IT IS unfortunate, but not surprising, that Oakland City Attorney John Russo has chosen to blame the Oak to Ninth Referendum Committee for the problems he has with the referendum petition. Shifting the blame to someone else is a common political ploy to avoid taking responsibility for one's mistakes; and mistakes by city staff and Russo's own office are the real culprits behind the objections Russo has raised to the petition.

Russo complains that the version of the ordinance circulated in the petition was not the final version approved by City Council. He's half right. It certainly was not the final version of the ordinance that now sits in the city clerk's files, but it was the version of the ordinance presented to and given final approval by City Council on July 18.

The basic problem here stems from Russo allowing City Council to consider and purportedly approve an ordinance that was not, in fact, ready for "prime time."

For whatever reason, city staff pushed through City Council an ordinance that was still in draft form and under revision by staff. As presented to the council on first reading June 20, the ordinance did not even have its associated development agreement attached to it. Bear in mind that this was at the public hearing on the ordinance — where the public was expected to understand and comment on the development agreement and its terms.

Even at the second reading of the ordinance July 18, Russo admits that the development agreement was still in draft form, and some exhibits had apparently not yet even been completed. Nevertheless, Russo allowed the council to consider and purportedly give final approval to the ordinance.

What the referendum petition presented to Oakland voters was exactly what staff presented to Oakland City Council (and the public) on July 18. After that meeting, city staff, apparently including Russo's office, continued to modify the documents to come up with a "final" version, but by the city clerk's own admission, that version was not even submitted to her office until July 27 — nine days after it supposedly had been approved by the council. No wonder the referendum committee used the earlier version. If they had waited for the final version to appear in the City Clerk's office, their 30-day circulation period would have been cut by a third!

Russo now proposes a "legislative fix" to protect petition circulators from losing time due to such delays. The committee would suggest that a different, and less complicated, solution is in order: City Council should not be considering legislation until it is ready for all to see in final form. That is what's really needed to preserve honesty and transparency in government, and to protect the citizens' right of referendum.

Stuart Flashman is an Oakland attorney. He represents the Oak to Ninth Referendum Committee in its lawsuit challenging the City of Oakland's rejection of the referendum petition.