Oakland council members will be the subject of an audit evaluating whether they have unlawfully meddled in Oakland's administrative affairs.
The audit, initiated Wednesday by City Auditor Courtney Ruby, will include a review of Councilwoman Desley Brooks' involvement in a city-owned teen center that has made the issue of interference by council members a hot topic at City Hall.
Last week, City Attorney Barbara Parker and City Administrator Deanna Santana sent employees separate reminders that council members cannot direct their activities.
Ruby said that council interference in city administration has been a major issue for years, noting that it topped the list of employee concerns in a 2010 ethics survey.
"We want to see what evidence is out there," she said. "We hope the audit brings a level of integrity to Oakland's government that is so integral to us all being effective."
Jeff Levin, vice president of the union representing many of the city's community development employees, said his unit in 2008 negotiated language into its contract ensuring that members couldn't be disciplined for taking orders from council members in violation of city rules.
"There have clearly been instances when council members have stepped beyond seeking information and given direction to staff," he said. "We're happy that someone is actually trying to draw a line."
Council members interviewed also said they welcomed the audit.
"If there are city employees that are feeling intimidated and doing things they otherwise would not be doing that is a concern" Council President Larry Reid said.
Oakland's council makes policies and appropriates funds, but it is not allowed to interfere with the city's day-to-day operations.
The audit focuses on Section 218 of the city charter, which prohibits council members from directing or attempting to influence or coerce staffers "regarding any contract, project, personnel matter or any other administrative action." A council member convicted of violating the section -- a misdemeanor offense -- would have to forfeit office.
During a council meeting earlier this month regarding the teen center, Chief Assistant City Attorney Doryanna Moreno said there was evidence that Brooks had violated the charter in her efforts to build and staff the East Oakland teen center.
Brooks could not be reached for comment.
City leaders also were alarmed by emails showing that top staffers took direction from Brooks and failed to inform her that several of her requests, such as hiring her own staff members to run the center, violated city rules. The city administrator is continuing her review into the teen center, which the council approved transferring to city control.
The in-house audit, which will review activities dating back to mid-2009, is scheduled to begin next month and be completed by August. Its findings and recommendations will be made public. The auditor has no power to discipline council members, although audit findings would be available to prosecutors if there is evidence that laws have been violated.
Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435.