Councilwoman Malia Vella and her backers would like Alamedans to believe that her unsuccessful defense against the charge that she illegally sought to influence the selection of a new fire chief has forced her to pay thousands of dollars in legal fees out of her own pocket.
But it isn’t so: her re-election campaign committee, using primarily contributions from organized labor, and the City of Alameda, taking money out of the General Fund, already have paid about $60,000 of the $110,000 in legal bills Ms. Vella racked up through April. How much, if any, of her own funds she has spent for her defense is unknown.
And next Tuesday, it appears, Ms. Vella will ask her colleagues on Council to get the City to pick up whatever balance remains owing to her lawyers and to reimburse her re-election campaign committee (and, perhaps, herself) for amounts previously paid.
Such a result would be disappointing to, among others, the Alameda County Civil Grand Jury, which found that her actions violated the City Charter and recommended that Council adopt a policy stating that Councilmembers “who knowingly violate ethical codes of conduct or charter provisions may not seek reimbursement for related legal representation.” Nevertheless, Ms. Vella now potentially has a shot at obtaining the votes she needs to get her legal fees paid – thanks to her long-time ally, Councilman Jim Oddie.
Under the Charter, three affirmative votes are required for Council to take action. Until last month, a unanimous vote by the three Council members who weren’t tainted by the fire-chief scandal – Mayor Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft, Vice Mayor John Knox White, and Councilman Tony Daysog – would have been needed to pay off Ms. Vella. Since it’s highly unlikely that Mr. Daysog would have voted yes, the motion would have failed.
But Mr. Oddie announced on August 13 that he was withdrawing his own request for reimbursement of legal fees. We suspect that he now will argue that, having renounced his claim, he no longer is seeking any payment himself from the City and therefore is not subject to a disqualifying conflict-of-interest in voting on Ms. Vella’s request.
This argument surely would have persuaded former City Attorney Janet Kern. We don’t know what her successor, City Attorney Yibin Shen, will say, but it’s entirely possible he’ll come to the same conclusion.
In which case, Mr. Daysog’s expected no vote won’t matter: with Mr. Oddie presumably on board, Ms. Vella need only to convince the Mayor and Vice Mayor to “do the right thing” (to quote the words Mr. Oddie used when telling Police Chief Paul Rolleri that former City Manager Jill Keimach should give the fire chief’s job to the candidate picked by the Alameda firefighters’ union). And if the two Councilmembers have any doubt about what the “right” thing is, the firefighters’ union, which endorsed and financially supported Mr. Knox White in 2018 and Ms. Ashcraft in two prior Council campaigns, won’t be shy about letting them know.
The Merry-Go-Round would dearly love to be in the room when Council discusses Ms. Vella’s claim next Tuesday, especially to hear what Ms. Ashcraft and Mr. Knox White have to say. But the item has been placed on the closed session agenda, and the public is barred from attending. (Moreover, Assistant City Attorney Michael Roush denied our request for copies of written or emailed communications from Ms. Vella or her attorneys regarding her claim, so we don’t know whether the legal theories and monetary demands have changed since she filed the original claim in April 2018.)
Nevertheless, from reading Ms. Vella’s own statements, as well as the blogs and magazine articles written by her apologists, we have a pretty good idea of the arguments likely to be thrown out to try to justify payment by the City of Ms. Vella’s legal bills. So, today we’ll go through them, one-by-one, and show why no one should be fooled.
But first a word on how we got the numbers at the top of the piece:
- The fire-chief scandal broke on October 12, 2017, with publication of an article in the East Bay Times reporting that Ms. Keimach had sent a letter to the entire Council alleging that she had been “approached by elected and appointed officials in Alameda and even at the State level, requesting that I put aside the best interests of the City and select the Fire Chief that has been handpicked by the local IAFF union.”
