The Oakland City Council has voted not to censure District 6 councilmember Desley Brooks for allegedly interfering with the construction and operation of two recreation center projects in East Oakland. Angry community members attended the meeting Thursday night to defend Brooks.
In a recent report the Alameda County Grand Jury accused Brooks of violating city rules in contracting, purchasing and hiring for the Rainbow Teen Center at 58th and International Boulevard and Arroyo Viejo Recreation Center on Krause Avenue.
City Council President Pat Kernighan had called for a special meeting Thursday for a possible censure vote. In a letter she wrote to the council, Kernighan accused Brooks of hiring staff for the teen center and using the City Council office budget to pay them for several months before securing other sources of funding. Kernighan also wrote that Brooks had the new hires start working before they had undergone background checks.
“I received numerous emails [asking] why we’re not saying this was wrongful behavior,” Kernighan said.
Defending herself at the meeting, Brooks said that documents the council president used to support the violation claim were emails that she didn’t send or wasn’t included on.
“Facts you’re sharing with the public are not true,” Brooks told Kernighan. “You have a pattern of misstating things to fit your argument.”
The accused councilmember also said she wonders why Kernighan is singling her out. Using the example of District 4 councilmember Libby Schaff, who was accused of directing city workers, Brooks said that other councilmembers had violated city law and weren’t censured.
“It would be helpful if Kernighan spent some time doing city business,” Brooks said to the council.
District 7 councilmember Larry Reid called the motion to censure Brooks a racially motivated attack.
“[…] On this council that I am a part of, racism is alive and well,” Reid said. “This action you’re taking today is a dog and pony show.”
In the end, six councilmembers voted not to censure Brooks and two abstained, including Kernighan.
Before the vote Thursday, nearly all of the 74 public speakers supported Brooks and opposed censure.
Audience members shouted in protest, suggesting the motion to censure Brooks was a ”witch hunt” and that the council needed to “do the right thing.”
“How can we trust you when you’re attacking your colleagues?” Oakland native and resident Jean Johnson-Fields asked the council.
Others complained that those favoring censure were “putting the cart before the horse,” trying to pass the motion before the council had developed a policy for censure.
Carol Williams Curtis, an Oakland resident who lives in Brooks’ district, said her son was killed in Brookfield Village in 2005. At the meeting, she said she believes that the work Brooks has done in the community has prevented more violence in the neighborhood.
“The stench of death is too high, [and] that’s the act that needs to be censured,” Curtis said. Let’s not make Desley the scapegoat.”