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City Hall Confidential

Submitted by on 1, March 4, 2011 – 12:02 am15 Comments

Filing it away

One council candidate apparently followed her loss in last November’s bruising election by filing a building permit complaint against a fellow candidate less than a week after the vote results were released.

About a week after being elected mayor, Marie Gilmore arrived home to find a note on her front door stating that a city building inspector had been by, and that she needed to contact the building department to discuss a complaint that had been filed. According to documents received by CHC, the complaint was filed by Jean Sweeney, who came in fourth for three seats in her campaign for City Council.

CHC has obtained a copy of an e-mail former candidate Sweeney wrote to inform Interim City Manager Ann Marie Gallant that she had received information that Gilmore had “built a garage on her property without a permit when she was on the Planning Board” and that she was looking into it.

Asked about the issue, Sweeney denied filing a complaint against Gilmore, though she did say she inquired about the matter “I did call the permit office to see if she was in violation of the permit laws and it turned out that she got a permit after her garage was built,”Sweeney said.

But in her note to Gallant, Sweeney wrote that when she called the permit office and the staffer “asked if I wanted to talk to enforcement officer and I said I would.” City officials confirmed that such a call would be logged as a complaint and that at that time, code enforcement officers are required to follow up on it.

When asked about the post-project permit issue, Planning Services Manager Andrew Thomas said that Gilmore’s project not only went through the proper permitting process prior to the construction, but also ended up going through major design review.

Asked about the timing of the complaint – a few days after a fractious election on a nearly 10-year old home remodel – Sweeney said: “It is serious business for a Planning Board member to do unpermitted work and I wanted to check the facts man. Just the facts.”

Highsmith in the high desert

In the odd case of the city attorney who held two jobs, reality continues to be more confounding than fiction. Alameda City Attorney Teresa Highsmith, who was placed on administrative leave in December after it came to light that she had accepted a job as the interim city attorney in Barstow without resigning her $200,000 a year position in Alameda, continues to remain employed as the interim city attorney for the Desert City, according to Barstow City Manager Curt Mitchell.

While there is no contract between Barstow and Highsmith, and Highsmith has yet to attend a Barstow City Council meeting since appearing on the dais to accept the position publicly, Mitchell confirmed that Highsmith is still the official interim city attorney for Barstow.

The council has not been told why Highsmith has not attended their meetings. Highsmith’s boss, Michael Colantuono has attended every meeting since December in her place.


  • frank martin says:

    I find this disturbing….scary.

    The lesson learned is:
    Don’t contact City Officials or Departments by email.

    If that email falls on the wrong side of the political spectrum of JKW’s City Hall connection it will be forwarded to John.

    From there it will be published in the Island.

    This is neither ‘open government’ or ‘Sunshine’ It is exactly the opposite. This is intimidation. A warning shot to tell all private citizens that if “WE” don’t like what you say “WE” will out you.

    It was just a few weeks ago in CHC “Tapped IN’ that the issuse of the monitering calls and emails was discussed. Now an non-elected citizen is being forwared these emails.

    And we as Taxpayers are paying a employee to do this.

    Michele you are concerned about ‘comments’ perhaps you should focus on content.

    This goes beyond the story of Jean Sweeney and Marie Gilmore. The implications are frightening.

    • Frank,

      Just to clarify your comment. There was no “city hall connection” who forwarded this email to me. The email was received as a part of a public request I made while researching another issue. I don’t think anyone at City Hall was even aware of it. After reading your comment, I just want to clarify that there is no city hall staffer looking for emails to forward to me or anyone else.

  • Carol Eagle says:

    Filing it away or misfiling?

    How about this version of the story.

    Jean Sweeney heard a rumor that Marie Gilmore had built a garage without a permit. Rather than spreading the rumor herself, she decided to find out the facts. She contacted the permit center to see if the garage was built with permits. She did not realize that simply asking a question would precipitate an investigation by the permit office.

    Jean Sweeney was not competing against Marie Gilmore for mayor. Jean Sweeney was running for city council. Jean waited until after the election was over to make the inquiry. If she were truly malicious, she would have filed a complaint prior to the election.

    It sounds like the only purpose of the story is to smear Jean Sweeney.

  • Darcy Morrison says:

    I agree entirely with both the comments above. This column is nothing but an attempt to intimidate an individual who asked the wrong question. It’s ironic that John, a leading “Sunshinista”, should be the one seeking to “investigate” members of the public who ask for information.

    This is not the only person who’s been subjected to this tactic, either. Time will tell if this becomes a standard tactic or not.