- Although Ms. Keimach’s letter did not identify any of the state or local officials by name, on the same day the East Bay Times article appeared, Ms. Vella (or someone acting on her behalf) contacted a lawyer named Rees F. Morgan of the politically well-connected San Francisco law firm of Coblentz Patch Duffy & Bass LLP about “assisting” her in the defense against the interference charge. (This is our inference; the bills are redacted, but the first item is dated October 12, 2017, and what else could its subject have been?)
- The Coblentz firmed billed Ms. Vella a total of $111,130.41 for its services from October 2017 through April 2019.
- Although Ms. Vella will not be up for re-election until November 2020, she formed a “Malia Vella for Alameda City Council 2020” campaign committee in February 2017 and began accepting donations. During the last half of 2017 and the first half of 2018, the committee received $30,250 in cash contributions from unions or other labor organizations. During the same period, it made three payments to the Coblentz firm totaling $42,000.
- According to Assistant City Attorney Roush, the City of Alameda paid invoices totaling $17,518.33 received between November 2018 and May 2019 from the Coblentz firm for legal services provided to Ms. Vella.
Now to the merits.
At the outset, we should make clear that the City is not legally obligated to pay Ms. Vella’s legal bills simply because she was a sitting Council member when she lobbied Ms. Keimach to appoint the union-picked candidate. The lawyers without law degrees in her camp may insist otherwise, but they would be wrong as a matter of law.
The relevant state statute provides: “[U]pon request of an employee or former employee, a public entity shall provide for the defense of any civil action or proceeding brought against him, in his official or individual capacity or both, on account of an act or omission in the scope of his employment.” An accompanying statute states that, if the public entity fails or refuses to provide a defense and the employer retains private counsel, she is entitled to recover her defense costs, including attorneys’ fees, from the public entity.
But these statutes create no entitlement for Ms. Vella. For one thing, it is questionable that the Councilwoman could satisfy the statutory “scope of employment” requirement. That phrase often is broadly interpreted, but in this case Ms. Vella’s lobbying was in fact contrary to a Council member’s duty, imposed by the Charter itself, not to “interfere with the execution by the City Manager of his or her powers and duties as an employee of the public entity” (which, by Charter, include appointing subordinate officers like the fire chief). As such, her conduct fell outside the scope of her Charter-prescribed official responsibilities.
More importantly, the California Court of Appeal has held that the statutes entitling a public employee to a defense or reimbursement of legal fees are “limited to the defense of civil judicial proceedings against the employee.” They do not encompass the fees for legal representation in an “investigation” by a law-enforcement agency. Thus, the Court ruled that the State was not required to pay the legal fees incurred by a state auditor in connection with probes by the Attorney General and the District Attorney into whether his hiring violated state conflict-of-interest law.
Neither the investigation of the fire-chief scandal by Michael Jenkins, the attorney hired by Council, nor the subsequent inquiry by the Grand Jury, constitutes a “civil judicial proceeding.” Accordingly, a judge would summarily dismiss any suit by Ms. Vella alleging that the City was legally obligated to pay her legal fees for either investigation.
Three other Government Code sections describe circumstances in which a public entity “may, but is not required to” pay defense costs. The only one of three even arguably applicable here – relating to “administrative proceedings” – requires findings that “(a) The administrative proceeding is brought on account of an act or omission in the scope of his employment as an employee of the public entity; and (b) The public entity determines that such defense would be in the best interests of the public entity and that the employee or former employee acted, or failed to act, in good faith, without actual malice and in the apparent interests of the public entity.” Even if Ms. Vella could persuade Council that these requirements are met, the decision to pay her legal fees remains discretionary, not mandatory.
As far as we can tell, Ms. Vella’s defenders have made four arguments why Council, in the exercise of whatever discretion it has, should vote to authorize payment by the City of her legal bills. We address each in turn.
- The City should pay Ms. Vella’s legal bills because a comprehensive investigation by the attorney hired by Council “cleared” Ms. Vella of any wrongdoing.
We’ve read this contention more often than we care to count. But it isn’t true.
