BANG YOU’RE DEAD: Alameda officials rip newspaper

In some ways the Alameda city manager controversy last fall that enveloped City Hall for months–and likely will hover over the city’s November elections–was triggered by the Bay Area News Group and opinion piece and editorial by one of its columnists.

The two Alameda councilmembers most affected by the newspaper’s coverage of the Jill Keimach affair, it appears, still harbor great antipathy toward the news outlet and three of its reporters.

During deliberations over a one-year, $40,000 contract for the printing of the city’s legal notices Tuesday night, Councilmembers Malia Vella and Jim Oddie ripped the Bay Area News Group (the Alameda Journal is part of BANG) for irresponsible reporting and, instead, supported renewing the contract with the Alameda Sun, the local independent weekly newspaper.

“I find it ironic that we would contract for legal advertising with a paper that, at best, engages in sloppy, or unresearched, or unverified reporting,” said Vella.

“I think we live in a time where factual reporting is really important and maybe I’m a little sensitive to this because reporters from the Bay Area News Group not only misquoted me but they never actually reached out to me for comment and then published saying that they had,” she added, before noting the errors were later corrected by the two reporters covering the story.

Alameda Councilmember Malia Vella

“The staff report says the Alameda Journal is the lowest responsible bidder. I don’t think there’s anything responsible at all about the Bay Area News Group,” said Oddie, who echoed Vella’s criticism that Bay Area News Group misrepresented their early denials for comments.

In awarding the contract to the Alameda Sun, the council overlooked testimony from staff that some notices over the past year were not published by the Sun as scheduled, in addition, to its much higher cost. The Sun’s bid of $15 per column inch for legal notices is nearly three times greater than the Alameda Journal’s $5.28 flat-rate.

Alameda Councilmember Jim Oddie.

Last October, Bay Area News Group columnist Daniel Borenstein penned a column that attempted to bolster then-City Manager Jill Keimach’s claim of improper council interference in her selection of a new fire chief. In hindsight, the column and subsequent editorial appears to have been sourced from Keimach herself, and contained an explosive quote from Alameda Police Chief Paul Rolleri alleging Oddie threatened the city manager’s job if she did not choose a specific candidate for fire chief. The editorial also named Vella, but noticeably without any specific reason.

The furor over the opinion piece and editorial, ostensibly both written by Borenstein, a noted anti-union and pension reformer, ultimately fizzled. Keimach admitted months later to illegally recording a meeting with Vella and Oddie without their consent (the council later referred the recording incident to the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office) and an independent investigator’s report found little evidence to corroborate Keimach’s claims. The investigator, though, found a letter of recommendation written by Oddie to Keimach on city letterhead constituted a violation of the charter’s interference provision, but also concluded the specific provision lacked clarity.

Despite the report’s findings and Keimach’s dismissal and $900,000 settlement last month, both Vella and Oddie face uncertain futures because of the city manager scandal. The charter violation issue is likely to be used against Oddie during his re-election campaign this fall. In addition, this week Vella was given a notice of intent to recall her from office.

4 thoughts on “BANG YOU’RE DEAD: Alameda officials rip newspaper

  1. EDITORIAL & COMMENTARY AWARD [Society of Professional Journalists – Northern California]
    “Columnist and editorial writer Daniel Borenstein of the Bay Area News Group helped beat back a 2013 attack by Governor Jerry Brown and the California Legislature on the California Public Records Act. Borenstein sounded the first alarm in his columns and kept up the attack. He also directly challenged a stonewalling school district attorney over access to documents, including the lawyer’s withholding of his own job contract renewal. This led the district to release the documents and fire the attorney. Borenstein’s tenacity in seeking out and monitoring of Bay Area Rapid Transit District paperwork during the BART administration’s months-long duel with unions over contract terms prompted him to call for more transparency and disclosure in a series of editorials. Lastly, he also advocated editorially for mandated teacher training in the reporting of abuse of students and for the Mt. Diablo Unified School District to release public records about abuse there. The newspaper is currently suing the district for those records.”

    Daniel Borenstein’s credentials and professional awards are impressive. Politicians do not like bad press, but the responses to bad press have become more disturbing.


  2. I think it is inaccurate to give the Contra Costa Times/Bay Area News Group (BANG) much credit for covering or uncovering the controversy in Alameda. By the time that BANG published the story, it was all over Alameda via many other channels, informal and otherwise.

    True, the BANG opportunistically covered it by giving space to information that was almost handed to them on a public record platter, but their reporters falsely said they had contacted Council Member Vella and published inaccurate (made-up?) quotes attributed to her. Then there was Daniel Borenstein’s editorial grandstanding (as if the BANG were actually a principled institution of journalistic integrity). His editorial made it sound as if
    Alameda’s officials were behaving far worse than they actually had. (No one in Alameda’s government has lied to the community several times a day for the last two years like our so-called president has, if you want a current basis for comparison.)

    The quality of reporting in both of Alameda’s “local” weeklies (only the Alameda SUN is locally owned) has dropped considerably since we moved to Alameda in 1997, and the quality of the Oakland Tribune/Alameda Star was nothing to shout about even then.

    Sincew 1997, the Bay Area News Group has decimated the reporting and editorial staffs of the San Jose Mercury-News, the former Oakland Tribune, and the Alameda Journal in order to increase its profits: this leaves the Bay Area with journalistic monoculture and a dearth of truly local and diverse reporting. It also leaves us with the likes of Daniel “one-note” Borenstein, who is anti-everything and does not always get his facts straight, as the repetitive and unproductive editorial voice (yell?) of the no-longer-worth-reading BANG.

    At least the underdog and constantly-struggling SUN is local to the core and covers local events. (If they could afford more editorial staff they would hire more people, unlike the BANG, which is merely greedy.) The Sun’s owners, Dennis Evanovsky and Eric Kos, are hands-on owner-operators, too. There is credibility there, IMHO.

    In the end, I, too, would rather see the City of Alameda publish its legal notices in the Alameda SUN. The cost is not THAT much greater–at least compared to pension costs or public safety salaries–and the money stays on the island instead of enriching the modern-day robber barons of the BANG.


  3. “I find it ironic that we would contract for legal advertising with a paper that, at best, engages in sloppy, or unresearched, or unverified reporting,” said Vella. – It sounds like Vella is describing the Alameda Sun here.


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