Civil grand jury will not recommend removing Alameda councilmember

A forthcoming Alameda County civil grand jury report will include an investigation into allegations that Alameda councilmembers violated the city charter by exerting undue influence on its then-city manager to hire a fire chief candidate of their choice, according to sources aware of the section in the report due to be released this week.

The report also recommends against beginning the process of potentially removing Alameda Councilmember Jim Oddie from office for his actions in the 2017-18 scandal, a power the civil grand jury has at its disposal.

Last year, an independent investigator hired by the city found Oddie violated a section of the city charter that bars elected officials from interfering with the city manager’s duties.  Oddie sent a letter of recommendation on city letterhead to then-city manager Jill Keimach that advocated for his preferred candidate.

Later, Keimach secretly recorded a meeting between herself, Oddie and Councilmember Malia Vella. Keimach alleged the pair attempted to coerce her into hiring the fire chief candidate they and the city’s firefighters’ union had supported for the job. Similar to previous investigations, the grand jury will not specifically implicate any wrongdoing by Vella, according to sources.

An independent investigator’s report released last summer described the particular section of the city charter as vague and ripe for an overhaul. Another investigation released last October, this time by the Alameda County District Attorney’s office, reached a similar conclusion.

Oddie went on to win re-election to a two-year term on the council by finishing third in the City Council election last November.

The Alameda County civil grand jury report also mimics the content of the previous two reports, according to sources. However, the report notes the power of the grand jury to begin legal proceedings for the removal of elected officials who commit willful misconduct and corruption. Despite the warning, the civil grand jury found Oddie’s actions did not reach this legal threshold.

Earlier this month, the Contra Costa County civil grand jury initiated a lawsuit against Gus Kramer, the county’s elected assessor, for misconduct against female members of his staff, and minorities. The action could lead to Kramer’s removal from office.

A county civil grand jury primarily exists as a government watchdog. Members of the grand jury are voeers. Topics for investigations are initiated by the grand jury or through anonymous tips.

The report released this week could include roughly a dozen or more investigations conducted by the grand jury on cities and government bodies from all over Alameda County. The investigations are typically followed by a number of prescribed fixes for the cities and government bodies and require official responses to the grand jury.

The suggestions for Alameda, according to sources, includes adding clarity to the city charter’s non-interference section. The city is already in the process of doing so. An ad-hoc committee made up of two Alameda councilmembers is currently studying a long and varying list of potential charter revisions that could possibly come to voters for approval sometime in 2020.