In the first place, as a private attorney Mr. Jenkins had no power to issue subpoenas to compel any percipient witness to talk to him, much less to testify under oath, and, in fact, his report reveals that at least two key witnesses refused to be interviewed: then-IAFF Local 689 president Jeff DelBono, who orchestrated the campaign to get the union-picked candidate (who happened to be his predecessor as IAFF Local 689 president) appointed fire chief, and Assemblyman Rob Bonta, who told Ms. Keimach that the union’s candidate was the “correct choice” for the job and that, if she didn’t appoint him, sales-tax-exemption legislation benefiting Alameda was unlikely to pass.
More crucially, Mr. Jenkins declined to listen to a tape recording secretly made by Ms. Keimach of her August 16, 2017, meeting with Ms. Vella and Mr. Oddie at which the fire-chief appointment was discussed. According to his report, Mr. Jenkins was concerned that the recording had been done illegally (a claim later trumpeted, over and over, by Ms. Vella’s and Mr. Oddie’s apologists). His concern turned out to have been misplaced, for the Alameda County District Attorney, after analyzing the facts at Council’s request, determined that Ms. Keimach had done nothing illegal.
We don’t mean to criticize Mr. Jenkins’ work product too harshly: the Manhattan Beach-based attorney did his job within the limits he placed on himself and others placed on him. But was his report the result of a “more thorough investigation” than the Grand Jury’s, as the East Bay Citizen asserted, or “far more complete than the report by the grand jury,” as Ms. Vella herself recently stated? Not by a long shot.
Nor is the Jenkins’ report quite the whitewash Ms. Vella’s defenders would have one believe. “Vella did not give sufficient consideration to how Keimach would react to her attempt to influence the selection, especially under the totality of circumstances,” Mr. Jenkins wrote in his conclusion about Ms. Vella. “She should have been more aware that Keimach would be intimidated by and react adversely to her expressions of opinion even if her concerns were, as she described them, focused on process and not outcome.” Nevertheless, “on balance, Vella’s conduct fell short of attempting to interfere with Keimach’s performance of her job or attempting to influence the appointment.” (Emphasis added.)
So did Mr. Jenkins truly exonerate Ms. Vella, as she says he did? Sure, in the same sense Robert Mueller exonerated Donald Trump. No obstruction! No collusion!
- The City should pay Ms. Vella’s legal fees because the Alameda County Civil Grand Jury was biased against her.
We have to admit: We find this argument more than just a little bit offensive.
It’s been out there ever since the Grand Jury released its report. The “news article” posted on the East Bay Citizen on June 24 gratuitously pointed out that “the makeup of this year’s grand jury is decidedly older and Caucasian.” A subsequent post described the Grand Jury as consisting of “possibly 17 of 19 Caucasian seniors,” including “four older Alamedans,” but neither piece explained how the author (Steve Tavares) managed to discern the race and age of the Grand Jury members. (Perhaps, like a cop, Mr. Tavares possesses the skill of determining such things merely by looking at a group photograph.)
But at least this was a somewhat subtle slam. More recently, in another article by Mr. Tavares, this time in Alameda Magazine, Ms. Vella herself abandoned any pretense of politesse. “I’m always held to an unattainable standard to a small minority in Alameda and the media,” she is quoted as saying. “They need to do a big look in the mirror and ask, ‘Why am I being blamed for something another white Protestant male did?’” she said.
Now, of course, Ms. Vella didn’t out-and-out accuse her detractors of being racists. But what other inference did she want her supporters to draw from her comments?
One other aspect of the attack by Ms. Vella and her supporters is worth noting.
Back in 2017, the City Attorney hired a consultant named Rod Gould to assist Council with performance evaluations of top city management, including the city manager. Mr. Gould resigned before completing his work. The Jenkins report disclosed the retention and resignation, but it did not say why Mr. Gould had quit. But the Grand Jury report did: Council delayed providing Ms. Keimach with her performance review, which “the consultant [Mr. Gould] saw . . . as an effort by at least two councilmembers [Ms. Vella and Mr. Oddie] to hold the evaluation over the city manager until the fire chief position was filled.”
