The politically driven intimidation of Alameda’s city manager over her selection of a new fire chief must cease.
And independent investigations should determine if two council members ought to be removed from office for violating city charter rules prohibiting meddling in hiring decisions.
First, City Attorney Janet Kern should quickly hire an outside law firm to conduct a thorough probe. Second, separate from the political pressure within City Hall, the Alameda County grand jury should conduct its own investigation.
What has transpired recently on the island is reprehensible, the worst sort of cronyism designed to benefit City Council members’ political backers.
As we reported online this week, two council members, Malia Vella and Jim Oddie, pushed for months for the city manager to hire a fire captain and union leader with minimal managerial experience as fire chief.
The only thing that stopped it was the ethical and professional stand of City Manager Jill Keimach. She opted to conduct a thorough recruitment process to find the best candidate for the job, not the person with the strongest political connections.
She found – and hired – an outstanding and well-qualified candidate, Edmond Rodriguez, the chief of the Salinas Fire Department.
What’s important here is that the city charter is quite clear: Hiring decisions are the purview of the city manager. Council interference is prohibited and grounds for removal from office for malfeasance.
Yet, the council seems to be doubling down, preparing to punish or perhaps fire Keimach for doing the right thing. The City Council, against its city attorney’s advice, plans to conduct Keimach’s long-overdue performance evaluation on Tuesday before any investigation of the events of the past few months can be completed.
Think about it: The council members improperly meddled in the hiring process. And now they’re planning payback because their outrageous agenda was blocked.
In a conversation with the police chief, Oddie made quite clear that there would be retribution, that Keimach’s job depended on her going along.
This can’t stand. Now that this improper intimidation of the city’s top employee has come to light, Kern has a legal duty to investigate and provide a public report. And the county grand jury, which operates behind closed doors, has a separate responsibility to ferret out governmental abuse.
If the grand jury finds wrongdoing, it has unique authority to file an accusation, a legal move that would force a public trial of offending council members that could result in removal from office.
The Contra Costa grand jury recently filed such an accusation against District Attorney Mark Peterson, who had illegally lined his pockets with campaign funds. He was forced to resign from office and plead guilty after the state Attorney General’s Office stepped in and filed even more serious felony perjury charges.
In Alameda, residents first need answers that only an independent probe can bring. Then they deserve justice.