“If you want to know what I’m gonna do, just look back at what I did.”
So former Councilman Jim Oddie assured voters – twice – during the League of Women Voters forum last Tuesday.
Well, today the Merry‑Go‑Round will take Mr. Oddie up on his invitation.
We’ll skip the self‑promoting litany of “achievements” Mr. Oddie rattled off Tuesday. Rather, we’ll remind voters of the character‑revealing series of events that caused both an outside investigator hired by the City and the Alameda County civil grand jury to conclude that he had violated the City Charter while sitting as a Council member in 2017.
To the extent possible, we’ll tell the story using the former Councilman’s own words. (The quotes herein from Mr. Oddie are taken from the reports prepared by the outside investigator, Michael Jenkins, and by the grand jury, and from the transcript of a meeting on August 16, 2017, arranged by Ms. Vella for herself and Mr. Oddie with City Manager Jill Keimach.)
In March 2017, Fire Chief Doug Long told Ms. Keimach that he intended to retire at the end of September.
Under the Charter, the City Manager has exclusive responsibility for hiring subordinate officials like the fire chief. Council is not required to review or approve her choice. In fact, the Charter expressly states that any “attempt by a Councilmember to influence the City Manager in the making of any appointment . . . shall subject such Councilmember to removal from office for malfeasance.”
Ms. Keimach decided to set up an exhaustive process for selecting a new fire chief, which included advertising, recruitment, resume reviews, initial screening, and interviews with panels composed of internal and external experts. A short list of candidates would move on to interviews with the city manager, who ultimately would pick the new fire chief.
Before Ms. Keimach could take even the first step, she heard from Jeff DelBono, then the president of the local firefighters’ union (and now deputy fire chief), and a widely admired or feared (depending on whom you talk to) powerbroker. Mr. DelBono told the city manager that the union already had settled on the man who should get the fire chief’s job: Domenick Weaver, his immediate predecessor as IAFF Local 689 president and one of 20 serving fire captains.
From then on, the union “orchestrat[ed] a political campaign” – the words are Mr. Jenkins’s – to get Ms. Keimach to make Capt. Weaver fire chief. The Jenkins report and the grand jury report provide the details. Our focus is on the role played by Mr. Oddie, who was hardly a bit player in what Mr. Jenkins called a “chorus of pressure aimed directly at Keimach’s appointment decision.”
The Letter of July 31, 2017
As part of its “focused lobbying effort,” the firefighters’ union solicited a host of politicians, civic leaders, and union officials to submit letters to Ms. Keimach, urging her to give the fire chief’s job to Capt. Weaver. The union asked Mr. Oddie and Ms. Vella, both of whom owed their Council seats to the firefighters, to provide such letters, but only Mr. Oddie agreed.
(The firefighters’ union also tried to enlist Councilwoman Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft in the effort, but Ms. Ashcraft proved to be hard to convince. She told Mr. Jenkins she had informed Mr. DelBono that “it was not her decision” to pick the fire chief, and “the cream will rise to the top.” Her lukewarm response prompted a call from the union boss to the Councilwoman’s political consultant in which Mr. DelBono complained that Ms. Ashcraft was “not helping IAFF and was being very difficult.”)
Mr. Oddie was a little, well, coy when the city manager inquired during the August 16 meeting about the genesis of his letter promoting Capt. Weaver’s candidacy.
Early in the meeting, Ms. Keimach asked Mr. Oddie who had requested him to write the letter. “Well, I’m not going to tell you that,” Mr. Oddie replied. After Ms. Keimach then suggested that the requester was union boss DelBono, Mr. Oddie jumped in to correct her. “Well, I actually got the ask from Dom [Weaver],” he said. “But it’s okay. Wherever it came from doesn’t matter.”
A few minutes later, Ms. Keimach returned to the topic – and Mr. Oddie expressed a . . . different recollection about the origin of the letter. This time, he stated, “I got the ask from Ben Kim [Local 689’s political coordinator]. I remember now.”
