OAKLAND — Residents sitting on Oakland's advisory boards and commissions give input to policy makers on everything from how to spend ballot-measure money to what type of law enforcement strategies the Police Department should use.
They come from all over Oakland. They are of all ages and backgrounds. And, according to a recent opinion from City Attorney John Russo's office, they can only be appointed by one person: Mayor Ron Dellums.
The opinion says the city's charter makes it clear that only the mayor can make appointments to such boards and commissions, with appointments subject to council approval. That means the city has for years been going about its appointments wrong, with many committee members appointed directly by council members themselves.
"There's plenty of blame to go around," said City Attorney John Russo. "We should have caught it at some point. The city clerk should have caught it. The council itself should have caught it."
Whoever's to blame, the opinion has angered some on the council. The matter came to a head at a meeting late Tuesday, with some befuddled as to how the city attorney's office had given the go-ahead to past appointment practices that, apparently, violated city law.
"We just opened up a can of worms," said City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente (Glenview-Fruitvale). "The appointments that have been made have been sanctioned by the city attorney's office, they have been voted on by us, "... so I hope that the mayor's office and the city attorney realize that you're opening up a can of worms and we're not going to "... delegate that power or just allow a new opinion."
De La Fuente and others on council suggested council members may seek legal advice outside Russo's office on the issue.
The opinion came about after a staffer in the mayor's office, Bouapha Toommaly, asked the city attorney's office whether an appointment to the Community Policing Advisory Board by the Oakland Housing Authority required council confirmation. Also, the city clerk's office had inquired on whether the full council must confirm an individual council member's appointment to the same board.
The answer on both questions? No.
The reason? Because only the mayor was supposed to make the appointments in the first place.
As cited in the legal opinion, the section of the charter in question reads: "Members of boards and commissions shall be appointed by the Mayor subject to confirmation by the affirmative vote of five members of the Council. ... If the mayor does not submit for confirmation a candidate to fill the vacancy within 90 days of the date the vacancy first occurred, the Council may fill the vacancy."
Dellums spokesman Paul Rose said Dellums did not pursue the legal opinion to give himself more appointing authority, but that the mayor would, of course, follow the law.
It's not clear how many people on how many boards will be affected. Russo said his office would have a complete report on the issue out by the end of the calendar year. He said commissions that can create or set policy — such as the Board of Port Commissioners or the Planning Commission — would not be affected by changes that could hit the advisory panels. And as for the request for an outside attorney?
"You don't need an attorney to read a charter," he said, adding, "Why do we need to waste more tax-payer dollars on yet another opinion on something that is absolutely plain English in the charter?"
The 1075 debate
Among the questions, comments, suggestions and criticisms the City Council had for police Chief Wayne Tucker Tuesday night was an inquiry from Councilmember Jean Quan (Montclair-Laurel) on what Tucker thought about a possible ballot measure to increase the department from 803 officers to 1075 — without raising taxes.
Tucker's response: "I think 300 (new) officers would be very difficult for the city to fund. I think it's about $25 million for each of the 100 officers so it's $75 million new dollars. I don't know that we've been able to prove that we need that many more persons. "... I think a better use of staff would be to add police-service technicians. I think there's certainly room for that."
On the medical pot front
Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, has sent a letter to the Drug Enforcement Administration seeking information about DEA threats against people owning and operating medical cannabis facilities in California.
Conyers' letter, dated April 29, could be a precursor to hearings on the DEA's actions, and it comes after mayors across the state — including Dellums, Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates and San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom — encouraged Conyers to investigate the matter. At the heart of the issue is the disconnect between federal law, which prohibits marijuana use, and state law, which seeks to protect its use for medical reasons.
The letter questions whether targeting Californians providing medical treatment is a good use of DEA resources "given the increased level of trafficking and violence associated with international drug cartels across Mexico, South America and elsewhere." Conyers asked for a response by July 1.
The municipal whistle-blower bill authored by Oakland's City Auditor Courtney Ruby and carried in Sacramento by Assemblymember Sandré Swanson, D-Oakland, cleared the Assembly Thursday 65-0, Swanson's office said. It now heads to the Senate and, if approved there, the governor's desk.
The bill is designed to ensure that city or county employees who report fraud, waste or abuse to an auditor or controller can have their identity protected so as to avoid potential retaliation from superiors.
Contact Kelly Rayburn at (510) 208-6435 or firstname.lastname@example.org.