City Council Ponders Grand Jury Responses

The City Council will discuss the city’s responses to the Grand Jury’s four findings and four recommendations at its Tuesday, July 16, meeting. In a report released on June 21, the Grand Jury announced that its investigation concluded that two members of the City Council — then Vice Mayor Malia Vella and Councilmember Jim Oddie — violated the City Charter. “They took steps at the behest of a labor organization to push for its candidate by privately meeting with the City Manager and pressing the issue,” the report states. 

In addition, the Grand Jury concluded that Vella and Oddie appeared to use then-City Manager Jill Keimach’s performance review “as leverage in the matter.” Jim Oddie “went further by making an indirect threat to the City Manager’s job. “He also wrote a letter on city stationery supporting the firefighters’ union-backed candidate, Domenick Weaver, the report states.   

In drawing its conclusions, the Grand Jury stated that it “believes that the conduct described in this report did, in fact, violate the City Charter, it also believes it does not warrant moving forward with formal accusation proceedings.” This means that the Grand Jury did not believe that Vella or Oddie’s alleged violations rose to the level of misdemeanor conduct under California law. 

However, the Grand Jury handed down four findings and four recommendations. The Jury found that:

  • The city does not provide Councilmembers with proper training. The Grand Jury stated that this “helped contribute to inappropriate interference in the fire-chief hiring process.” 
  • The City Charter fails to provide enforcement mechanisms when provisions of the Charter are violated. This “creates uncertainty when such violations occur.” 
  • That the city allowed Vella and Oddie to participate in the editing of an outside investigator’s report. This action “damaged the ‘independence’ of the analysis.”
  • That “in violation of the City Charter they had sworn to uphold,” Vella and Oddie did interfere with Keimach’s ability “to conduct an open and transparent recruitment for the new fire chief.” 

The Jury recommended that: 

  • The city establish policies that mandate initial training, orientation and ongoing annual training “related to ethics and governance” for both elected officials and senior staff. 
  • The city investigate “Charter and Municipal Code amendments that clarify and strengthen provisions relating to governance, especially regarding Section 7-3.” This section reads, “Neither the Council nor any of the members thereof shall interfere with the execution by the City Manager of his or her powers and duties.”
  • Councilmembers who “knowingly violate ethical codes of conduct” would not be able to seek reimbursement for related legal representation. 
  • The city develop and implement a code of conduct and a handbook for Councilmembers. 

The City Council has three choices of how to respond to the four findings: agree, disagree partially or disagree wholly. The Grand Jury requires that the city explain its disagreements. The Council must respond to the four recommendations as to whether it has implemented or will implement them; whether they require further analysis or if the city will not implement them.

The City Council meets on Tuesday, July 15, at 7 p.m. in Council Chambers at City Hall, 2623 Santa Clara Ave.