Citing growing public interest and the need for transparency, Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley is urging the city of Alameda to release the controversial secret recording made by its former city manager of a meeting between her and two Alameda councilmembers.
“After a thorough review, it is the opinion of the district attorney’s office that there is a strong public interest in disclosing the recording,” O’Malley wrote in a letter to Alameda City Attorney Yibin Chen on Oct. 22.
O’Malley added, former City Manager Jill Keimach’s 55-minute meeting with Councilmember Jim Oddie and Malia Vella, which was recorded without the elected official’s knowledge, is a public record and should be released.
The secret recording was a byproduct of the fire chief hiring scandal in which Keimach said she was pressured by Oddie, Vella, and the city’s firefighters union to hire a candidate backed by the union for the vacant fire chief position.
Keimach asserted the pressure was a violation of a city charter provision that prohibits interference from councilmembers in the decision-making duties of the city manager.
An independent investigation by the city found Oddie violated the city charter, but not Vella. An investigation by O’Malley’s office exonerated Keimach for making the secret recording, which is illegal, but in this case, it was determined Keimach’s own suspicions that a crime could be taking place during the meeting warranted the making of the recording.
Earlier this year, the Alameda County grand jury, however, found both Oddie and Vella violated the charter, but their determination said the actions fell short of seeking their removal from office.
Moreover, O’Malley sudden injection into a story that has shown a nagging propensity for periodically reintroducing itself into the city’s political discourse, could have significant ramifications going forward.
Recall efforts against Oddie and Vella have repeatedly started and stalled over the last two years. Two weeks ago, Vella was again served a recall petition. By some estimates it’s the eighth such notice. It’s unclear if the controversy surrounding release of the recording will buoy such efforts. In addition, both Oddie and Vella are up for re-election in November 2020.
A closed session item on the Nov. 5 City Council agenda includes a discussion on Vella’s request for the city to reimburse her legal bills stemming from Keimach’s allegations. However, a clamoring for the city to release the secret recording is likely. In the past, cries of “release the tape” have echoed through the council chambers.
Many of us assumed that the DA’s office had the tape. It was, after all, used in a county Grand Jury investigation.
But if the city has the tape, there can be no justifiable reason to hold it back. Continuing to keep it under wraps undermines the city’s credibility, and creates the perception that council (or some portion of council) is hiding the tape to avoid embarrassment.