Lo and behold, Mr. Vella and her apologists immediately began taking shots at Mr. Gould, whom they’d never attacked in the preceding months. The Grand Jury’s “reliance” on the consultant was “troubling,” Ms. Vella stated after the report was released. The East Bay Citizen immediately echoed her comments, chastising the Grand Jurors for “curiously prais[ing]” Mr. Gould’s “judgment” even though he “allegedly violated the city [of Santa Monica]’s anti-corruption laws in 2015 when he took a job with a consulting firm and allegedly signed contracts for the company while still serving as city manager.” (Neither Ms. Vella nor the blogger chose to disclose that the suit by a self-described citizens’ watchdog group making those allegations had been settled without any admission of wrongdoing.)
Again, the Trumpian analogy comes to mind: If you can’t rebut the facts, attack the integrity of anyone who testifies about them.
- The City should pay Ms. Vella’s legal bills because she in fact did nothing wrong.
Ms. Vella has gotten increasingly bolder about making this argument. The day the Grand Jury report finding that she had violated the Charter was released, she issued a statement that left us shaking our heads. “Today,” she stated, “another independent review of events put in motion by former City Manager Jill Keimach show[s] that her allegations against me were baseless.” More recently, she was quoted by Mr. Tavares in Alameda Magazine as saying, “All I did is attend a meeting with Jim and the city manager.”
Ah, but what a meeting.
In fact, according to the tape heard by the Grand Jury,
The meeting lasted approximately 55 minutes and focused on the city manager’s relationship with the labor leader [ i.e., Mr. DelBono] and why CM1 [i.e., Mr. Oddie] and CM2 [i.e., Ms. Vella] preferred the labor-backed candidate. . . .
Both CM1 and CM2 pressed the city manager over and over to build a closer relationship with the labor leader even though they acknowledged that the leader was difficult to work with. . . .
CM2 stated that the labor-backed candidate understood the budget process, would be good to work with during difficult financial times, and could convince the firefighters to come along on important issues. CM2 felt one other internal candidate would be a total disaster and another internal candidate might be a short timer who was “gonna spike his pension. . . .” When speaking about the poor relationship between the labor leader and the city manager, CM2 stated at one point, “But whatever happened, we need to be on the same page now about what the expectations are, and what’s gonna happen and how we’re gonna move forward and what the process is gonna look like. . . .”
. . .
Both councilmembers also acknowledged that they were very close personal friends with the labor leader. In fact, they drove together to the labor leader’s wedding the weekend before and apparently discussed how they would approach the city manager at the meeting. The councilmembers again hounded the city manager to be in constant contact with the labor leader and repair any trust issues. In fact, CM2 suggested that the city manager “build in an automatic email to him that just says there has been no change today, or whatever.”
. . .
It should be noted that the city manager protested several times during the meeting that she did not appreciate the pressure, yet CM1 and CM2 did not even acknowledge these comments in a meaningful way.
It is impossible to read that description without concluding that Ms. Vella in fact did attempt to influence the selection of the new fire chief at the behest of her union supporters despite the Charter provision prohibiting such conduct. When Ms. Vella told Mr. Jenkins that she “recalled merely wanting to talk with Keimach about the process for hiring the Fire Chief because she had been getting some complaints suggesting that Keimach was not conducting a fair process” and “wanted to clear the air,” she wasn’t telling the . . . whole story.
What’s more, the Grand Jury concluded that the complaints asserted by Ms. Vella (and Mr. Oddie) about Ms. Keimach’s handling of the selection process were “either inaccurate or irrelevant.” Instead, the “real issue” for both Council members “appears to be the city manager’s unwillingness to select the labor-backed candidate outright.”
And that wasn’t all Ms. Vella did. As we noted earlier, the Grand Jury reported Mr. Gould’s conclusion that Ms. Vella had collaborated with Mr. Oddie to delay Ms. Keimach’s performance review in “an effort by at least two councilmembers . . . to hold the evaluation over the city manager until the fire chief position was filled.” As the Grand Jurors put it, “It is quite telling that an outside consultant with years of city management experience terminated his contract with the city, foregoing full payment for his future services, because he did not want to participate in an unethical misuse of the performance review process.”
