Oakland Councilmember Abel Guillen’s motion
allowed the city approve its two-year budget
just under the wire before a Friday deadline.

For a budget battle in Oakland that resulted earlier in the week with an abrupt adjournment in response to civil disobedience, it didn’t take much to inflame what became another wild night inside the council’s chambers.

The Oakland City Council approved, through a bit of parliamentary sleight-of-hand, a $2.5 billion biennial budget late Thursday night. But chanting and angry shouting directed at various councilmembers highlighted an upset audience that had previously advocated for defunding the city’s police department following its on-going police sexual misconduct scandal involving an under-aged girl.

Competing budget proposals from Mayor Libby Schaaf, Council President Larry Reid, and a coalition of other members of the council and disagreements posed a dilemma. The use of one-time expenditures, said City Attorney Barbara Parker, meant the already fractious debate would require six of the eight council votes for passage, rather than five. Furthermore, the city is required by state law to pass a balanced budget for the upcoming fiscal year by June 30.

After a 10-minute recess that lasted more than double the time, Councilmember Abel Guillen emerged and offered a motion to cut the proposed budget’s one-time expenditures, including $1.5 million for fire academy training, $350,000 for the police academy, and $350,000 for illegal-dumping clean-up. The effect of the motion meant just five votes would again be needed for approving the budget, Parker ruled.

Councilmember Desley Brooks, though, vehemently disagreed and lashed out Parker for providing no basis for her legal opinion. Parker called Brooks “out-of-order.” Brooks, though, went on to further inflame the already passionate audience with a series of running commentaries, including an acknowledgement of the two-thirds majority needed (six votes) needed for approval.


“There’s a lot of movement here on the dais, you might have noticed,” Brooks told the audience. “It’s because they don’t know what to do. They are shocked that their budget isn’t in play right now.” Brooks predicted some on the council were looking to table the discussion Thursday night. “That’s the move and we’ll see if it plays out.”

Oakland Councilmember Desley Brooks jousted
with a number of her colleagues Thursday night.

Brooks then challenged the council to place their motion on table knowing they did not have six votes without hers, Councilmembers Noel Gallo and Rebecca Kaplan’s. In the end, because of Guillen’s play, their support wasn’t needed.

After Guillen offered his motion, Brooks quickly asserted the inclusion of amendments on the floor violated the council’s rules. “There’s no costing to this budget,” said Brooks. “I don’t know how we can make a determination tonight.”

When a roll call vote was called by Reid, the council chambers erupted in a minute-long round of rolling nos. “I’d like to see a copy of the costed budget,” Brooks chanted as the crowd rhythmically clapped.

Brooks continued to address the audience while tweaking Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney and Dan Kalb, who disagreed with her. “She’s a master spin doctor with the truth,” Brooks said of McElhaney.

When Kalb told the audience that Brooks’ statements about an illegal vote were false, Brooks interrupted. “Mr. Kalb thinks that when he speak, he’s like E.F. Hutton,” said Brooks, a reference to financial services broker and its famous television commercial involving a crowded room that suddenly becomes quiet and attentive whenever the firm speaks.

Prior to the adjournment of the meeting and after nearly seven hours, members of the public resumed shouting at various councilmembers. Shouts of “vote them out” continued.