And then Mr. Oddie volunteered a comment that must have made Mr. Kim cringe when he read the transcript of the meeting. Mr. Kim was “the one that gave me the talking points,” the Councilman said. Unfortunately, those talking points “were useless. So I had to write it from scratch.”
In the letter, written on City of Alameda letterhead, Mr. Oddie pulled out all the stops. Capt. Weaver would “command respect from the community, the rank‑and‑file, elected officials, and city staff,” Mr. Oddie wrote. He was “well‑versed in the financial and management issues he would face as Fire Chief,” and he had “proven his ability to work collaboratively” and “demonstrated his fiscal acumen.” A native Alamedan “who has served the residents of Alameda since 1992,” Mr. Oddie concluded, “Dom is the ideal candidate to be our next Fire Chief. . . .”
At the August 16 meeting, Ms. Keimach made it clear that she felt pressured by receipt of a letter from a sitting Council member urging her to hire a particular candidate for a high-level City job. Mr. Oddie attempted to mollify her. “I didn’t want to send you [the letter] directly,” he told Ms. Keimach, but he did so anyway – only to be told by the union honchos that “the people that sent those shouldn’t have done that; that that was not the intention.”
Instead, the plan was that all of the letters the union had solicited would go into the application package for Capt. Weaver. His letter probably would be among them, Mr. Oddie told Ms. Keimach, but he offered to try to prevent that from happening. “I don’t know whether we can pull it out or not,” he stated, “but we can try.”
Neither the outside investigator’s report nor the grand jury report states whether Mr. Oddie followed through on his offer – but his letter is in fact included in the package.
Mr. Oddie’s letter, the grand jury found, “was a direct and very public violation of the charter provision prohibiting councilmembers from attempting to influence the city manager in making an appointment.”
The “National Night Out” Conversation
On August 1, 2017, the day after Mr. Oddie delivered his letter to Ms. Keimach, he accompanied Police Chief Paul Rolleri to a number of neighborhood gatherings on “National Night Out,” an event intended to strengthen police/community relations. (He also had done so the previous year.)
Both the outside investigator and the grand jury described a conversation that occurred as the two men rode together in the car.
According to the Jenkins report,
At approximately 8:40 p.m., rough1y 40 minutes into the 3‑hour ride, on the way to the last event on Bay Farm Island, [Chief Rolleri] stated that Councilmember Oddie brought up the Fire Chief selection process. According to [Chief Rolleri], Councilmember Oddie said that Keimach needed to “do the right thing” and that there were already two councilmembers ready to fire her if she does not. [Chief Rolleri] responded by acknowledging that Keimach was in a really tough spot.
In response to Councilmember Oddie’s inquiry about [Capt. Weaver], [Chief Rolleri] recalls telling him that Weaver had a really steep hill to climb because he did not meet the requirements for the position since he did not have the degree or command level experience, which [another candidate] had. [Chief Rolleri] recalled that Councilmember Oddie responded by saying something to the effect of, “We don’t want to have another Raymond Zack.”
(The report redacts Chief Rolleri’s name, but the context makes clear that it is referring to him. The other candidate whom the Chief mentioned was the ranking fire‑department officer at the incident cited by Mr. Oddie: the failure by firefighters – and police officers – to come to the aid of Raymond Zack as he was drowning at Crown Beach.)
The grand jury report related the events this way:
At the end of the night, [Mr. Oddie] brought up with the police chief the issue of the fire chief hiring process. The conversation led the police chief to acknowledge that the labor candidate had a steep hill to climb, because he lacked a college degree and command experience. [Mr. Oddie] responded that the city manager better “do the right thing”; if not, there were already two councilmembers ready to fire her. The police chief knew the city manager was frustrated with the outside interference but thought her concerns that her job might be in jeopardy were overblown. That was certainly no longer the case after this conversation.
