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.
“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.
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.