Oakland council approves police commission members and fails to authorize security contract

Oakland's new police commission. Bookkeeper and community activist Jose Dorado, deputy court clerk Ginale Harris, attorney Thomas Smith, attorney Edwin Prather, and attorney Mike Nisperos. (Photo by Alondra De La Cruz).

From left to right: Five of the seven members of Oakland's new police commission. Bookkeeper and community activist Jose Dorado, deputy court clerk Ginale Harris, attorney Thomas Smith, attorney Edwin Prather, and attorney Mike Nisperos. (Photo by Alondra De La Cruz).

On Tuesday evening, Oakland city councilmembers confirmed all members of the city’s new police commission, failed to authorize a new contract for security services, and, in closed session, reached a settlement agreement to pay $30,000 to victims of a car crash in which an Oakland police officer struck a vehicle.

In what was a relatively subdued council meeting, the most speakers arrived to encourage councilmembers to approve the members of Oakland’s new police commission.  Last November, voters passed Measure LL, a charter amendment creating a seven-member civilian police commission to oversee the Oakland Police Department. It passed with over 83 percent of the vote. The measure stipulated that Mayor Libby Schaaf would appoint three commissioners and one alternate, and a selection panel would choose four commissioners and one alternate. The councilmembers and the mayor each chose one person to sit on that selection panel.

After receiving over 144 applications, the selection panel made their final decisions, as did the mayor. All selections were confirmed at the council meeting unanimously, with the exception of Councilmember Abel Guillen (District 2), who was ill and not present.

The commissioners appointed by the mayor are Regina Jackson, CEO of the East Oakland Youth Development Center; attorney Edwin Prather; attorney Thomas Smith; and civil service and employment arbitrator Andrea Dooley, who is an alternate. The commissioners appointed by the selection panel are Mubarak Ahmad, an AC Transit employee and Little League baseball coach; José Dorado, a bookkeeper and community activist; deputy court clerk Ginale Harris; attorney Mike Nisperos; and educator Maureen Benson, who is an alternate.

“We left some exceptional people behind,” said Mary Vail, the District 5 representative on the selection panel, referring to their difficulty in choosing just four commissioners. “But we really have the best of the best in terms of diversity, life experience, neighborhood representation—folks who will be ready to oversee OPD.”

While celebrating the confirmation of the commissioners, Rashida Grinage, a founding member of the Coalition for Police Accountability and driving force behind Measure LL, also expressed frustration, saying that city officials are still moving too slow in getting the commission off the ground. “This is not a slam dunk,” she said, speaking before the council.  “Having something on paper is certainly no guarantee of a successful outcome.”

On July 18, the council passed the first reading of the ordinance establishing the police commission, but it has not yet had a second reading, as is required for all non-emergency ordinances. This is because the city administration must “meet and confer” with the Oakland Police Officers Association, and any other applicable unions, first.

“The city continues its practice of endless ‘meet and confer,’” said Grinage. “This is really unacceptable, and frankly it’s questionable legally. ‘Meet and confer’ should have a time stamp—30 days and then impasse. And then you move forward. I don’t know why that hasn’t occurred to the city of Oakland. It’s standard practice everywhere else.”

“I don’t have an exact timeline,” City Administrator Sabrina Landreth responded. “But we are deep in the middle of ‘meet and confer’ and moving as quickly as possible.”

Later in the evening, amid some confusion and much discussion, the council failed to pass a new contract for city security services—which includes security for city hall and public venues such as libraries, some recreation centers and senior centers, the Oakland Housing Authority, and East Bay Municipal Utilities District facilities.

The city has contracted with Cypress Security Services since 2011. Earlier this year, the Public Works department issued a “request for proposal,” allowing all Oakland-based security companies to compete for the new contract.

“This is a normal process that we go through,” said Darin Minor, division manager for the Public Works’ Facilities Services Division, speaking to the councilmembers. “The contracts are not in perpetuity. They end. We go out. We revise the contract to fulfill the security needs of the city.”

Using an internal ranking process, public works staff ranked all companies who applied, and at the council meeting on September 19, they originally recommended that the council award the contract to ABC Security Services. That company held the contact before Cypress took it over in 2011. At that meeting, councilmembers expressed concern that the reason for choosing ABC over Cypress and other applicants wasn’t transparent enough. They requested that public works staff members, director Jason Mitchell, and Minor return with a clearer explanation of their decision-making process.

But when Minor explained Tuesday night that their internal ranking process was based only on applicants’ verbal interviews, not their initial written proposals or past performance, some councilmembers remained concerned.

Councilmembers Desley Brooks (District 6) and Annie Campbell-Washington (District 4) both expressed a lack of faith in the process and said that they both felt more comfortable with Cypress, based on their experience working with Cypress staff on a day-to-day basis in city hall.

“There is great concern about making sure that we provide, ultimately, safety for this building, and it doesn’t always come down to whether or not you interviewed well,” said Brooks.

“I’ve been here under both firms,” she continued. “I was trying to avoid having a negative conversation about past performance, but it was not good,” she said referring to ABC’s previous contract.

At one point, Councilmember Noel Gallo (District 5) suggested splitting the contract between both security companies.

That would be “a management nightmare,” Minor said.

According to Service Employees International Union United Service Workers West (SEIU-USWW), both Cypress and ABC are organized under the same union contract, so current security workers would be able to keep their jobs, even if their employer changes.

After Council President Larry Reid (District 7) declared his intention to abstain from the vote, Councilmembers Lynette Gibson McElhaney (District 3), Dan Kalb (District 1), and Rebecca Kaplan (At-large) voted for ABC while Brooks, Campbell-Washington, and Gallo voted for Cypress. Neither side had the required five aye votes to pass.

Gibson McElhaney expressed dismay about the lack of a decision, at which point Brooks asked if she wanted to change her vote. Gibson McElhaney declined, and the issue remained unresolved.

“We can continue to be month-to-month with Cypress,” Reid said.

Reid also said he’d like to see increased security at city hall to prevent protests, such as the May 2015 protest in which activists locked themselves to the council dais, shutting down the meeting in protest of the sale of public land. “I don’t feel safe in this building,” Reid said. “I think this building is an accident waiting to happen.” He said wants the building to have armed law enforcement officers and metal detectors, as seen in the Alameda County administration building.

Landreth said city staff will be bringing a staff report to the November 14 Public Safety Committee meeting about “other security measures and options.”

In closed session, the city approved a settlement agreement to pay $15,000 to each of the two victims of a car crash involving an Oakland police officer, according to Chief Assistant City Attorney Doryanna Moreno. According to the city attorney’s report, on February 2, 2016, a police officer had his emergency lights on, but not his siren, for a non-emergency call.  He went straight through the intersection of 51st Avenue and International Boulevard, and his car collided with a vehicle containing Lucio and Alberto Pelayo. Both of them were treated for pain in the back, hand, and legs, according to the city attorney’s report.  Their car was totaled.

The council also voted to support a federal ban on drilling and fracking—also known as hydraulic fracturing, the process of injecting pressurized water and chemicals into the earth to dislodge hard-to-access fossil fuels—off of California’s coast, and to oppose two pieces of federal gun legislation that would make it easier to obtain gun silencers and require California to honor the concealed carry permitting laws of other states.

The meeting was adjourned in honor of Anibal Andres Ramirez, a 13-year-old middle school student who was shot and killed at the intersection of Seminary Boulevard and Foothill Avenue last week. He is the youngest homicide victim in Oakland this year.

The next council meeting will be on November 7th.

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