OAKLAND -- With just over a month to adopt a budget, Oakland council members approved rules aimed at preventing a repeat of last year when the final budget plan was introduced at the last minute with no chance for public vetting.
The new law, passed 6-2 after a testy debate, forbids council members from submitting major budget amendments within three days of the final meeting when the budget is adopted.
The prohibition only can be overturned by a three-fourths majority vote based on new information that the amendments would be needed to avoid a "substantial adverse impact."
Council members Desley Brooks and Larry Reid opposed the measure during Tuesday's council meeting.
Reid said it wouldn't improve transparency and accused the council's three recently elected members of being "co-opted" by Council President Pat Kernighan and Councilwoman Libby Schaaf, who spearheaded the proposal.
Recent budget battles in Oakland have been marked by the eight-member council fracturing into competing groups of four, with each group submitting a last-minute plan that provided little opportunity for the public to study and weigh in on the proposals.
Last year, the two camps unveiled their final plans in the middle of the meeting when the budget had to be decided. After Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan switched sides, the council voted 5-3 for an amended budget plan that had a math error and included nearly $2 million in givebacks to city unions.
Of the five council members who voted for the budget proposal, four were running for election that November. None of the three who voted against it faced elections.
Schaaf, who along with Kernighan, was on the losing end of the last two budget battles, said last year's experience was the impetus to codify the city's budget process.
"Until today, the city had no rules at all governing our budget process," Schaaf said. "I recognize there will be plenty of room for more, but this is a really important start."
The new rules only apply to two-year budgets, which are approved in odd-numbered years. Schaaf said she hoped the council will later approve the ban on late budget amendments during midterm budget adjustments that take place in even-numbered years.
The two rules that will take effect this year are the prohibition against last-minute amendments and a requirement that the council president submit a proposed budget for council review no later than June 17. The council must approve budgets before July 1.
New rules that will take effect next budget cycle include a requirement that the council members submit their budget priorities in writing by April 1 and that the city's Budget Advisory Commission review and report on the city administrator's initial budget proposal by June 1. The new law also requires the city, if feasible, to conduct a professional poll assessing the public's budgetary priorities.
The polling requirement is designed to give council members a broader sense of public opinion than it receives during town hall meetings that tend to draw many interest groups with financial stakes in the results.
Brooks and Reid both took issue with polling because they said it risked underplaying the concerns of their constituents in the poorer sections of East Oakland.
Reid is the council's most senior member, but he lost clout after last year's election. The new council replaced him as council president with Kernighan, who works closely with Schaaf.
During the debate, Reid said he was "thoroughly disappointed" in the three new council members for being "co-opted" by Kernighan and Schaaf.
"I just knew what was going to happen, and it played out just the way I expected it to," he said.
One of the new council members, Lynette Gibson McElhaney, responded to Reid: "For you to indicate in this chamber that I have somehow been co-opted because I take a principled stand on transparency is insulting, sir."
The exchange came just weeks after Reid got into a heated argument with newly elected Councilman Dan Kalb at a committee meeting.
Reid couldn't be reached for comment Wednesday. Kalb and Gibson McElhaney, who have made it a priority to reduce public council bickering, both said they had since mended fences with Reid.
"I have a tremendous amount of respect for Larry," Gibson McElhaney said. "I just want him to be more conscious with his use of language."
The council has scheduled a budget hearing for 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Oakland City Hall, 1 Frank H. Ogawa Plaza.
Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435. Follow hom at Twitter.com/ @matthew_artz.