City Council talks OPD complaint intake, new job center and cutting ties with Goldman Sachs
on April 17, 2013
Several dozen people gathered on the steps of City Hall ahead of Tuesday’s city council meeting to show support for a resolution to fund the West Oakland Job Resource Center. The council’s Community and Economic Development Committee recommended approval of the resolution earlier this month, and the council voted to adopt it Tuesday.
The rally was organized by the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy, a non-profit organization that advocates for jobs for East Bay residents. It brought together religious and labor leaders, as well as community members, to speak about the importance of the center, which is meant to connect Oakland residents with jobs at the former Oakland Army Base, which is being transformed into a shipping and logistics center. People stood at the foot of City Hall steps holding a span of aluminum tubing decorated with the words “Good Jobs Pipeline.”
“The equation is very simple,” said BK Woodson, pastor at Bay Area Christian Connection. “The port is one of the largest ports in the world, the port developers will make money, but they won’t leave any money unless we demand it—and that property really belongs to the people of Oakland not the corporations that run it.”
Supporters say the center, which will live on the second floor of the West Oakland Branch of the Oakland Public Library at 18th Street and Adeline Street, will be vital to curbing crime and getting people with criminal convictions re-integrated into the community. Pastor Ken Chambers of Westside Missionary Baptist Church led a brief chant of “More jobs! Less violence,” then told the crowd, “A man with a good job won’t rob and steal and kill.”
Once the council meeting began, there was no further discussion of the jobs center; the council’s Community and Economic Development Committee had voted to recommend adoption of the budget for it on April 9, capping the center’s annual budget at $500,000 through fiscal year 2015, and allocating revenue from the Oakland Army Base’s billboard advertisement agreements to fund the job center. The council followed the committee’s recommendation.
In other business, the council heard a status report from City Administrator Deanna Santana on the process of transferring the Oakland Police Department’s internal affairs complaint intake from the police department to the City Administrator’s Office. The council had previously approved funding for the move in the 2011-2013 budget, but progress has stagnated. Santana cited the federal court orders made last December and this month—both regarding the hiring of a compliance director to oversee the department—as a key reason for the delay. She said the orders require the city to get approval for reorganization from the compliance director.
During the public comment period, resident Deborah Houston recounted her experience with OPD’s Internal Affairs Department. Houston, who lives in East Oakland, said she was threatened by an undercover police officer. When she went in to make a complaint, she said, “I was told that officers did not behave in the way that I described. … My experience shows that they’re there to protect other police.” Houston said she wants to see the complaint function turned over to civilians.
Janice Embrey, speaking as a resident, told the council Houston’s story isn’t unique. She said she’s been helping people make complaints with the Citizen’s Police Review Board for three years as a volunteer, and people often come to her discouraged by their dealings with the Internal Affairs Department. “I would think that after 10 years of noncompliance, you would look at the police review board as a valuable tool,” she said, referring to OPD’s failure to meet the terms of the Negotiated Settlement Agreement, a list of reforms ordered by a court in the year 2000, which the compliance director has been hired to oversee.
Council members chimed in to express their frustration with the department’s slow progress and the importance of transferring the complaints intake function to another city office, which would free up police officers to patrol the city. “I want to thank all community members who’ve been helping to keep pressure on,” said at-large councilmember Rebecca Kaplan. “It’s a matter worthy of concern … We are wasting resources that could be used to fight crime.”
“I know people are frustrated,” said Mayor Jean Quan. “No one is probably more frustrated than me.” She blamed budget dilemmas and restrictions created by the federal court orders, which she says gave the compliance director broad oversight, for stymying progress. “We actually need the compliance officer to OK the final steps,” she said, “but we are really at the final steps. So I just want to concur that there are some real delays.”
The councilmembers pressed Santana to give a timeline for the transition. She said the next steps involve meeting with the compliance director and Oakland Police Officers Association to hash out a transition plan.
District 6 councilmember Desley Brooks put forward a motion to hear monthly updates on the status on the transition and set a deadline of October 15, 2013, for its implementation. Other councilmembers offered their support. “The expectation was that this would all be done by January of this year,” District 1 councilmember Dan Kalb said. “I would like us to keep the administration on the hook and focused for the next several months or sooner.”
But Quan questioned the value of the motion. “I hope that it will happen before October, but just setting a date won’t make it happen faster,” she said.
Despite her concern, Brooks’ motion passed unanimously. The sparse audience received the vote with standing applause.
Next the council turned to the question of cutting of the city’s financial ties to investment banking giant Goldman Sachs. Last summer the council passed a resolution authorizing the city administrator to negotiate the termination of a swap agreement the city made with Goldman Sachs in 1998. The resolution stated in part that “if Goldman Sachs refuses to terminate the swap agreement without termination fees or penalty within 60 days, then they will be excluded from any future business with the City of Oakland.”
The 1998 agreement between the city and Goldman Sachs let the city fix $187 million in bond debt at a 5.6 percent interest rate. Since the economy tanked and interest rates plunged, the city has paid millions more than it owed on its original debt. The firm declined to drop the deal unless the city pays $15.5 million in fees and penalties.
On Tuesday night, the councilmembers took turns airing their frustrations with the slow progress in severing city ties to Goldman Sachs. “Here we are two years later and no further along,” Brooks said.
A representative from the City Attorney’s Office explained the requirements of the debarment process, or prohibiting the company from doing business with the city. The city has to conduct an investigation into the institution’s alleged misconduct, she said, and lay out evidence that supports the need to debar.
District 4 councilmember Libby Schaaf presented a memo asking the city attorney to present alternative means of severing ties with Goldman Sachs, and the council talked about getting more involved with the process, but didn’t outline specifics. Since some councilmembers weren’t in office when the resolution was passed last July, the body didn’t take any action on this item. The council moved to have the original resolution, along with any proposed amendments, presented at the May 7th meeting. At that point a decision about proceeding with debarment is supposed to be made.
The meeting also included a series of resolutions recognizing the achievements of community members and institutions. “Oh, this is the day of awesome students and awesome schools!” Schaaf exclaimed before presenting the representatives of the Lighthouse Community Charter School with a resolution honoring the East Oakland K-12 school for winning the “Charter School of the Year” award presented by the California Charter Schools Association. Some 15 children from the school joined parents and administrators in receiving the honor. They fidgeted and give shy smiles as District 7 councilmember Larry Reid praised their school. “Lighthouse is about giving people a sense of hope,” Reid said.
The council also recognized two American Indian Model Schools students for their academic achievement. Jintian Liang was nominated to the 2013 U.S. Presidential Scholars Program and Christopher Hinds is a National Achievement Scholarship Program finalist. Brooks praised the embattled charter school as she lauded the two graduating seniors for their hard work.
Members of the Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church made a big showing as their Reverend, Dr. Jim Hopkins, was honored by the council for receiving the American Baptist Religious Freedom award this year. Council President Pat Kernighan called the church “exemplary as a multicultural, multiracial congregation,” and noted its long history of assisting people in the community. “We believe in our community,” Reverend Dr. Hopkins said. “We can be a city of peace.”
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