ELECTION ’12//OAKLAND//CITY ATTORNEY | Oakland Councilwoman Jane Brunner lashed out at City Attorney Barbara Parker at a Tuesday night city attorney debate that climaxed over the recent Goldman Sachs controversy where Brunner alleged the city’s counsel pushed policy decisions through law in a legal opinion that allegedly stated council’s inability to terminate the rate swap agreement.

Parker called Brunner’s accusation an “outrageous and erroneous statement.” The accusations surmise a hardscrabble competition by Brunner to unseat Parker, who was appointed city attorney a little over a year ago after John Russo left to become Alameda’s city manager.

The Goldman Sachs’s altercation allowed Parker to denounce Brunner’s accusation and calling Brunner’s remark a revelation and a stark “difference between us.” “She just announced to this audience a confidential legal opinion and she stated it erroneously because she believed that I, as city attorney, can not reveal the truth about our opinion,” said Parker. “Let me be very clear, we are very supportive of going after Goldman Sachs but that is not the issue, our job is to provide sound advice and we told the city council the steps it needed to take to stop doing business with Goldman Sachs.” Parker said that she is capable of providing sound, impartial advice and leave policy to the policy makers

Barbara Parker/PHOTO Shane Bond

The audience clapped uproariously in celebration of Parker’s defense. “You can clap but what I said was public information, it was at a city council meeting,” said Brunner in response. “I was asked about the opinion by citizens and reporters but I never gave the report.” Brunner said prior to Parker’s defense that only after the vote that ended the city’s relationship with Goldman Sachs did the attorney’s office come out with an opinion that the council could proceed with the termination.

The debate was hosted by the Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and the League of Women Voters with a two person panel prepped with a multitude of questions. Questions hit upon federal oversight of the police department, gang injunctions and deep cuts to the city attorney’s office. Brunner laid on her heavy criticisms of the attorney’s office calling it bureaucratic and “much too slow in getting contracts done where it can take months, even years.”

Brunner advocated for streamlining the office to save money and criticized the $6 million spent on outside legal counsel last year. The attorney’s office has been reliant on outside legal counsel due to deep financial cuts into the office by 40 percent and a staff reduction by more than one-third. Parker touted reduced settlement payouts by 50 percent, which Brunner admonished prior, calling the cash pay out on settlements too great due to late agreements. The council did make the decisions to the cut the attorney’s office, which Parker says has forced them to rely on expensive outside legal firms for critical advice. Parker said that for years the office has asked for more attorneys which would be cheaper than hiring outside council. Brunner called for the office to streamline but said that instead of them doing so, “they went out and hired outside attorneys, I rather be employing police.” Brunner added that the law office she comes from has one helper for four attorneys while the city attorney’s office has one helper per every attorney. Brunner suggested limiting the amount of helpers as an example of streamlining.

Jane Brunner/PHOTO Shane Bond

As for gang injunctions, one in Fruitvale and another in North Oakland, were discussed at length which Parker called a “tool” to deal with crime issues but Brunner said brought “no one to prosecution.” According to Brunner, the Oakland Police Department (OPD) doesn’t want another gang injunction because most gang members are on probation. Brunner said the Fruitvale injunction cost the city a million dollars which Parker contested. “The city spent $100,000 on the injunction, this myth of a million dollars never occurred,” said Parker.

The debate also discussed at some length the outside council of Dan Siegel used by Mayor Quan which Brunner said was fine by her but Siegel’s “attempt at acting like the city attorney and making public comments was out of line, and I told him that,” said Brunner. Siegel resigned as Quan’s legal adviser last year in protest of her handling of Occupy Oakland, calling for support of the movement and its protest against the one percent.

Parker leads Brunner financially with $74,035 raised in the last campaign disclosure period to Brunner’s $69,414. For total cash on hand Parker has $117,638 while Brunner trails with a total of $78,517 as of June 30.

Shane Bond is an East Bay Citizen contributor.