Oakland City Attorney John Russo is one of three finalists for the Alameda city manager position, sources confirmed Thursday.
Russo has been batting away rumors for weeks that he is feuding with new Oakland Mayor Jean Quan and looking for ways to leave his post. Now, however, it turns out that at least part of that rumor is true: Russo applied for the Alameda job after the recruitment period opened Feb. 1.
The search for a new city manager is moving fast. More than 65 people applied for the job. The Alameda City Council interviewed six candidates and unanimously selected three finalists during a closed-door session Feb. 19. The candidates will be reviewed by three advisory panels that will help the council make its final decision.
Alameda officials did not disclose the names or backgrounds of the finalists, saying it was a personnel issue. Russo also would not comment or confirm that he is a candidate for the job. Sources, however, confirmed that Russo, who was on the Oakland City Council before being elected city attorney in 2000, is one of the finalists. The other candidates are a man and a woman.
"We had a strong set of applications from the very beginning and these candidates are extremely strong," Vice-Mayor Rob Bonta said Wednesday.
Rumors of Russo's departure have been circulating for weeks. He publicly clashed with Quan after she chose as her adviser longtime friend Dan Siegel, a lawyer who opposes Russo's Fruitvale gang injunction. Russo also confounded the council when he suddenly announced that his office would not provide legal advice on the city's proposal to license large-scale marijuana farms.
For her part, Quan has questioned whether Oakland should have an elected city attorney.
Russo's term does not expire for two years. If he leaves, under the City Charter the Oakland City Council would pick a replacement to serve until the next election. If a replacement is not chosen within 60 days, the council is required to set an election.
The Alameda job became available when the City Council opted in late December not to renew the contract of Interim City Manager Ann Marie Gallant when it expires next month and placed her on paid administrative leave. Gallant earns $250,000 in base salary, or about $286,000 with benefits. Russo earns $213,949 in base salary and car allowance. That figure does not include benefits.
The three selection advisory panels will be made up of community representatives, city department heads and representatives from bargaining groups within the city. The community panel is expected to include representatives from the Alameda Unified School District, the Chamber of Commerce and other groups, as well as one representative from the mayor and each council member. Details about who will serve will be announced at the March 1 council meeting.
The final selection will be made by the council, according to Mayor Marie Gilmore. A decision is not expected until the end of March at the earliest.
By that time, the court should have decided whether to grant Russo's request for a preliminary Fruitvale gang injunction. It's unclear whether a new city attorney, if it comes to that, would continue to support the injunction.
Alameda officials say they plan to carry out a background check after the panelists make their recommendations and the council settles on a finalist, including possibly visiting the candidate's most recent city of employment.
"We had a broad range of experience in the candidates," said Councilmember Beverly Johnson. "What struck me is that every city is dealing with similar or worse issues than we have in Alameda. But the challenge now for the person who will be coming in is to keep the city on a solid financial footing."
City officials are on record as seeking a candidate with an understanding of state finances and a track record supporting transparency in government. As a city council member, Russo wrote Oakland's open meeting law called the Sunshine ordinance. Gilmore and Bonta are overseeing the recruitment, which is being handled by the city's Human Services Department.