Since taking office, Hayward Councilmember Aisha Wahab has suggested legislation for raising the city’s minimum wage, rent control, police de-escalation training, a recyclable dining and utensil ordinance, and equal pay for equal work.
Many came within the first two months of her first term. All are weighty issues, but oddly low-hanging fruit in a city that has dragged its feet on consequential matters over the past decade, preferring to allow city staff to control the agenda.
Wahab’s exuberance for quickly solving all of Hayward’s problems, however, is creating friction with Hayward City Manager Kelly McAdoo and some council members.
On Tuesday, a proposed change to the City Council’s Handbook, the guide used by its members and city staff to run the business of governing, appears to be a power grab initiated by McAdoo that could strip each councilmember of its power to control the conversation at Hayward City Hall by limiting the number of referrals requested per elected official to five each year.
Unless the proposal is modified and approved Tuesday night, Wahab has offered at least five referrals already this year.
In addition, McAdoo’s proposal asks that councilmembers consult with her or her office to ensure the request is within the city’s budgeted resources and describe their referrals in writing two weeks prior to being posted on a city agenda.
Over the past few months, McAdoo has indicated the amount of work created by the referrals is overtaxing an already overworked city staff. Some Hayward elected officials have often reiterated the claim.
When Wahab raised the minimum wage question last January, many East Bay cities, including Fremont, most recently, had already accelerated the rate to $15 an hour from the state-mandated 2022 to 2020. “I’m going to just push a little bit on staff capacity,” McAdoo told the council. Hayward Mayor Barbara Halliday agreed. “There has been a lot on staff’s plate over the years,” she said. A minimum wage ordinance may return to the council next month.
“We really need to be careful in what we’re asking staff,” Councilmember Elisa Marquez, added, although she said her comments were not aimed at any of her colleagues in partcular. “Every meeting, we’re walking away with added things to our list and we haven’t even accomplished the things that we have set for previous years. I just want us to slow down.”
Marquez’s comments received blowback from some local unions, who took her comments to suggest raising the minimum wage was not a council priority. “It is a priority for many, many people,” Wahab shot back that night.
But it was Wahab’s questions and referral about police de-escalation and mental health training that is the impetus for Tuesday night’s agenda item to reform the referral process. Wahab’s query came after the killing last November by Hayward Police of Agustin Gonsalez, a 29-year-old man was later found to have suffered from mental illness. The answers to Wahab’s question about the types of training and whether Hayward Police receive them did not come easy.
Last month, Wahab raised the issue again during a council meeting, but McAdoo questioned exactly what Wahab was actually asking them to do. Upset, Wahab revealed conversations on the topic that she had with the city manager and questioned whether Hayward police officers are receiving any mental health training at all.
Part of the problem when it comes to specific council referrals is that in the past Hayward had no discernible policy nor a culture of individual councilmembers proposing their own legislation. For years, the Hayward City Council has been accused of failing from group-think, including a visual interpretation of seemingly constant 7-0 unanimous votes.
Other nearby cities typically allow councilmembers to raise an issue at the conclusion of meetings. If a majority of the council deserves further study, it is usually directed to city staff or placed before a lower committee. “This entire referral policy that we have is not part of the charter.” Wahab said last month. “It’s something that I think needs more transparency and accountability.”