    We also need a break from the “reports” (read: attacks) on the former city attorney and former interim city manager. They’re gone, they’re not coming back, let’s just let it go at that. It serves no purpose to continue sniping at them.

  • Adam Gillitt says:

    Michele- You’ve brought your website to new lows. When can we expect updates about Justin Bieber’s latest hairstyles and Rob Bonta’s parents’ work with Cesar Chavez?

  • Karry Kelley says:

    Can someone explain to me the news value here? Or is it just a slow news week and somebody needed to be thrown under the bus?

  • Nancy Hird says:

    Just the name of this writer’s column, “City Hall Confidential” suggests “gossip”. Michele, is this the impression that you want for your otherwise very good daily Alameda news?

    I totally agree with what the others have written. When I, as a private citizen, have written correepondance or a records request with anyone, I don’t expect it plastered in a public venue. This is an invasion of Jean Sweeney’s privacy – not sunshine.

  • SteveGerstle says:

    The column should be renamed: Digging for Dirt.

  • Chuck says:

    This column seems to get enough traffic and inspires people to comment, despite the complaints. It provides insights into the people that place themselves in the public eye like Jean Sweeney and other people that run for office, or those that engage in hypocritical tactics like Highsmith at the Alameda’s expense.

  • carol gottstein says:

    Frank, I find it a bit scary. Like, a witchhunt. One problem is Mr. Knox-White doesn’t give us any dates. When I served on the Planning Board w/Gilmore, Andrew Thomas didn’t even work for the Alameda Planning Dept. yet(so how would he know?. This was when Gilmore lived 1/2-a-block from me on Grand, before she moved out of Alameda to Palo Alto. Was she kept on Alameda’s PB while IN Palo Alto? How did she pop back on the Planning Board so easily?).Unfortunately, the Planning Board links on the City Hall website have no dates in thr web addresses. You have to dnld the full PDFs to discover any chronology.

  • SteveGerstle says:

    I spoke with Jean Sweeney about this matter. She said she called the Building Department and asked for a list of permits for Marie Gilmore’s house on Saint Charles Street. The clerk on the phone could not find any permits for the address. The matter then got bumped up to code enforcement for additional investigation.

    I was wondering how this miscommunication could have happened, so I went online and used the ePermit Portal: https://aca.accela.com/alameda/ At first, I too could not find permits for the address. However, I am familiar with conducting database inquiries and tried different variants of the street name. St. Charles did not work, but St Charles did. The system seems to lack cross references. The same problem occurs with numbered streets. Is it 4th Street or Fourth Street? The clerk may not have known to try different possible variations of the street name or there may be no standardization as to how street names are entered.

    Jean Sweeney is owed an apology. Members of the public who make public information inquires should not be subjected to an inquisition by bloggers trying to score political points. I know of at least one other member of the community who has received a “media request” from this same blogger.

  • Karen Bey says:

    Most people when they inquire about a permit it’s because they are neighbors and they want to make sure their neighbors are getting the proper permits. But Jean Sweeney is not a neighbor of Marie Gilmore, so for the life of me I can’t understand why she is researching the permit status of Marie Gilmore during her time on the Planning Board several years ago. It smells like there is a political motive here, and I’m disturbed that anyone would try to pretend otherwise. And just curious, did Jean inquire about Doug DeHaan’s permits while she was at it – or did she just single out the Mayor?

  • Jon Spangler says:

    I lived half a block from Mayor Gilmore from 1997-2009. When the Gilmores remodeled their home I saw the Planning Department notice posted on a telephone pole, inquired about it, and looked at the plans at City Hall. (I did not immediately associate her name with the remodeling work application or the notice on the pole.)

    Everything was on the up-and-up, and the remodel is gorgeous on the inside. (The garage may or may not have been a part of that project. I do not recall that detail from before 2005.)

    Everything at City Hall is supposed to be a matter of public record, and it is. But there is nothing wrong with either questioning the motives of a political opponent or of a homeowner about whether a building permit was properly obtained. And people who are acting legitimately should not normally feel a need for confidentiality.

    It would be nice to live in a community where someone like Jean Sweeney would not base her actions solely on rumors and in which she would feel comfortable with just calling Marie Gilmore and asking her about the garage permit. Unfortunately – and the comments as well as this post attest to this – we seem to have devolved into opposing camps of people who would sometimes rather “call the cops” on those who differ with them than speak civilly and in a friendly way.

    If anyone needs to apologize perhaps it should be Jean Sweeney who seems to mistrust anyone with whom she does not agree.

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