Council pays off DelBono

At a closed session meeting last Tuesday, Council decided to pay $21,535 to former Alameda firefighters’ union president Jeff DelBono to get rid of a claim he filed against the City last year alleging that then-Councilwoman, now Mayor, Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft and former City Manager Jill Keimach had made unspecified “false and malicious accusations” against him.

The Council vote was 4-to-0, with Mayor Ashcraft recusing herself.

According to the official announcement of the closed-session meeting, “Council approved settlement of the claim for $21,535.”  In response to an inquiry from the Merry-Go-Round, Ms. Ashcraft stated that “my colleagues agreed to pay Mr. DelBono’s $21,235 attorney’s fees.”

No further details were made public about the terms of the settlement at the time, but, in response to our inquiry, Interim City Attorney Michael Roush promised to provide us Monday with “the documents concerning this claim that are not exempt from disclosure,” and we will update this column with any new information we get from him.

Update: It turns out that our hopes that the City Attorney’s office would make full disclosure were misplaced.  In an email today, Mr. Roush informed us:  “I have reviewed the documents in the claim file.  Other than emails transmitting information concerning the claim (which I did not think you wanted), they involve inter-city attorney office communications concerning the claim, correspondence between this office and our claims administrator concerning the claims, correspondence between our office and outside counsel concerning the claim, or correspondence concerning settlement discussions/offers, all of which are privileged communications.  I apologize if I left the impression there were other documents that could be disclosed.”

The money may not be much, but the mere fact that the politicians approved any payment at all gives Capt. DelBono the ability to crow – and he already has – that he has been “cleared” of any taint of misconduct.  And the message sent by Council’s decision is clear:  Despite having failed in his attempt to strong-arm Ms. Keimach into appointing his hand-picked candidate as fire chief, Capt. DelBono still can demand – and get – tribute at City Hall.  Professional staff – or at least one of them – may balk at following his orders, but the politicians sitting on the dais – or at least four of them – remain willing and eager to keep him happy.

One can only wonder what’s next for Capt. DelBono:  will Council create a new higher-paying job for him — say, division chief?

(N.B.  We’ve been referring to Mr. DelBono as a fire captain and the former president of the firefighters’ union because captain is his last-known rank and he is not listed on the City’s “Meet the Chiefs” webpage for the fire department, and because IAFF Local 689’s website now identifies Patrick Corder as the union president.)

Further update: Before this piece was posted, we asked Mayor Ashcraft for comment about the settlement.  She was out-of-town at the time, but upon her return, she gave us this response:  “I view the settlement of Mr. DelBono’s claim as bringing closure to a difficult, tumultuous, costly year for our city following the departure of former City Manager Jill Keimach.  With new leadership on the City Council, a new City Manager on the way, and many significant issues to address, it’s time to put the past behind us.  And I categorically deny all of Mr. DelBono’s claims against me.”

Capt. DelBono originally filed his claim against the City on March 18, 2018, just 11 days after Michael Jenkins, the attorney hired by Council to investigate the interference by Council members Jim Oddie and Malia Vella in the fire-chief selection process, delivered his report to Council.  The report was supposed to be confidential, but Capt. DelBono’s claim eerily anticipated, and attempted to undercut, the unflattering portrait it painted of him.

According to the Jenkins report, when Fire Chief Doug Long announced in April 2017 that he would be retiring in September, Capt. DelBono decided that he wanted to put IAFF Local 689’s immediate past president, Domenick Weaver, in the job.  He thereupon orchestrated what the report called a “chorus of pressure” to force Ms. Keimach to appoint Capt. Weaver.  To that end, the union president sought to enlist the three politicians at City Hall upon whom organized labor regularly relied to advance its agenda:  Councilman Oddie, then-Vice Mayor Vella, and Ms. Ashcraft.

Mr. Oddie jumped on board – with both feet.

Ms. Vella, whom Capt. DelBono “lightheartedly” called “one of his children,” cooperated – to an extent.  (How far she went depends upon whether one believes Ms. Keimach’s description of Ms. Vella’s actions – she warned of the danger to “labor peace” if Ms. Keimach didn’t select Capt. Weaver – or Ms. Vella’s own innocuous version of events.  Mr. Jenkins apparently chose to believe Ms. Vella.)

But Ms. Ashcraft . . . resisted.

Our new Mayor never has been the darling of the firefighters’ union – at least to the same extent Mr. Oddie and Ms. Vella are – but until her most recent campaign, she regularly received the union’s endorsement and financial support.

In 2012, when Ms. Ashcraft ran for Council for the third time, the IAFF Local 689 PAC gave her $500 in cash and spent $15,845.17 on door hangers and mail drops promoting the union-endorsed slate of which she was part.  Ms. Ashcraft won that race, garnering the most votes of any Council candidate.

Then, in 2016, when Ms. Ashcraft ran for re-election, the firefighters’ and grocery workers’ unions formed and funded (together with other unions and real-estate developers) a new PAC misleadingly named “Alamedans United” to push for the election of candidates who would sign on to the labor and development agenda (and for the defeat of Tony Daysog, who would not).  Ms. Ashcraft was one of those benefiting from the PAC’s largesse:  it spent $13,349.29 on mailers and robocalls on her behalf.  In addition, the Local 689 PAC shelled out $242.47 to pay for food and drink at a fundraiser for her.

Ms. Ashcraft won re-election, finishing second to Ms. Vella.

It has been said the firefighters’ union’s endorsement and financial support come with a price.  If so, just months after Ms. Ashcraft had been re-elected, as Capt. DelBono was orchestrating his campaign to get Capt. Weaver made fire chief, she was presented with the bill.

