The mere presence of the Alameda firefighters’ contract on a city council agenda is certain to elicit howls from island conservatives as it did Tuesday night.
The agenda item was placed on consent for Tuesday meeting, but Alameda Councilmember Tony Daysog, a critic of the union who voted against the original contract, pulled it off for discussion. Daysog did so, he said later, in order to allow incoming Councilmember-elect Trish Herrera Spencer an opportunity to weigh-in on the contract extension.
Indeed, she did. Spencer, who lost re-election as mayor two years ago and narrowly won a council seat last November, slammed the firefighters union, and suggested Councilmembers Jim Oddie and Malia Vella violated public ethics by supporting the contract extension. Specifically, Spencer alleged the firefighters’ contract extension was preordained in a 2018 Alameda County Civil Grand Jury report.
The diatribe was reminiscent of Spencer’s four years as mayor when she often tussled with progressive members of the council and routinely registered lone no votes.
During public comment, Spencer questioned why the firefighters union is being put at the front of the line over other city employee bargaining groups. She predicted every city department will likely be asked to cut costs as the pandemic-fueled recession continues into next year.
Spencer later asked Oddie and Vella to recuse themselves from voting on the firefighters’ contract because each counted the union as their top campaign contributors during last fall’s city council election.
Vella later commented, “I would recommend any incoming member become acclimated with our councilmember handbook.”
Alameda City Attorney Yibin Shen said there are no local or state regulations for recusal by public officials. “It’s long-standing and black letter law,” he said.
In a pointed jab, Spencer referenced a civil grand jury report that involved Oddie, Vella, and the firefighters union, along with allegations made by the former city manager that both improperly interfered with her duties.
The comments appeared to anger Oddie, who lost his council seat last month in large part due to fallout from the City Hall scandal that began in 2017. Oddie appeared annoyed that Spencer would question his ethics when she had previously been “accused of taking city funds and putting it in her bank account,” he said.
Alameda City Auditor Kevin Kearney, a long-time adversary of the firefighters union, also registered disagreement over the contract extension, in particular, its timing, occurring amid uncertainty due to the pandemic.
Oddie later questioned the financial acumen of Kearney, and Alameda City Treasurer Kevin Kennedy, another firefighters union rival. Both roles require limited financial experience, according to the City Charter, Oddie said. In addition, neither Kearney and Kennedy possess, “magical financial powers,” he added.
Approval of the two-year contract extension for the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) Local 689 came to Alameda City Council amid controversy, despite the cost-savings afforded to the city. The vote was 4-1, with Daysog voting against the extension.
After foregoing scheduled wage increases set to begin this January, Alameda firefighters will receive two percent increases in 2022 and 2023, according to the memorandum of understanding between the union and the city. The agreement will save Alameda $174,000 over the next year.
The cumulative four percent increase over the next three years is far less than the average annual increase the union has received over the past six years, which is 3.2 percent, Alameda City Manager Eric Levitt said. “I thought that was something of a fair deal,” he added.
Meanwhile, Spencer’s official return to the council is scheduled for Dec. 15. She will join a council likely to hold a 3-2 progressive majority. On past councils, Spencer and Daysog often had similar voting patterns that favored slow-growth and resistance to the firefighters union.
Spencer’s comments on Tuesday night also underscore the potential for conflict that may arise between the current mayor, Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft, and the former mayor. A bitter mayoral election in 2018 ended with Spencer reserving her final moments as mayor to strongly criticize Ashcraft’s integrity and her campaign strategy.
We should just disband the City Council and let the Firefighters Union run the City; in reality, that’s what we have now, anyway.