(Throughout its report, the grand jury refers to Mr. Oddie as “CM1.”)
The grand jury noted that, assuming this conversation occurred as described, it was “unclear whether [Mr. Oddie] made the statement expecting that it would be passed on to the city manager as a threat or he just did not have the capacity or good judgement to withhold his opinion to someone so close to the city manager.” Either way, such conduct was reprehensible:
If intended to pressure the city manager in the hiring process, it was unethical. If just a spontaneous declaration of [Mr. Oddie’s] feelings, it displayed bad judgement and a poor understanding of good governance. An elected official operating in a council‑manager form of government should not be criticizing his or her city manager about internal government operations to one of the manager’s subordinates. Criticisms should be made directly to the city manager. Relaying a threat to fire the city manager to one of her subordinates is absolutely inexcusable.
When Mr. Jenkins interviewed Mr. Oddie, the Councilman’s recollection of how the subject of the fire‑chief selection came up was “vague and inconsistent,” but he “denied saying he had three votes to fire Keimach and characterized his comments as advocating for good union relations, not [Capt. Weaver] specifically.” (Mr. Oddie never identified the third vote he was counting on, but the Jenkins report suggests that he expected it would come from Mayor Trish Spencer, who was no fan of Ms. Keimach.)
Mr. Jenkins did not comment on Mr. Oddie’s credibility – but the grand jury did:
[Mr. Oddie] has repeatedly denied making such statements. After thorough investigation, the Grand Jury does not find these denials credible. The police chief immediately reported the conversation to the city manager and later recounted the same story to a local newspaper. His story was also consistent throughout multiple investigatory interviews. The police chief had no apparent motive to fabricate this story. He had been working for the city for 26 years and had been chief for the last four. It appears the police chief had no interest in supporting any specific fire chief candidate, and that he had no specific problems working with [Mr. Oddie]. Considering [Mr. Oddie’s] strong preference for the labor‑backed candidate, close relationship with the Alameda fire labor leader, and the fact that [Mr. Oddie] was supported in reelection efforts by the labor group, the police chief’s version of the conversation is more credible.
The Meeting on August 16, 2017
Mr. Oddie and Ms. Vella both had been invited to the wedding of Mr. DelBono and Gray Harris, the former head of the local teachers’ union. The two Council members traveled together by car, and, Mr. Oddie later told Ms. Keimach, agreed during their ride that meeting with the city manager “was probably a better approach than writing a letter.”
Ms. Vella then arranged the get-together with Ms. Keimach, which took place on August 16, 2017. During the discussion, Ms. Vella took the lead in pitching the city manager to give the fire chief’s job to the union’s candidate. Not only did she talk up Capt. Weaver, she put down the two other firefighters who had applied for the post. Except for a few interjections (such as trashing Ms. Spencer), Mr. Oddie confined himself to an occasional “um hmm.”
Once Ms. Vella ended her spiel, Mr. Oddie turned to a broader topic: the “relationship” between the city manager and the firefighters’ union, Mr. DelBono in particular.
He began by reciting three incidents that exemplified what Mr. Oddie called the “breakdown” of that relationship. A City staffer named Nancy – apparently it was Human Resources Director Nancy Bronstein – had been heard to say, “Jeff DelBono doesn’t run the City; Jill does.” Unidentified “folks” had been “bad‑mouthing” the union’s candidate, Capt. Weaver, because of his lack of a college degree or management experience. And another staffer named Liz – apparently it was Deputy City Manager Liz Warmerdam – had stated to Mr. Oddie himself that, “Jeff DelBono has been a naughty boy.”
Mr. Oddie urged Ms. Keimach to “work with” Mr. DelBono in “rebuilding” a “trust relationship” between the two of them. “You don’t have to do everything he says,” Mr. Oddie told the city manager. “But he needs to be able to trust you, and at this point, he doesn’t. And that bothers me. So I want you guys to try to fix that.”
