Ethics in Oakland

25 July 2013

A special meeting gathered this evening to consider a motion to censure Member Desley Brooks for supposedly having violated the ethics code. During the meeting and perusal of the evidence, it seems that not only is there no evidence of any intent on her part to do so (which is part of the definition of a violation), but that this is more of a witch hunt by Council President Kernighan than anything else.

City Council Code of Ethics
From Resolution No. 78307 C.M.S.
FURTHER RESOLVED:That the City Council hereby adopts the following Code of Conduct for each member of the City Council:


Each member of the City Council has a duty to:

1. Respect and adhere to the American ideals of government, the rule of law, the principles of public administration and high ethical conduct in the performance of public duties.

2. Represent and work for the common good of the City and not for any private interest.

3. Refrain from accepting gifts or favors or promises of future benefits which might compromise or tend to impair independence of judgment or action.

4. Provide fair and equal treatment for all persons and matters coming before the Council.

5. Learn and study the background and purposes of important items of business before voting.

6. Faithfully perform all duties of office.

7. Refrain from disclosing any information received confidentially concerning the business of the City, or received during any closed session of the Council held pursuant to state law.

8. Decline any employment incompatible with public duty.

9. Refrain from abusive conduct, personal charges or verbal attacks upon the character, motives, ethics or morals of other members of the Council, staff or public, or other personal comments not germane to the issues before the Council.

10. Listen courteously and attentively to all public discussions at Council meetings and avoid interrupting other speakers, including other Council members, except as may be permitted by established Rules of Order

11. Faithfully attend all sessions of the Council unless unable to do so because of disability or some other compelling reason.

12. Maintain the highest standard of public conduct by refusing to condone breaches of public trust or improper attempts to influence legislation, and by being willing to censure any member who willfully violates the rules of conduct contained in this Code of Ethics.


During the discussion, Larry Reid suggested that every council member has violated the ethics code, and put a motion on the floor to censure all but the three new council members. Just after that, Member McElhaney introduced a written motion ‘CONDEMNING A HISTORY AND CULTURE OF ABUSE OF AUTHORITY BY CITY COUNCIL MEMBERS.’

All during the discussion, referrals were made to the point that there is no policy in place for censure, and without it, council could not actually proceed. A representative from the city attorney office stated that there is not proper notice of McElhaney’s motion, and Reid suggested that more than one person should work on developing this idea of hers.

Brooks returned repeatedly to the lack of information provided by Kernighan to constituents. It seems there was a concerted effort to only provide ‘evidence’ that fit Kernighan’s imagined story line.

Meanwhile, the attorney stated that even Kernighan’s motion to censure wasn’t properly noticed in the first place, so cannot be considered.

With that information, Member Dan Kalb somehow extrapolated, “I’d like to pass SOMEthing tonight.” It’s amazing that Kalb did not understand that, without proper notice, nothing that he’s suggesting can be passed.

Member Schaff actually suggested that, while the attorney is there to advise council, council does not have to take that advise. She advocated for moving forward with the censure vote, even though the agenda item was not properly noticed to the public.

Eventually, Member Brooks made a substitute motion to deny the censure of herself, but create a committee to create a policy for censure, since such a policy does not exist. She indicated a wish to include the idea by Member Reid to have the council admonish itself for past transgressions.

During public comment, one speaker suggested Kernighan and Schaff start a tea party, comparing their “hatin’ on desley” to the “tea party hatin’ on obama.”

Most speakers either called Kernighan and other members out for their own ethics violations, or lauded Desley Brooks for accomplishing so much for the kids and people of Oakland.

Carol Williams Curtis, a lifetime Oakland resident, who has lived forty years at same address, used her minutes to point out that Brooks not only created something for the kids, but has cleaned up blight, closed down problematic places, and generally been a servant to the people.

One after another, people spoke to call out members of council for everything from past ethics violations to outright ‘jim crow’ racism. Many pointed out that this whole meeting should not have occurred, and that it was only due to personal politics that the meeting was called. Jack Bryson went so far as to call Desley Brooks one of the best Oakland Councilmembers ever.

Renee Sykes from Local 21 made a statement from the union that “council interference with staff is pervasive.”

In the end, the council voted against the motion to censure Desley Brooks, and voted to move forward with addressing the need for a policy for managing ethics violations.

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  1. Pingback: Condemning a History and Culture of Abuse of Authority | DEMOTROPOLIS

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