Moreover, Ms. Vella, as well as Mr. Oddie, took part in the closed-session meetings at which Council massaged the Jenkins report. “Not only were they present in the meeting to accept the report, but the councilmembers and city attorney participated in editing facts leading to conclusions,” the Grand Jury report stated. “This included clarifications, corrections and even deletions.” As “subjects of the investigation,” both Ms. Vella and Mr. Oddie “should never have participated in helping to edit the report before it was released to the public,” the Grand Jurors concluded.
Now let us draw an important distinction. The conduct in which Ms. Vella engaged probably goes on all the time in Washington and in state capitols across the country. For example, we fully expect that the Koch brothers decide which potential nominee for Secretary of Energy will best promote their agenda, then tell the elected officials whose campaigns they finance to make sure their guy gets the job. And the politicos usually are shrewd enough to stick to offering friendly advice rather than making threats.
This behavior may strike some as sleazy, but there’s nothing in the Constitution or any federal law that prohibits it. But there is such a prohibition in the Alameda City Charter: “An attempt by a Councilmember to influence the City Manager in the making of any appointment or the purchase of any materials or supplies shall subject such Councilmember to removal from office for malfeasance.” That’s the law, and – need we say it – no elected official is above the law. Not Donald Trump – and not Malia Vella either.
- The City should pay Ms. Vella’s legal bills because, if it does not, well-qualified candidates would be deterred from running for office.
Ms. Vella’s apologists have made this argument repeatedly, and now the Councilwoman herself has picked it up. Paraphrasing Ms. Vella, the recent Alameda Magazine article stated that she believed that “[t]he message that the city will not defend elected officials from complaints made against them while in the line of duty sends a chilling message to residents who may mull a run for elected office in Alameda.” It then quoted her directly: “The fact that it could cost you in excess of six-figures if you get sued while doing your job creates a terrible standard for the city.”
Viewed in isolation, this argument seems reasonable. But Ms. Vella in fact was not acting “in the line of duty” or “doing [her] job” when she tried to strong-arm Ms. Keimach into appointing the candidate for fire chief being pushed by her union supporters. Instead, she was doing just the opposite: Outside of the few IAFF Local 689 members who live and vote in Alameda, Ms. Vella’s constituents didn’t elect her to do the union’s bidding; they elected her to serve the public interest.
For our part, we would not be displeased at sending the message to potential Council candidates that, if they violate the Charter and get caught, the City won’t pick up the tab for their defense. Indeed, that message might even deter a few sycophants from running. If you aren’t willing to pay the bill, don’t become a shill.
Moreover, we would support a rule that Council should exercise its discretion to pay defense costs only on behalf of those who have not been found guilty of the charges against them. Such a rule would protect elected officials from the consequences of unpopular, or even erroneous, decisions. But it would not protect politicians from the wages of sin. And why should it?
Simply put, there is no legitimate case to be made for the City paying any of Ms. Vella’s legal bills. Alas, that’s no guarantee that Council won’t do it anyway.
Grand jury report: Grand jury report
Jenkins report: Final Report – Redacted for release 5-2-18 – OCR (1-30-18); Final Report – Redacted for release 5-2-18 – OCR (errata)
Vella press releases: Vella statement re independent_investigator_report; 2019-06-25 Vella statement re grand jury report
Vella legal bills: Vella Legal Bills
The campaign finance reports filed by Ms. Vella are available at https://www.southtechhosting.com/AlamedaCity/CampaignDocsWebRetrieval/Search/SearchByFilerName.aspx
Thornton v. California Unemployment Ins. Appeals Bd., 204 Cal.App.4th 1403 (2012): Thornton v. California Unemployment Ins. Appeals Bd._ 2
Thank you for your thorough research and work on this.