Perhaps Ms. Keimach should “call [Mr. DelBono] into your office” to make amends, Mr. Oddie suggested. In addition, she should instruct her staff not to be “hostile” toward the union boss and his membership. “That’s where, you know, you can set the example,” he told Ms. Keimach. “[I]f you kind of tell people it’s not okay to bash the Fire Department, you know, maybe that would have some influence.” And Mr. Oddie volunteered his own services (and Ms. Vella’s) to assist Ms. Keimach in the ameliorative effort. “[I]f you need someone to vent to about it, I mean, I’m here,” he said. “Or, you know, if you’re just not getting through, and you need help.”
(The solicitude shown by the two Council members for the tender feelings of Mr. DelBono had one humorous aspect. The union boss is a “little bit of a diva,” Mr. Oddie said. Later, he concurred with Ms. Vella’s description of Mr. DelBono as a “chihuahua that’s like going to keep barking at you until you’re like, give it a little attention, and let it know it’s okay, and this is what’s going on,” to which Mr. Oddie added his own embellishment: “And then it runs around, and then it falls asleep, and then you can. . . .” Alas, the rest of his comment was unintelligible.)
As this portion of the meeting neared a close, Mr. Oddie sought to cover himself. “I didn’t tell you who to hire,” he declared to Ms. Keimach. “And I don’t think Malia did, either – so just to be clear. . . . That was not the point of the meeting.” Then, the grand jury reported, he “laugh[ed] loudly.”
The Resistance to Legal Advice
According to the grand jury report, Rod Gould, the consultant hired by the City to conduct performance reviews of Ms. Keimach and other senior managers, expressed concern to City Attorney Janet Kern that some of the Council members he interviewed were “particularly interested” in the fire‑chief selection and two of them – Councilmembers Oddie and Vella – already had communicated with the city manager about the choice. As a result, Ms. Kern decided to send an email to the entire Council reminding them of the Charter provision prohibiting interference in the hiring process.
Four of the five Council members had no problem with receiving this legal advice from the City Attorney. (This included Ms. Vella, who told Mr. Jenkins it was the first time she had heard of the Charter prohibition.) But not Mr. Oddie. He sent an email to Ms. Kern criticizing her missive as “disturbing and inappropriate” and characterizing it as an “intimidation tactic.” Ms. Kern replied that she was only “attempting to do my job” and “advise Council of their legal obligations under the law.” Mr. Oddie responded by sticking to his original objection: “I feel there were many times such a warning was warranted in the past,” he stated, “yet [Ms. Kern’s email] was only sent in conjunction with the appraisal process and noted the removal from office clause, so, I interpret it as intimidation.”
“It appear[ed],” the grand jury concluded, that Mr. Oddie
understood that the consultant was uncomfortable with councilmember involvement in the fire chief hiring process. His response struck a tone of outrage and was certainly defensive. [Mr. Oddie] felt strongly that he had a right to bring up what he described as a “legitimate performance‑related matter” which included the city manager. In short, it appeared he was openly disregarding the city charter and using the performance review process as leverage.
The Delay of Ms. Keimach’s Performance Review
But that wasn’t all.
By mid-August, Mr. Gould had completed the work necessary to conduct Ms. Keimach’s performance review. All that was left was a closed‑session discussion between Council and the city manager.
The task of scheduling the closed session fell to City Clerk Lara Weisiger, but, according to the Jenkins report, the task “proved difficult, especially getting Councilmember Oddie to commit to a time.” Ms. Weisiger finally proposed September 19, but Mr. Oddie said he and Ms. Spencer couldn’t make it because they were leaving that day for a sister‑city visit to Asia. To accommodate their travel plans, Ms. Weisiger suggested holding the meeting at 4 p.m. Mr. Oddie then objected that Ms. Vella was unavailable at that time, “notwithstanding that Councilmember Vella had already confirmed her availability to” Ms. Weisiger.
