Report: Oakland councilmember used her office for personal gain

Council President Lynette Gibson McElhaney

OAKLAND CITY COUNCIL | Two thousand fifteen has not been pleasant for new Oakland City Council President Lynette McElhaney.

First, a report in January found she may have been flipping homes in her West Oakland district through her personal non-profit at the same time she was lashing out against gentrification. Her taxes still haven’t been paid, according to the East Bay Express, and until recently she had not filed campaign finance reports since last summer.

Now comes the biggest allegation yet that McElhaney used her office to block a proposed housing development next door to her home, said the Express.

McElhaney also benefited from an architect’s whose firm is JRDV International, the same group working on the proposed Coliseum City stadium project.

From the Express:

Public records also show that an Oakland architect, who has contracts with the city worth millions of dollars, produced an alternative design for the planned housing project on Gibson McElhaney’s behalf. The architect, Morten Jensen of JRDV Urban International, also personally appeared before the planning commission to support Gibson McElhaney’s appeal of the housing project. However, Jensen did not bill the councilmember for his work, thereby raising questions as to whether Gibson McElhaney illegally accepted gifts from a government contractor.

McElhaney also enlisted the help of her staff members to push their opposition to the housing plan, according to the Express.

McElhaney nor her staff appear to be refuting the allegations, but the architect from JRDV suggested his work for the first-term council member was perfunctory and that he did not charge her for the work.

When asked if he produced the drawings for free, or whether he billed Gibson McElhaney or the planning department for the sketches, Jensen repeated that he was only acting as a private citizen, and that no one solicited him for the work. “You’d be surprised how fast someone like me can produce that. We just want to offer up something.”

Oakland city officials have stayed quiet since the spate of bad press against McElhaney first surfaced. In addition, most ignored the allegations against McElhaney when they elevated her to council president last month. However, the most recent allegation is likely the most disconcerting of all and may have lasting ramifications.

Recall, in 2013, the City Council nearly censured Councilmember Desley Brooks for similar non-interference violations that appeared far less clear-cut than McElhaney’s involvement with the development next to her home.

The last local official to be censured for using their office for personal gain was also in 2013 when the AC Transit Board of Directors admonished board member Joel Young for trading on closed session information to benefit the law firm he represents.

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