“The fact that it could cost you in excess of six-figures if you get sued while doing your job creates a terrible standard for the city.”
Ms. Vella didn’t get sued. She was not charged with a crime either, begging the question of why she felt a need to hire counsel. All that happened was that she was questioned. She is a trained attorney and has (loudly) proclaimed her honesty since day 1. Why would an honest lawyer need 6 figure legal advice to answer questions truthfully?
So – if you make a mess of your responsibilities, it is OK to get the people to pay for defending your actions? Seems to me that there is something essentially wrong here – and certainly no signs of apology or regret associated with her actions.
Looking at the big picture, what it shows is consistent ethical and moral insufficiency on Ms. Malia’s part.
Thank you for your work on this. I am never certain that all of our Council-members read your blog, but I will make sure to send them a link. This is must reading for them.
The “Why am I being blamed for something another white Protestant male did?” question in Alameda Magazine seems to be answered, in part, by statements – some conflicting, some consistent – made during attorney-represented interviews during the Jenkins investigation, for which fees are now sought, and by the tape recording of the August 2017 meeting. The Grand Jury’s description of the tape, and Keimach’s account, both indicate that the two Councilmembers told Keimach that they had planned together what they would say to Keimach in the meeting during a recent road trip they took:
“Because it was really hard to get on her calendar Councilmembers Vella and Oddie agreed to meet with Keimach together on August 16, 2017” – Jenkins Report Jan. 2018, Page 36 (Vella interview)
“Keimach reported that they revealed that they had carpooled to ____’s wedding and figured out what they would say to Keimach.” – Jenkins Report Jan. 2018, Report Page 37 (Keimach interview)
“Councilmember Vella confirmed carpooling to _______’s wedding with Councilmember Oddie; however, she denied discussing the Fire Chief selection during the ride.” Jenkins Report Jan. 2018, Report Page 37, (Vella interview)
“Both councilmembers also acknowledged that they were very close personal friends with the labor leader. In fact, they drove together to the labor leader’s wedding the weekend before and apparently discussed how they would approach the city manager at the meeting. The councilmembers again hounded the city manager to be in constant contact with the labor leader and repair any trust issues. In fact, CM2 suggested that the city manager “build in an automatic email to him that just says there has been no change today, or whatever.” 2018-2019 Grand Jury Report, Page 20-21
“The meeting lasted approximately 55 minutes and focused on the city manager’s relationship with the labor leader and why CM1 and CM2 preferred the labor-backed candidate.” 2018-2019 Grand Jury Report, Page 19
“55 minutes of pressure to hire the labor candidate and appease the labor leader.” 2018-2019 Grand Jury Report, Page 21
I was surprised and dismayed to read “Assemblyman Rob Bonta, who told Ms. Keimach that the union’s candidate was the “correct choice” for the job and that, if she didn’t appoint him, sales-tax-exemption legislation benefiting Alameda was unlikely to pass.”. Where did you find this information, and why isn’t Rob Bonta being accused of misusing his power aw and Assemblyperson?
Thank you for your in-depth and well researched posts!
It’s on p. 48 of the Jenkins report.
Here’s a longer excerpt:
According to Keimach, on Monday, September 18, 2017, Assemblyman Bonta called Keimach
and asked· if she had received his letter supporting Weaver for Fire Chief. Keimach said she ·
indicated that she had and asked if this was why he and Councilmember Vella wanted to meet
in Sacramento. According· to Keimach, Assemblyman Bonta said he wanted to reach her before
her final interview. Keimach said that Assemblyman Bonta said that Weaver was good because
he could get ”boots on the. ground” for any campaign that is coming along through his
firefighters. Keimach said she indicated that it was not a political appointment; it was about
who would be the best person to provide public safety to residents. According to Keimach,
Assemblyman Bonta reminded Keimach of the sales tax exemption on which he helped the
City and that the City would need Weaver as Fire Chief if it wanted legislation like to
pass; he did not think similar bills will pass without Weaver being Fire Chief. . . .
