In early 2018, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf took the unusual step of alerting undocumented immigrants in Northern California that agents from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) were on the their way to remove those living illegally in the U.S. Schaaf’s stern rebuke against Trump and ICE won her a national following.
But when ICE agents were rumored to be arriving in the Bay Area last weekend, it was not Schaaf who spilled the beans, but Trump who confirmed in a tweet last Friday that operations to remove undocumented immigrants would begin last Sunday. As of Monday, though, ICE agents have not been reported in the area.
It turns out neither has Schaaf.
Council President Rebecca Kaplan said Monday that the city attorney’s office notified the council that Schaaf would be unavailable to break any tie votes on the council, if it were to occur, at last week’s meeting and, again, this Tuesday. (Unlike most cities, Oakland has an even number of councilmembers–seven districts and one at-large member.)
Schaaf’s whereabouts have also been murky to some, in addition, to the length of time she appears to have been away from the fray at city hall. “Given the threat of ICE raids makes it further unusual,” Kaplan said.
“The Mayor is in China with representatives from the Port of Oakland, Visit Oakland, and the Chinatown Chamber of Commerce on a work trip behalf of Oakland. It’s been a long-planned and well publicized visit,” said Justin Berton, Schaaf’s communication director.
Schaaf has been absent from city hall business since the beginning of this month. Prior to the trip to China, she took a summer vacation with her family. She is due to return next week.
But the timing of the vacation time and business trip is somewhat curious, in part, because taking into account the city council’s annual August recess, it means Schaaf will have been absent from city government for two entire months.
In addition, any tie votes made during this month will languish in uncertainty until the council returns to session in early September. No ties have been cast recently, but the same situation exists for closed session items.
It is unknown whether a tie has recently occurred in closed session since it is not considered a direction of the council and, therefore, not a reportable action to be disclosed in open session.
Under some circumstances, Vice Mayor Larry Reid could assume the title of acting mayor upon a portion of Schaaf’s prolonged absence, but that has not occurred. Under Oakland’s charter, the mayor only needs to be reachable via telephone to avoid relinquishing control to an acting mayor.
Theoretically, Schaaf could still break a council tie via telephone. However, just like a councilmember who attends a meeting remotely, there are specific protocols that must be followed. Primarily, the specific location of the elected official must be posted on the agenda 72 hours prior to the meeting.