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"Reform Oakland" - John Russo and Courtney Ruby: "Reform Oakland" Press Meeting

Oakland City Attorney John Russo and Oakland City Auditor Courtney Ruby held a press conference calling for reforms in City of Oakland personnel and ethics policies on Wednesday, July 9th in Hearing Room Two at Oakland City Hall.

Russo and Ruby (sounds like a law firm) put together a press package that's quite extensive and calls for more study than most press people will give it. But the initiatives are broken down into the following categories:

1) Strengthen Anti-Nepotism Rules
2) Reform Personnel Department Procedures
3) Fix Records Management
4) Protect Whistleblowers
5) Establish Employee Ethics Program

Press from KGO Radio, KTVU, KPFA Radio, NPR, and others were there. But this is the only full video of not just the press conference speakers, but the questioners as well.

The press conference was well-attended, and even drew people like Pat McClough, who ran against incumbent Councilmember Jane Brunner in this year's election battle for the Oakland District One City Council seat. (He lost). At the press conference, Pat asked a question regarding the accountablity of elected officials and how that's considered in the package of reforms.

Russo -- as you will see in the video -- said that he and Councilmember Ignacio De La Fuente, represented by his legislative aide Ratna Amin, and Councilmember Pat Kernighan (D), District Two, would not take questions on the matter of now-former City Administrative Officer Deborah Edgerly. That didn't stop one man from trying to get one in, but Russo deflected it.

My main concern was with the role of the Public Ethics Commission. I asked Russo if the press conference content was a way of saying that the commission wasn't doing its job. He said that he didn't want to address that question and that the head of the commission was in the auidience and has said that he would work with Russo and the others on the implementation of these reforms.

Still, in my view, it does open the unanswered question of what is the Public Ethics Commission doing? The Oakland City Charter is clear on what its role is:

Section 202. Public Ethics Commission; Council Salaries. (a) There is hereby established a Public Ethics Commission which shall be responsible for responding to issues with regard to compliance by the City of Oakland, its elected officials, officers, employees, boards and commissions with regard to compliance with City regulations and policies intended to assure fairness, openness, honesty and integrity in City government including, Oakland’s Campaign Finance Reform Ordinance, conflict of interest code, code of ethics and any ordinance intended to supplement the Brown Act, and to make recommendations to the City Council on matters relating thereto, and it shall set City Councilmember compensation, as set forth herein.
(b) The members of the Public Ethics Commission shall consist of seven (7) members who shall be Oakland residents.
(1) Initial appointments. The first seven members of the Commission shall be appointed as follows: Three (3) members who represent local civic organizations with a demonstrated history of involvement in local governance issues shall be nominated for appointment by the Mayor and confirmed by the City Council; and four (4) members shall be appointed following a public recruitment and application following a public recruitment and application process, by the unanimous vote of the three (3) representatives appointed by the City Council. The four (4) members so appointed shall reflect the interest of the greater Oakland neighborhood and business communities.
(2) Subsequent Mayoral appointments. A vacancy in any of the three (3) positions nominated for appointment by the Mayor and confirmed by the City Council shall be filled in the same manner and upon consideration of the same criteria as for the initial Mayoral appointments.
(3) Subsequent Non-Mayoral appointments. A vacancy in any of the four (4) positions initially selected by the unanimous vote of the three (3) Mayoral appointments shall be filled, following a public recruitment and application process, by a candidate who receives the affirmative vote of at least four (4) members of the Commission. Any member so appointed shall reflect the interests of the greater Oakland neighborhood and business communities.
(4) Staggered Terms. Both categories of member shall be appointed to staggered terms.
(5) Functions, duties, powers, jurisdiction and terms. The City shall by ordinance prescribe the function, duties, powers, jurisdiction and the terms of members of the Commission, in accordance with this Article.
(C) Beginning with Fiscal Year 2003-2004, the Public Ethics Commission shall annually adjust the salary for the office of Councilmember by the increase in the consumer price index over the preceding year. The Commission may adjust salaries beyond the increase in the consumer price index up to a total of five percent. Any portion of an increase in compensation for the office of Councilmember that would result in an overall increase for that year in excess of five percent must be approved by the voters. (Amended by: Stats. November 1996, June 1998 and November 1998 and March 2004.)

But why did it not step forward with its own plan first? If it's just because the elected officials should do it, then it places the current Ethics Commission in a bind. Right now, it looks like it's not doing anything and each move by Oakland elected officials to annouce their own reforms calls its very existence into question.

Have doubts about this? See my expose of Sanjiv Handa's hatred of Councilmember Ignacio De La Fuente.
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