Early on, the Jenkins report discloses, Capt. DelBono personally made it clear to Ms. Ashcraft in two separate meetings that the firefighters’ union wanted Capt. Weaver to be appointed fire chief – and wanted Ms. Ashcraft to push his candidacy with Ms. Keimach.  In addition, an IAFF Local 689 official asked her to write a letter of recommendation – as Mr. Oddie and his boss, Assemblyman Rob Bonta, had done – for Capt. Weaver.  And, at the request of a union official, Ms. Ashcraft met with the anointed candidate so that he could make his case face-to-face.

According to the Jenkins report, Ms. Ashcraft declined to take part in the “chorus of pressure” directed by Capt. DelBono.  She didn’t write the requested letter of recommendation, nor did she arrange to sit down with Ms. Keimach to boost Capt. Weaver’s candidacy.  Her only involvement in the selection process was to tell the City Manager that Capt. Weaver wanted to meet with her.  But even then, the report states, “Councilmember Ashcraft explicitly said that she was not lobbying for a candidate.”

Ms. Ashcraft knew the risk she was taking in not playing ball.  The report relates that, after her first meeting with Capt. DelBono, he called Ms. Ashcraft’s political consultant, Doug Linney, and complained that the Councilwoman “was not helping IAFF and was being very difficult.”  It then notes, in a bit of an understatement, that Mr. Linney “recognized the importance of maintaining a good relationship with IAFF for any of Ashcraft’s future political campaigns. . . .”

At the very least, the Jenkins report showed Ms. Ashcraft to be a person of principle.  Some might go so far as to describe her resistance to Capt. DelBono’s arm-twisting as a profile in courage.  And it was this sort of canonization that the claim filed by the union boss against the City sought to prevent.

Rather than being the perpetrator of bullying tactics, the claim alleged, Capt. DelBono was a victim of defamatory smears.  He named not only Ms. Ashcraft and Ms. Keimach but also Assistant City Manager Liz Warmerdam and Deputy Fire Chief Rick Zombeck as City employees who had “damaged” his “personal and professional reputation” by their “repeated false and malicious conduct.”

The claim did not describe this conduct any further.  But on April 23, Capt. DelBono filed a “revised” claim in which he offered a few more details specifically about Ms. Ashcraft.  The then-Councilwoman, he alleged, had made “false, malicious, and reckless accusations” about him at two different coffee shops in November 2017 and on February 7, 2018, respectively, and at City Hall in February 2018.

The revised claim did not disclose what Ms. Ashcraft allegedly said on any of these three occasions, but it asserted that there were “witnesses” to each of them:  PR agent Becca Perata to the first incident; new Fire Chief Edmond Rodriguez to the second, and Assistant City Attorney Alan Cohen to the third.  None of the three “witnesses” publicly confirmed the allegations.  Indeed, when we sent emails to each of them asking what they had heard Ms. Ashcraft say, we got no response.

Thereafter, we followed up periodically with Ms. Warmerdam about the status of the DelBono claim.  Last August, she told us that the matter was “under investigation” by the City Attorney’s office, but, just before leaving the City to take a new job with the city of San Leandro, Ms. Warmerdam told us she was not aware of the findings of any investigation or of any consideration being given to settling the DelBono claim.  Update:  Given the email from Mr. Roush quoted earlier, the public never will be informed about what investigation the City Attorney’s office conducted regarding the DelBono claim, if indeed it investigated the claim at all.

In the meantime, of course, the November election took place, and the two candidates who got endorsements and financial backing from the firefighters’ union this time around – Mr. Oddie and John Knox White – were elected to Council.  With Ms. Vella, they formed a troika who Capt. DelBono could credibly contend were beholden to him and his comrades in organized labor.

(Needless to say, IAFF Local 689 no longer considered Ms. Ashcraft worthy of its support.  According to the union’s house organ, the East Bay Citizen, Ms. Ashcraft had become “persona non grata to the firefighters and the rift appears irreparable.”  In any event, the union neither endorsed her, nor spent any money on her behalf, in the mayoral race.)

And then, before the fourth regular meeting of the new Council, an item relating to the DelBono claim appeared on the closed-session agenda.  After discussing it from 11:08 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. last Tuesday, four Council members agreed to the payoff.

Already, Capt. DelBono has put his own spin on the settlement.  Friday’s East Bay Citizen contained a piece in which the former firefighters’ union president continued to spew venom about Ms. Keimach – “She’s a liar . . . she’s full of shit” – even though Ms. Keimach no longer works for the City, having been given nearly a million dollars to forego bringing a wrongful termination suit after she resigned as city manager last May.

About Ms. Ashcraft, or his claims that she had made “false, malicious, and reckless accusations” about him on three separate occasions, Capt. DelBono said nary a word.

We don’t know what lesson our new Mayor will draw from these events – but we sure hope it’s not the one Capt. DelBono probably thinks he has taught her.

Sources:

Jenkins report: Final Report – Redacted for release 5-2-18 – OCR (1-30-18); Final Report – Redacted for release 5-2-18 – OCR (errata)

DelBono claim: DelBono Claim_Redacted; DelBono Revised Claim_Redacted

Closed-session announcement: 2019-02-15 CC closed session announcement

About Robert Sullwold

Partner, Sullwold & Hughes Specializes in investment litigation
This entry was posted in City Hall, Firefighters and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Council pays off DelBono

  1. continually municipally disappointed says:

    This story makes me sick to my stomach. Wake up Alamedans!

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