OAKLAND -- Oakland City Council members will decide the fate of an East Oakland teen center Tuesday amid new revelations of improprieties by Councilmember Desley Brooks in getting the center up and running.
City Administrator Deanna Santana is recommending that the Digital Arts and Culinary Academy remain open and transferred to city control. She also is leaving it up to council members to decide if they want to a more thorough, independent investigation.
City teen centers must be staffed with municipal Parks and Recreation employees, but rather than watch the unfunded center at 5818 International Blvd. sit dormant, Brooks staffed it with her own employees -- a violation of civil service rules.
Brooks also violated city policy by approving more than $18,000 in city redevelopment funds to buy equipment at an El Cerrito Guitar Center to outfit the teen center's recording studio, according to documents released by the city in response to a public records request.
Only select city staffers had authority to approve the purchases, which also required that the city solicit additional bids.
The teen center project has been marred by city policy and legal violations for two years, city documents showed.
Pulte Homes transformed the building into a teen center at a deep discount, but without the city giving approval for the construction work or soliciting alternative bids as required by law.
City documents show that staffers frequently worked to satisfy Brooks' requests regarding the teen center, even those that placed the city in violation of its own policies or state law.
The city violated labor laws by not ensuring that construction workers renovating the teen center, formerly home to a Head Start program, were paid prevailing union wages. It also failed to ensure that teen center workers were hired properly and had sufficient background checks before they started working with children.
Teresa Drenick, spokeswoman for the Alameda County District Attorney's Office, had no comment when asked if prosecutors would probe the teen center.
While the council is expected to approve keeping the center open at least temporarily with more than $50,000 in city funds, it's unclear whether there is support for a more thorough investigation, as sought by council members Libby Schaaf and Pat Kernighan.
"I think we need to dig a little deeper to find out what was the scenario that allowed this to happen," Kernighan said. "Were staff members feeling pressure?"
Brooks didn't return calls Monday, but sent a letter to council members reiterating that she had consulted with city staffers repeatedly on the teen center and followed their direction.
"I realize that we all have differing viewpoints," Brooks wrote. "But on this one -- I am not sure what I could have done differently."
Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435.