No charges against Keimach in Alameda secret audio recording scandal

Former Alameda City Manager Jill Keimach was cleared of any wrongdoing following an investigation by the Alameda County District Attorney’s office into whether she illegally recorded two councilmembers, a decision that could greatly affect the city’s upcoming November elections.

The fallout from allegations Keimach made in October 2017 that Alameda Councilmembers Jim Oddie and Malia Vella, and others unduly pressured her decision-making authority in the search last year for a new fire chief has roiled the city’s politics for more than a year, putting the spotlight on Oddie’s re-election next month and giving fodder for his opponents to question the ethics of City Hall.

While Keimach has long acknowledged that she secretly recorded a private meeting with Oddie and Vella in August 2017, the DA found no grounds to charge her for surreptitiously making the recording, although doing so without consent is illegal in the state. However, under the same law, it is permissible if the person making the recording believes criminal laws may be violated.

After Keimach was told by Alameda Police Chief Paul Rolleri about a conversation with Oddie, in which he allegedly suggested she would be fired if she did not hire the candidate for fire chief backed by Oddie and the firefighters union, the DA’s office found it reasonable for Keimach to conclude violations could potentially occur.

“Ms. Keimach believed that Councilmembers Vella and Oddie would pressure her to select a certain candidate during the scheduled August 16 meeting, and that such pressure could potentially amount to bribery or extortion. Our investigation found that although such criminal offenses were not committed by either Councilmember Vella or Oddie during the August 16 meeting, Ms. Keimach’s belief that recording the meeting may gather evidence related to such conduct was not unreasonable considering all of the circumstances,” said the report, released Friday night.

Keimach told the DA’s office that she communicated in so form or another about the recording with five individuals–Alameda Police Chief Paul Rolleri, Assistant City Manager Liz Warmerdam, Alameda school board member Jennifer Williams, City Attorney Janet Kern and Assistant City Attorney Alan Cohen.

Earlier this year, Kern denied she gave the go-ahead to record the councilmembers, as Keimach alleged. Both Kern and Cohen told the DA the same. In September, Kern announced her retirement, effective in December.

An independent investigation approved by the council concluded last May that Oddie violated a City Charter provision prohibiting council interference into the city manager’s duties. But the report also said the specific provision is a vague and suggested the city make revisions for clarity.

“I am extremely grateful to the District Attorney’s Office for its careful examination of all the facts in this case and concluding that I told the truth in the face of extreme political pressure. I paid a steep professional price but am relieved and heartened that the facts have finally come to light,” Keimach said, in a statement through her attorney.

“I never imagined that doing the right thing would cost me the job that I loved in the City of Alameda,” she added. “The residents and City employees of Alameda deserve a culture of truthfulness, openness and transparency. I hope my actions have contributed to these important community values.”

Keimach and the city later parted ways last May after agreeing to pay her $900,000 in salary and severance. She later resurfaced in late July as a finalist for the open Richmond city manager position, but was unsuccessful.

In total, 15 people were interviewed by the DA’s office, including Assemblymember Rob Bonta, who said earlier this year he had suspicions that Keimach had also recorded him without his consent. Alameda Firefighters Union President Jeff Del Bono also made a similar suggestion. But the DA found no evidence that Keimach made additional secret recordings. A second audio file on Keimach’s digital voice recorder included a city employee, but was deemed by the DA to have been mistakenly recorded.

While few new details emerged following the DA’s investigation, the timing of its release, coming a bit over two weeks before an Alameda City Council election involving Oddie, and the opportunity for his opponents to reopen discussion of his personal conduct in the matter, is a potential bombshell in the five-person race for two at-large council seats.

“I’m glad that this has finally reached its conclusion,” Oddie said Sunday. “It is well established that public safety is my top priority.  I will continue to ensure the best safety services are provided to the residents I serve—and will continue to work closely with our current Fire Chief on these goals.”

Meanwhile, the DA’s report may put to rest some questions over the exact content of Keimach’s recording. Some residents took to chanting “release the tape” during several  council meetings last summer in urging the city to release the audio file. Although the public still does not know what was said during the recorded meeting, the DAs office, according the report, listened to the recording and found no evidence of bribery or extortion.

In addition, the report reveals the entire matter has been referred to the Alameda County grand jury, and is currently being investigated. The grand jury, however, deals with civil matters, not criminal, and is typically viewed more as a government watchdog. Any findings from the grand jury would not be released until its annual report is due sometime in June 2019.

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