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Council confirms Barbara Parker as city attorney, puts parcel tax on ballot

on July 20, 2011

A parcel tax will go before Oakland voters in a November special election, but they won’t be picking a new city attorney. Barbara Parker, the longtime chief assistant to former city attorney John Russo, was confirmed to finish out his term by a 5-3 vote at the Oakland City Council meeting Tuesday night. The council also decided to put Mayor Jean Quan’s proposed $80 parcel tax on a November 15 special election, as well as a measure that would change the way the city attorney is chosen, shifting the choice from the voters to the city council.

Parker had been acting city attorney since Russo resigned in May to take the Alameda city manager’s job. Parker will serve the remainder of Russo’s term, which concludes in January, 2013.

“I want to pledge to you that I’ll do everything I can to continue to earn your trust and represent the entire city,” Parker said to the council at the close of the meeting.

Dozens of Parker’s supporters were in the audience wearing bright orange and green “I Support BJP!” stickers, including at least 20 of her sorority sisters dressed in red. After she was confirmed, Parker hugged a long line of supporters in the back of the council chambers.

Had Parker or any other candidate not been confirmed Tuesday, the council could have decided to include the city attorney position in an already-approved Nov. 15 ballot-only special election. Instead, the ballot will include a parcel tax  of $80 per single-family home Quan has been pushing for all year that is expected to bring in $11 million annually if it gets two-thirds of the vote.

Some members of the council, though, were doubtful the measure would pass. “I don’t think it will be successful, and as a property owner, I’m hoping it won’t be successful,” said councilmember Desley Brooks (District 7), who voted in favor of putting the measure on the ballot. “But I think it is important that we give the public the right to vote on this issue.”

The public will also get to decide, for the second time in a little more than a decade, how the city attorney should be chosen. It currently is an electable position, after former Mayor Jerry Brown’s Measure X was approved in 1998. But a motion the council approved will put a ballot measure on the Nov. 15 election would allow voters to move the power to pick the city attorney back to the city council.

Councilmember Nancy Nadel (District 3), said the council should have the power to hire and fire the city attorney because that person represents the council and municipal government. The motion was criticized by speakers from the public, many of whom said the council was trying to take away their right to choose the attorney.

Councilmembers Jane Brunner (District 1) and Ignacio De La Fuente (District 5) voted to oppose the measure. “I absolutely agree with the speakers,” De La Fuente said. “We decided it would be an elected position and people should have the right to vote on that position.”

Councilmember Patricia Kernighan, disagreed, saying she thinks it’s important that the city attorney not be elected so the position does not become politicized. “It is absolutely essential that the attorney be somebody who is at the highest level of legal competence and is also not distracted by the need to be politically successful and get re-elected,” she said.

The council also approved upping the number of medical marijuana dispensaries in the city from four to eight and voted against establishing a “rainy day fund” which would collect money during a revenue surplus to be used when there is a shortfall.


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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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