ALAMEDA — The City Council is poised to fire its city manager Monday in response to an independent investigation that appears to have revolved around a secret recording she made of a conversation with two council members.
The council will meet in special session 5 p.m. Monday to decide the fate of City Manager Jill Keimach, who has been on paid administrative leave since March following an Oct. 2 letter to the council where she detailed receiving “unrelenting” and “unseemly political pressure” from two council members to appoint an internal Alameda Fire Department candidate “handpicked by the local union.”
Monday’s closed session will also address three anticipated lawsuits resulting from Keimach’s allegations, according to the agenda.
Keimach was placed on leave for secretly recording a meeting with council members Malia Vella and Jim Oddie, according to sources cited by the East Bay Express.
Keimach’s attorney, Karl Olson, acknowledged that his client secretly recorded the meeting on her cell phone, but said it was legal and justified.
“Ms. Keimach reasonably believed, based upon her prior dealings with council members Oddie and Vella, that they would put pressure on her to hire the fire chief of their choice, in ways that would make it clear to her that bad things would happen to her if she didn’t hire the fire chief candidate of their choice, and good things would happen to her if she went along with their demands and pressure,” Olson said in an email. “Under such circumstances, recording is entirely legal, and what happened at the meeting supported the concerns she had.”
Olson also said Keimach got permission from City Attorney Janet Kern.
“Ms. Keimach was advised by Ms. Kern that it was permissible to tape the meeting under the circumstances presented at the time,” he said.
In an email late Friday, Kern denied approving any recording.
“No, I never said any such thing. Ms. Keimach never asked permission nor could I or would I have granted it. The allegation that I agreed Ms. Keimach could surreptitiously record conversations with city council members is a bald-faced lie,” Kern said.
Keimach recorded the approximately hour-long conversation because she felt what Vella and Oddie were doing amounted to extortion, said Therese Cannata, her other attorney. Cannata said the council members told Keimach she could face difficulties in future labor negotiations and that her choice of fire chief could affect how firefighters do their jobs.
The city charter prohibits council members from meddling in administrative and department head hires.
“The ask was that she pretend to complete an open and transparent search and interview process but then do as the union instructed her,” Cannata said. “She was also told to work on ‘improving her relationship’ with the union president by calling or emailing him at least once each day to assure him that he was being heard. The substance of what they said amounted to bribery and could reasonably be considered extortion.”
However, Vice Mayor Vella denied Keimach’s allegations.
“When she raised these concerns in October, the City Council — including myself — voted to retain an independent, outside law firm to investigate Ms. Keimach’s allegations. That firm spent a significant amount of time interviewing witnesses and reviewing evidence in order to objectively determine the truth,” she said in an email Saturday.
Vella said she hopes the full investigative report will be released to the public.
“The actions of Ms. Keimach and her attorneys, and their selective release of information from a report that is not public, is concerning,” Vella said. “I will continue to advocate to my colleagues for the release of the findings because the public has the right to transparency in this and all city matters and I very much look forward to the public release of the investigator’s findings in the coming weeks, if not sooner.”
California law prohibits secretly recording another person without consent and carries a fine of $2,500 per violation and a year in jail.
However, the law also states nothing “prohibits one party to a confidential communication from recording the communication for the purpose of obtaining evidence reasonably believed to relate to the commission by another party to the communication of the crime of extortion, kidnapping, bribery, any felony involving violence against the person.”
Oddie did not return attempts to contact him late Friday and Saturday, but in an email to this news agency in October he defended his actions.
“As elected officials we have a duty to express our views on matters of concern to our constituents,” he said at the time. “As Americans that is our Constitutional right.”
Fire union president Jeff DelBono did not return requests for comment.
Mayor Trish Spencer said she could not comment on specifics: “There’s a process taking place, and that process has to proceed. It has to run its course.”
Last October, after Keimach made the allegations, Alameda police Chief Paul Rolleri went to a council meeting and read a public statement signed by himself and 11 other city officials backing the city manager and asking the council to have “respect and faith in her ethics and integrity.”
Rolleri declined to comment Friday, noting that Keimach’s allegations and possible dismissal likely will result in litigation. In the past, Rolleri said he heard Oddie threaten the city manager’s job if she did not select the union candidate.
The independent report by an outside attorney has not been disclosed publicly, despite promises by the city to release its findings. The city has not responded to a public records request for the report from this news organization, and Olson said his client has not been able to see the report either.
“We feel Keimach has been scapegoated because she did her job and did not let the fire union control the hiring process of a new fire chief. That didn’t sit well with a couple members of the City Council who wanted the fire union to control the selection,” Olson said. “They felt rewarding their campaign contributors and rewarding the firefighters union was more important to them than saving taxpaper money or public safety.”
Keimach alleged Vella and Oddie inappropriately lobbied for union candidate Domenick Weaver, an Alameda fire captain who typically supervises a fire engine team of three people. The Alameda fire union helped get both Vella and Oddie elected.
Instead, Keimach said she conducted a “fair and open selection process” to find the best candidate, which wound up being Edmond Rodriguez, the Salinas Fire chief at the time, to run the 111-person Alameda department.
With her announcement, she sent the three-page letter to the council complaining about the members’ interference.
The council voted to conduct an independent investigation into the allegations, and after receiving the final report it voted unanimously in March to place Keimach on paid administrative leave. Olson said Vella and Oddie should have recused themselves from voting, but didn’t.
“I think they have a tremendous conflict of interest,” Olson said.
Keimach is entitled to a public hearing before any termination and could ask for one where both sides could air allegations publicly.
“We’re considering it,” Olson said.
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