Ultimately, the meeting did take place on September 19 – but nothing was accomplished, as Mr. Oddie and Ms. Vella “raised issues about the evaluation process,” according to the grand jury report, even though “the procedure had been thoroughly described to the whole council on previous occasions” and “the city and consultant [appear to have] followed industry best practices.” Ms. Keimach’s review was put over for a month.
Nine days later, the consultant resigned.
According to the grand jury report, Mr. Gould saw the actions taken by Mr. Oddie (with which Ms. Vella collaborated) as an effort by the two Council members to “hold the evaluation over the city manager” until the fire chief position was filled. The grand jury itself concurred: “Rather than using the evaluation process as a tool to communicate expectations, goals and priorities, it appeared that the process was being hijacked to accomplish individual councilmembers’ goals of installing their preferred candidate for fire chief. ”
“It is quite telling,” the grand jury wrote, “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.”
The Investigators’ Conclusions
The reports by Mr. Jenkins and the grand jury differ in details, but their conclusions were same: Mr. Oddie had violated the City Charter.
In the penultimate section of his report, Mr. Jenkins summarized the evidence establishing that Mr. Oddie “attempted to influence Keimach relating to the Fire Chief appointment and persuade her to appoint Weaver primarily to achieve labor peace and despite whatever criteria the City Manager may have prioritized.” The letter of July 31, 2017, the “National Night Out” conversation, and the meeting on August 16, 2017, all were on his list.
“The aforementioned facts support the conclusion that Councilmember Oddie violated Section 7‑3 of the Alameda City Charter by attempting to influence the City Manager’s appointment,” Mr. Jenkins wrote. “We conclude that Councilmember Oddie’s conduct, considered separately and in the aggregate, constituted an attempt to influence the appointment of the Fire Chief.”
At the same time, Mr. Jenkins decided that, “on balance,” Ms. Vella’s conduct “fell short of” attempting to influence Ms. Keimach’s decision. Mr. Jenkins, however, had chosen not to listen to the tape of the August 16 meeting. The grand jury did listen to the tape, and it found that both Council members had violated the Charter. Its report called out Mr. Oddie’s actions in particular:
In the case of Alameda, two members of the city council violated the city charter. They took steps at the behest of a labor organization to push for its candidate by privately meeting with the city manager and pressing the issue. They also appeared to use the city manager’s performance review as leverage in the matter. One councilmember went further by making an indirect threat to the city manager’s job to a member of the city manager’s leadership team. This same councilmember also wrote a letter using city letterhead openly advocating for the labor‑backed candidate. These actions put the city manager in a very awkward position, creating a reasonable belief that her job was on the line if the labor‑backed candidate was not selected. As a result, she took steps to publicly protest the inappropriate interference in the process. The city manager also surreptitiously recorded a conversation she had with the two councilmembers out of fear of additional threats.
And lest any of the apologists for the two Council members tried to minimize the significance of the Charter violation, the grand jury took pains to point out its consequences:
The interference in the Alameda fire chief hiring process ultimately cost the city over a million dollars in investigations, legal fees and an employee separation settlement. While stability and continuity in leadership are often keys to success of a government, this malfeasance cost Alameda a city manager, a city attorney, and contributed to several other senior staff leaving the city for new opportunities. Finally, this interference damaged public trust in government at a time when such trust is so important.
We doubt that the foregoing account of Mr. Oddie’s role in the fire‑chief scandal is what he had in mind when he urged the LWV audience to “look back at what I did.” But it is information we think voters should consider in deciding whether to restore Mr. Oddie to the Council seat he lost in 2020. Those who believe in the power of redemption may cut him some slack and find him once again ready for prime time, but those who believe in the indelibility of character would be justified in coming to a different conclusion.
Jenkins report: Final Report – Redacted for release 5-2-18 – OCR (1-30-18)
Grand jury report: Grand jury report
Transcript of 8/16/17 meeting: 2017-08-16-meeting-transcript-redacted