[fn 163] Keimach confided in [name redacted] about the call from Assemblyman Bonta.
[Name redacted] confirmed that Assemblyman Bonta told Keimach that he had in the past
“gone to bat” for the City and that Weaver was the correct choice for the Chief post.
Our city loves nothing if not a good proclamation, the timelier the better, and national in scope with local impact as well. Could there be a better time for a Whistleblowers’ Proclamation, signed: City Council?
It should also be noted that Jill Keimach’s settlement includes a mutual no-lawsuits clause, as far as the city’s interests are concerned. Vella can’t sue her as a Councilmember. If Vella carried her denial so far as to initiate a civil defamation suit against Keimach, Keimach’s otherwise ironclad agreement not to hold the city accountable for what they did to her in any way, shape or form beyond the settlement has an exemption when it comes to a countersuit.
Vella likes to point out that she voted against the settlement, but she is nevertheless making excellent use of the protection it offers her as a Councilmember by continuing to defame Keimach, whom she knows can’t do anything about it, while whining that she is the one who has been defamed.
As for Oddie becoming the third vote for paying off Vella’s lawyers, I wonder. The Bonta crowd appears to have thrown him under the bus. He no longer appears on Bonta’s staff list (which makes me wonder how he is making his living – and what new outside interests he may be beholden to – now. IMO, all Councilmember should be required to disclose any other income sources on their city website page). Surely Oddie is the “other white male Protestant” Vella refers to as the real guilty party. Not a lot of incentive there for him to take yet another hit for the team.
Separation agreement link: https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=4&ved=2ahUKEwiCprXSkpveAhXFIDQIHQLiD4UQFjADegQIBhAC&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.mercurynews.com%2Fwp-content%2Fuploads%2F2018%2F09%2F051518-Keimach-settlement-agreement.pdf&usg=AOvVaw0rZtXGw_pvqSb1BTsi1uW0
My review of the closed session agenda for Oct. 1, Vella’s April 17, 2018 government claim, and the Keimach settlement agreement leads me to the following observations.
1. Item 3E of the Oct. 1, 2019 closed session agenda informs that Council will be discussing the Vella April 17, 2018 government claim because the Government Code Section quoted in the notice pertains to government claims and that is the only pending Government Claim filed by Ms. Vella.
2. The aforesaid government claim is not limited to recovery of legal fees. Item 5 thereof also claims unspecified damages to “privacy and reputation” related to Ms. Keimach’s actions.
3. Item 8 of the Keimach settlement agreement, while generally releasing the city from future claims by her contains a specific reservation of her rights under her employment agreement which obligates the city to defend her and hold her harmless from and claims against her related to actions she took within the scope of her employment.
4. Item 3C of the Oct 1, 2019 states, “CONFERENCE WITH LEGAL COUNSEL-ANTICIPATED LITIGATION Significant exposure to litigation pursuant to paragraph (2) of subdivision (d) of Section 54956.9 Number of cases: One (As Defendant – City Exposure to Legal Action)” I wonder if this also pertains to Vella; perhaps notification from her legal council that they are going to file a civil action against Keimach for which the city will ultimately be responsible.
All of the above makes it clear that the city is not only facing a claim for legal fees but for alleged damages to Ms. Vella’s privacy and reputation. I doubt that Ms. Vella intends to pursue such a claim against either the city or Ms. Keimach, but is using it for leverage to get the city to pay her legal fees. I can only hope that Council will reject her claim. She clearly has no enforceable right to payment of her legal fees related to the two investigations and her claims for damage to her privacy and reputation are negligible.
While I don’t support payment of Vella’s attorney fees and I voted against the million dollar plus settlement with the former City Manager that included payment of Keimach’s attorney fees (Ashcraft, Matarrese and Oddie voted for and Vella and I opposed, which vote is wrong in the Grand Jury report – surprisingly and unbelievable because it’s easily verifiable, i.e., a public record, and naturally leads one to wonder what else the Grand Jury got wrong), I would hope that any payment include a condition to agree to, and not oppose, the public release of the tape of the meeting. It’s too bad the Grand Jury didn’t release the tape but at least if Council votes to pay, let’s chip away at releasing the tape.
