Kalb urges yes on CC, beefing up Oakland’s Ethics Commission
on November 4, 2014
In March 2013, Oakland City Auditor Courtney Ruby declared in a report that Oakland City Councilmembers, as well as some of their aides, had violated sections of the City Charter and, in some cases, even state law. Then a few months later, the Alameda County Civil Grand Jury published a report criticizing the city of Oakland for not giving its own ethics commission appropriate authority and staffing.
“Unfortunately, unlike other jurisdictions in the state that have ethics commissions,” said District 1 Councilmember Dan Kalb in a recent City Hall interview, “the one in Oakland has always been, what I would say – neutered.”
Kalb, the driving force behind Oakland’s Measure CC, said he had worried about problems in the city’s ethics commission even before the Grand Jury report. “But after that came out I started to put together a working group of experts on good government on ethics issues,” Kalb said, “to craft a blueprint to figure out what are some things we need to do to change here in Oakland in terms of laws.”
The working group also assessed the structure of the ethics committee, collected public feedback and vetted the proposal in multiple public meetings. Kalb said the group worked with advisors for suggestions on best practices in good city governance and went through multiple drafts before the final version.
That draft, modifying the role of the Oakland Ethics Committee, was approved by the city council as Measure CC, on Tuesday’s ballot.
“Measure CC is a charter reform measure to beef up the city’s ethics commission,” Kalb said. “People want a strong watchdog in Oakland over city government. This is an opportunity to get that.”
The Public Ethics Commission was established in 1996 to respond to issues regarding compliance of the city, its elected officials, officers and employees, boards and commissions with city regulations and policies intended to assure fairness, openness and integrity in city government.
A yes vote on Measure CC will provide the Oakland Public Ethics Commission greater independence from City Hall, broader enforcement authority and powers and responsibilities over monitoring City Hall.
Although the current employees and commissioners are prohibited by law from offering their opinions regarding proposed measures, the Ethics Commission has previously addressed the issue of its responsibilities. “Our commission in September believed that we needed more enforcement authority and more staffing and capacity to be able to enforce appropriately,” said Whitney Barazoto, the current Ethics Commission’s executive director.
There is no known organized opposition to the measure.
Measure CC also seeks to set aside about $500,000 annually, in supplementary funding for the hiring of four additional employees and the costs of operations and maintenance.
“The new positions will include a deputy director who also brings legal background in campaign finance law,” Barazoto said. “It also includes an investigator who will conduct investigations on cases that we receive complaints about.”
Kalb said the cost was relatively modest. “Half a million dollars is really a drop in the bucket when it comes to city departments,” he said. “Also, the city could potentially lose money if things are done in a corrupt way, so by preventing those behaviors, the city could ultimately save money over time.”
The total budget of the Ethics Commission, if Measure CC is approved, would be between $850,663 and $882,832. “Still, it’s a small budget for an agency,” Kalb said.
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