OAKLAND CITY COUNCIL//BROOKS CENSURE | Don’t confuse the relative silence from Oakland Councilmember Desley Brooks before she faces censure proceedings this Thursday with resignation, she’s merely been assembling her defense. On Monday, Brooks, who was accused last March by City Auditor Courtney Ruby of violating the City Charter’s non-interference laws on 12 occasions, offered the City Council a 35-page defense featuring an array of supporting exhibits and charges of her own.
In the frequently defiant response, Brooks denies any wrongdoing involving interference with city staff in the funding and construction of the Rainbow Teen Center on International Boulevard. Brooks also took aim at Council President Pat Kernighan for placing the censure item on the agenda while accusing her colleague and her allies on the council of their own specific violations of Section 218 of the City Charter prohibiting council members from directing the actions of city staff.
“To date, no one has produced an email or other correspondence where staff advised me to do something; I refused and undertook a different course of action,” wrote Brooks. “Absent such action, there is no showing of ‘willful’ actions on my part. To the contrary, I specifically asked staff to advise us on the process and we followed their direction.”
Brooks also reiterates an argument she has made since Ruby’s scathing report was released March 30 that the City Charter contains no language allowing officials to judge her actions since violation of Section 218 is deemed a misdemeanor subject to immediate forfeiture of office. “Only a judge or a jury can determine if Section 218 has been violated because it is a crime,” wrote Brooks. “As such, no one at the city, not Ms. Kernighan, the Mayor, the City Council, the City Administrator, the City Attorney, the Auditor, or the Grand Jury has the authority to determine if a violation has occurred.”
Specifically, Brooks says problems with the lack of a competitive bidding process in the refurbishing of the building destined to become a much-needed teen center in her district, lay at the feet of the city’s former city administrator. In addition, Pulte, the contractor on the project, which built the center out of philanthropy was not aware of certain city rules and merely followed city staff’s lead. She adds receiving no personally benefit from the project to herself or her campaign. Brooks is up for re-election next year. However, she denies the city could have received a better deal from competitive bidding. She asserts the city received double in labor and costs from Pulte for their $151,000 investment in the teen center
Ruby’s report and a subsequent investigation by the Alameda County civil grand jury, whose finding were released last month, were both critical of Brooks’ approval of a recording studio built within the teen center. Brooks says she used $114,000 of her own discretionary funds to build, furnish and stock the studio with equipment. “As such, I was not merely the Council Member,” wrote Brooks, “I was also the client.”
Mention of an invoice for over $18,000 in recording equipment from a Guitar Store in El Cerrito, first reported last October by San Francisco Chronicle, including a stamp from the city and Brooks’ signature is included in Brooks’ response. However, she does not deny signing the invoice and laments in hindsight not reviewing the form before approving it. “I do not now, nor have I ever, possessed a “CEDA Payment Approval” stamp,” wrote Brooks. “A City staff person would have had to provide my staff with the prestamped form. My assistant filled out the forms for my signature. Where I made my mistake was that I didn’t review the forms and the stamp more closely before I signed the documents.”
In the days since Kernighan scheduled Thursday night’s special council meeting, the often coarse Brooks has remained noticeably silent over her current predicament, which, if punishment is passed by her colleagues, could greatly affect her bid for re-election next year. Over the past year, she has grappled often with Kernighan, Councilmembers Libby Schaaf and Rebecca Kaplan, as well as City Administrator Deanna Santana and City Auditor Ruby. In Brooks’ response she claims the cabal against her have ulterior reasons for attempting to reprimand her, while lodging allegations her colleagues are also guilty of specific violations of the City Charter.
“If Ms. Kernighan had such grave concern for the Council’s reputation one wonders why she has singled me out,” wrote Brooks. “Truth be told what’s motivating Ms. Kernighan in this process is purely political.” Kernighan’s allies on the council, Kaplan and Schaaf, violated the charter, said Brooks, but Kernighan did not act. “One would also wonder why Ms. Kernighan doesn’t admit her own violations of the Charter when overseeing the drafting and implementation of the Equal Access Ordinance; directing staff not to issue tickets to certain areas; or renovations of Quickway,” added Brooks. “When will these matters be scheduled?”