Dear Former Mayor:
1. Other than what is on the tape, perhaps, one assumes that there would be plenty about which you would not have to wonder whether the Grand Jury got it right or wrong. Other than what occurred in closed sessions still covered by confidentiality rules, one would also assume you would be free to tell us where the Grand Jury gets it wrong about things of which you have knowledge.
2. Although the vote on the Keimach settlement was not the primary focus of the Grand Jury, it was indeed an error, and one that has been highlighted repeatedly (ad nauseam?) by certain councilmembers and their supporters. That error, however, in no way ranks with the several statements of the participants in the facts that have been debunked, including, by the District Attorney and the Grand Jury’s reference to the contents of the tape recording. If only the debunking of those statements hadn’t taken so long or cost so much. If the Council votes to reimburse attorney fees tonight, it would seem to be paying not just for the debunking, but also for the construction of the original misstatements themselves.
3. Although the settlement may have come at the cost of the entire story not coming to light, being misidentified in the Grand Jury report as having voted for the Keimach settlement doesn’t seem like the worst thing in the world. Isn’t it reasonable to assume – at least for those of us not privy to the settlement discussions – that any litigation would have been even more costly and carried with it a dangerous risk of an even bigger judgment against the city as a result of all that happened?
How’d they vote last night?
The official written announcement on this item states,
“– Staff provided information to Council
— No action was taken and no direction was given”
It then states, “No vote taken.”
If this strikes our readers as uninformative, they’re not alone. Regrettably, it also enables Ms. Vella’s defenders (or detractors) to spin whatever story they want to sell to the public without fear of contradiction by the record. If a blog post appears purporting to relate what happened at the closed session according to “City Hall sources,” we’d caution our readers to exercise maximum skepticism.
To get a sense of what happened, one would have had to camp out in City Council chambers after public comment before Closed Session, and then watch for which City Council members left the room when this item was discussed. If more than one member left, that would be telling.
Did one camp out or leave the meeting, to one’s knowledge?
I wasn’t there, but the official written announcement for closed-session item contains the following handwritten statement: “Councilmembers Oddie and Vella recused themselves and left the meeting.”
I think Councilmember Oddie announced in advance in open session that he would recuse – not as the result of anything that transpired during the session itself. (Councilmember Vella, as the claimant, I assume also made that determination in advance). I think those two also exited the room during the pre-closed session public comment, so could not have un-recused and participated. I guess if one of the other three exited during the meeting, that would have made idea of calling any question for a vote a dead letter (and it wouldn’t have even been much of a “closed session” at all at that point without a minimal quorum), but I guess that would have been noted as a “recusal”, or something, in the notes, given that the Oddie and Vella recusals were noted.
On the video announcing “no action” only Ashcraft, Daysog and White are shown. Oddie & Vella’s chairs are empty.
Re last night’s Council meeting. I was the only public speaker on this item. My comments were similar to my posted comment here. Councilmembers Oddie and Vella both recused themselves. Report out after Closed Session was: Staff provided info to Council, Council took no action and no direction to Staff was given.
Reading the grand jury report with “CM2” highlighted is powerfully damning in an unbiased, fact-based way because it appears 29 times.
The version of the grand jury report you linked is apparently not text searchable. Consider reposting a version with “CM2” highlighted – easy to go to the source, do the search, save or print as new pdf with the highlights.
I think one should have to live in the city of Alameda for 20 years in order to run for office.
I see the future of Alameda as dismal at best. It’s become an absolute cesspool and I do not want to raise my family here. What the hell happened to Alameda?
Oddie and Vella should be ashamed of themselves and resign.
Thanks to those Alamedians who are honest and true.
On November 5 the Council denied Vella reimbursement, and ordered the secret recording transcribed, redacted, and released to those who have requested it.