this month, City Councilman Doug deHaan – a Gallant supporter – told readers of SFGate’s InAlameda blog that the city’s general fund reserve now stands at $12 million, up from $4 million when Gallant took the reins.
She put in long hours at City Hall, which during her tenure came to be graced with faux-leather chairs, large doormats emblazoned with the city seal – and a host of framed motivational posters.
In June, city staff released a council-requested report that detailed a list of potential issues with Measure B, the development plan and business deal for Alameda Point that developer SunCal had put on the ballot.
Gallant was ultimately credited with diffusing support for the ballot measure and SunCal’s plan, earning her the steadfast loyalty of the plan’s opponents. But she also faced criticism from supporters of the plan, particularly over reports Gallant said she had a “Plan B” for Alameda Point while the city was in exclusive negotiations with SunCal to reach a development deal there.
Relations between the developer and the city deteriorated rapidly after the measure’s failure, and the City Council voted to send SunCal packing in July. The developer sued, claiming Gallant and unnamed others schemed to dump SunCal so they could take over redevelopment of the Point; City Attorney Teresa Highsmith said at the time that the city had done nothing wrong. (Highsmith was also placed on administrative leave last week when council members learned she had accepted a contract position as interim city attorney for the City of Barstow; the decision was unanimous.)
In addition to filing suit, the developer sent out pre-election mailers attacking Gallant and her supporters on the council, Mayor Beverly Johnson and Councilmen Doug deHaan and Frank Matarrese. Both deHaan and Matarrese were unsuccessful in their bids for mayor in November, sending a termed-out Matarrese off the dais. Johnson came in third in the council contest, earning her the remaining two years in Gilmore’s unexpired council term.
Two weeks before the council decided to oust SunCal, Mayor Beverly Johnson announced that Gallant had authorized a leaks investigation into Tam. An attorney hired to conduct the investigation claimed Tam had leaked confidential information to SunCal and Alameda’s firefighters union, who have battled the city over efforts to downsize the department and stalled contract negotiations. Tam said she had done nothing wrong, and that the investigation was 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. (Gallant had faced questions about web and branding contracts she had inked with a pair of out-of-town consulting firms, which some said local firms should have been given an opportunity to win.)
Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley declined to pursue the case, citing a lack of evidence, and Tam called on Gallant to resign.
“If they want to give three votes, go for it,” Gallant said at the time.