ALAMEDA -- Oakland City Attorney John Russo is the leading candidate to become the next city manager of Alameda, sources confirmed Tuesday.
The Alameda City Council met in closed session Tuesday to review his application. But the council did not vote to offer him a job during the meeting, as a background check still must be completed.
Russo declined to comment Tuesday.
His departure from his role as Oakland's first elected city attorney has been rumored for months, especially after heated public fighting between Russo and Oakland Mayor Jean Quan. Russo's proposed gang injunction has been a sore point, with Quan bringing on longtime friend and injunction opponent Dan Siegel as an adviser. Russo said that created a conflict that made it difficult to do his job effectively while keeping the mayor informed.
In February, Russo stopped offering legal advice to the Oakland City Council regarding their efforts to sanction and regulate industrial-scale medicinal marijuana farms, citing a rule of professional attorney conduct under which an attorney can fire a client intent on breaking the law.
Russo is a Brooklyn native who moved to Oakland in 1987. He was elected to the City Council in 1994 and served six years before becoming the city's first elected city attorney in 2000, a job to which he has twice been re-elected.
Though he has often clashed with his colleagues at Oakland City Hall, several council members wished him well Tuesday, saying he'd make a great fit in the new role.
"I would be sorry to see John go," said Councilmember Libby Schaaf (Montclair-Laurel). "He's done great work, for example, with the Neighborhood Law Corps," a program Russo created in 2002 that brings first-year lawyers into neighborhoods to help residents tackle local problems.
"Using the power of the city attorney to help citizens in their neighborhoods goes above and beyond the call of the office," Schaaf said.
Councilmember Desley Brooks (Seminary-Eastmont), who has been leading the marijuana regulation effort, took a different view, saying, "He was not our attorney: He wasn't serving us. I don't think it leaves us any worse off to have him go."
Asked for her thoughts about Russo's departure and its effects, Quan said she thinks the city should reconsider having an elected city attorney, arguing that it's hard to have an attorney-client relationship with someone who is also a politician. The idea got a mixed reaction from council members and would require a change to the city charter, which is unlikely to happen before a new attorney is named or elected.
Russo's likely departure leaves an empty, elected position near the top of Oakland's government, a seat the City Council would have to fill by a majority vote within 60 days of his leaving the office. Failing that, the city would have to hold a special election.
Councilmember Pat Kernighan (Grand Lake-Chinatown) said Russo has been recommending Barbara Parker, a Harvard graduate and Russo's chief assistant city attorney since 2000. Parker manages 25 attorneys and oversees all advice from Russo's office to the mayor, City Council, and city boards, commissions and departments.
"I hope she applies," Schaaf said. "I've worked with her quite a lot and I have immense respect for her professionalism and skills. But, that said, I will consider everyone who applies."
Brooks said she's hoping for Randolph Hall, who heads the city attorney's litigation unit, to fill the seat.
Councilmember Jane Brunner (North Oakland) said Tuesday she's interested in the job and is looking into the logistics involved.
"The major change I would make is that I think we have to be a team, with the mayor and City Council as the clients," Brunner said. "What I would do is follow the direction and desire of the mayor and City Council, and implement whatever they chose to do."
Siegel is also rumored to be a candidate, and would give Quan's influence over city policy a boost. Asked this month if he had considered applying for the job, Siegel said he had, but he declined to say whether he'd pursue it.
The Alameda meeting on Tuesday came on the heels of a series of interviews with those vying for the job -- who also included Millbrae City Manager Marcia Raines and David Brandt, a former Alameda assistant city manager -- conducted by the council, community representatives and leaders of bargaining units within the city.
If he is hired, Russo would replace Ann Marie Gallant, whose two-year contract as interim city manager expires March 31.
While Alameda officials have remained tight-lipped about the process to replace Gallant, sources have confirmed that Russo is the leading contender for the job.
Gallant earns about $285,000 annually and has been on paid administrative leave since December, when the council voted not to renew her contract. She was hired as interim city manager after Debra Kurita quit the job in February 2009 over what she described as differences with the City Council.
Contact Sean Maher at 510-208-6430 and Peter Hegarty at 510-748-1654.