OAKLAND//RUBY REPORT | The Oakland Public Ethics Commission decided Tuesday to not make any formal recommendations regarding the city auditor’s scathing report alleging two city councilmembers, Desley Brooks and Larry Reed, were responsible for breaking numerous non-interferences laws on multiple city projects. The ethics commission said they found the report to be alarming but that it was premature to do anything further until a criminal investigation commences and the council members are given a chance to offer a defense.
There is a loose six month time frame for the city to do something about these allegations concerning both Brooks and Reid, the commissioners believe. Both were accused of interfering with city staff concerning a bidding contract for the Oakland Army Base and Brooks was also accused of interference with staff concerning the construction of two teen centers. Reid's aide was also accused of bullying parking staff to excuse a ticket. Brooks was accused of a total of 12 instances of interference; Reid with two. If no further action is taken the commission decided that they would make a statement about the allegations and potentially make a recommendation for enacting changes to help prevent further staff interference.
“It doesn’t seem prudent to say something at this time,” said Commissioner Roberta Johnson, “We have a six month time frame to watch other city agencies do their dance. But it is in our purview to say something, if nothing happens.” The commission’s chair, Lloyd Farnham, agreed and said that he thinks the commission should ask the city for an update in three to four months, but added the auditor's report puts the administrator’s office in a difficult position since they are directed by the city council but also must keep a keen eye on the council’s actions regarding potential charter violations. “I’m glad the city auditor did such a thorough investigation because that’s the only person who could do it,” said Farnham.
Commissioner Jenna Whitman said she appreciated the report. "This isn’t akin to just a complaint, she said. "This is an investigation and there is evidence here and it isn’t our job to second guess it.” Whitman said the Ethics Commission may play a larger role in addressing the nature of these violations and that the commission should take this investigation to heart and work in their “collaboration and prevention circle,” with the city to help prevent future issues. The report had highlighted a culture of interference in Oakland. Whitman added later that she has read in the press that these allegations may fall the wayside and if so then the commission should speak up.
The commission overall offered a sensitive, cautious position regarding the auditor’s report. The commission said that their ability to do anything is limited considering that they can’t take legal action against the council members and such action would have to be done by other agencies, like the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Alameda County District Attorney, or the state Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC). The commission will likely return to the report in June or July of this year after the issue has moved further along.
Shane Bond is an East Bay Citizen contributor.