After complaint, committee to schedule mediation on public records request
on April 9, 2010
The Oakland Public Ethics Committee on Wednesday voted unanimously to schedule a meditation for a complaint filed by an Oakland citizen who claims the city has violated the Oakland Sunshine Ordinance and the California Public Record Act by failing to produce the public records she requested.
The complaint was filed by Oakland lawyer Marleen Sacks last September. Most of the public record requests she made are related to the City’s implementation of Measure Y, which was adopted by Oakland voters in November 2004. Measure Y imposed a new parcel tax and a parking surcharge to support additional fire suppression services, new police officers for community policing and other violence prevention efforts.
Sacks sued the City in April 2008, alleging that the city illegally diverted money from Measure Y to other officer training programs. The measure was supposed to fund 63 problem-solving officers for the Oakland Police Department, in addition to its 739-officer staffing. Currently the OPD only maintains a total of 770 officers, when if should have 802 officers. In July 2009, the Alameda County Superior Court ruled that the city acted illegally by diverting money to recruit and train new police officers who were not assigned to community policing, and ordered the city to repay the money.
On March 18 of this year, Sacks filed a second lawsuit alleging that the city failed meet the Measure Y requirement to keep staffing levels at 802 officers and that the city also violated the California Public Records Act by not responding to her record requests in a timely manner, or at all. The public records Sacks requested were related to Measure Y, including the amount of money transferred from the Measure Y fund to a $7.7 million augmented recruiting program by the Oakland Police Department in 2008.
“It is a constitutional right,” Sacks said during the public comment period at Wednesday’s meeting. She argued that the city had a chance to solve this problem without having this issue on agenda of the commission. The City did meet with Sacks in November, but they only talked about outstanding records requests, not the systemic problems.
In response to Sacks’s complaint, Public Ethics Commission chair Jonathan Stanley asked how often the city gets complaints over public records requests. Daniel D. Purnell, executive director of the Public Ethics Committee, said that the city gets average of 16 to 20 complaints a year.
“It is quite a lot,” Purnell said.
The city has ten days to respond to a request, and if for some reason it cannot meet the deadline, it gets two extra weeks. But Purnell said that getting access to some of the records requested is a systematic problem.
“It is a matter of retaining records. The city has an outside storage facility where the staff toss public records,” Purnell said, adding that the city has not had a public record manger for nine months. “The city has been lacking experienced and professional to maintain the public record,” said Purnell.
The commission unanimously voted to schedule a meditation on this matter by their first meeting in September and requested a full report on the meditation.
The commission also discussed adjusting City Council salaries.
Measure P, adopted in March 2004, authorizes the Publics Ethics Commission to annually adjust City Council salaries by the increase in the consumer price index over the preceding year. Currently, members of the Oakland City Council receive a salary of $6,072 per month or $72,859 a year. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, the median income for an Oakland household was $40,055.
During the public comment period an Oakland resident asked the commissioners to carefully consider carefully the budget crisis in Oakland. “People are taking cuts across the board. Given the budget situation, it’s a bad move to approve a raise. People are suffering from the same thing — low salary and high prices,” said Gene Hazzard, who belongs to the Oakland Black Caucus.
The commissioners are well aware of this concern. Commissioner Alex Paul asked the staff to prepare information on the median income of Oakland residents. Vice-Chair Barbara Green-Ajufo asked how many council meetings each councilmember attends in a year so that the commission can compare with council member salary in other cities.
The commission will review salary adjustment after all the information requested is submitted in their meeting in May. The vote on salary adjustment is scheduled for the June 7 meeting.
4/9/2010: An earlier version of this story spelled Marleen Sacks’s name incorrectly. Sacks says she also made over a dozen public records requests regarding measure Y, and not only to the illegal transfer of funds. The city did previously go to mediation with Sacks in November, but only to discuss pending records requests, and not systematic problems. The PEC unanimously voted to bring the issue to mediation. This version of the story has been amended. Oakland North regrets the errors.
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