Archive for April, 2013

City Rescues $200,000 for Laid Off Workers

By Ken A. Epstein

The City of Oakland is almost two years behind in spending its federal jobs money for unemployed workers and is rushing to spend  $200,000 and maybe more before June 30, when it will have to send unused funds back to the state, which oversees the jobs program, according to a city official.

“We’re reaching a time when we not only have to just obligate those funds but spend them by June 30, or they state will take them

Deanna Santana

Deanna Santana

away, and we don’t want to go there again,” said Al Auletta, a workforce development manager under City Administrator Deanna Santana.

Speaking at Tuesday’s meeting of the council’s Community and Economic Development (CED) Committee, Auletta asked council members to pass a resolution to allow the Oakland Private Industry Council (PIC) to help additional laid-off (displaced) workers and spend the money by the deadline, he said.

“The purpose of this action is to make sure that we are thoughtful, effective and timely in the use of these funds. We have a real need in the One-Stop Career center for dislocated worker training,” Auletta said.

“We appreciate the PIC for coming forward. We gave the opportunity to other adult service providers, and they declined, because they had funding they hadn’t spent yet.

“We still think there may be other funds at risk,” he said. “We still need some more time to figure out if that is the case. We’re hoping that it is not.”

The failure to spend the 2010-11 federal Workforce Investment Act (WIA) jobs money can be tracked back to 2009-2010 when the city received federal stimulus funds.

The city had to spend the stimulus money by a federal deadline, which resulted in the city’s decision not to expend regular WIA funds within the usual timeframe. The city has sole authority to decide which funds to use and when to use them.
Because of the timetable for using stimulus money, the regular WIA funds “were pushed into the next fiscal year, and they have a two-year life cycle,” Auletta said.

The city’s review of unspent funds are  “indicative of our due diligence,“ according Karen Boyd, spokesperson for the City Administrator’s Office,

“We began the process of reconciling unexpended funds in February to ensure that we are able to disperse funds and thereby provide services to the community by the June 30 deadline,” she said.

William "Bill Patterson

William “Bill” Patterson

Bill Patterson, a longtime WIB member and leader of the Oakland NAACP, says he is happy that the city has been forthright about the urgent need to spend the money and has sought the help of agencies to get itself out of the jam.

At the same time, however, he sees this latest crisis as the result of continuing problems in the city’s administration of job funds.
“The PIC is bailing the city out again. They have done it in the past, and they did it again,” said Patterson.  The whole program has not worked well since the administration of it was taken over by the city in 2011.

“It’s been more of the same, ever since the Dellums people were doing it.”

“We’re behind in contracting for services and in spending. Jobs programs, especially small nonprofits that serve youth, have suffered because they have not been paid,” Patterson said.

As part of the fallout, programs for young people in West Oakland and Spanish-speaking youth in central East Oakland have fallen by the wayside, Patterson added.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, April 25, 2013 (www.postnewsgroup.com)

Unfair Treatment of Turner Group Construction “Only the Tip of the Iceberg”

By Ken A. Epstein

The City of Oakland’s failure to offer Turner Group Construction an honest shot at winning the Oakland Army Base demolition contact is “only the tip of the iceberg,” and explains, at least in part, the city’s continued dismal record of employing small, local contractors and African American construction workers on its projects, according to Councilmember Desley Brooks.

Desley Brooks

Desley Brooks

“What does (Turner Group’s experience) say about how Oakland’s flawed process?  Here is a company that in seven years has gotten less than $50,000 in contacts with the City of Oakland.  They spoke up, but there are a lot of firms that are afraid to speak up because they think they will get penalized,” Brooks said.

The obstacles small contractors face can be traced back to the staff and their overly cozy relationship wit the big contactors, she said.  “In this instance that staff was going right along with sole sourcing contracts even though they knew it was in violation of the rules. And would have done it were it not for a Turner Group Construction or me and Larry (Reid) asking: Why are you sole sourcing this?’”

“Our staff is letting (the big contractors) dictate what is happening on our projects,” Brooks said.  Most of the rest of the City Council is “ eager to let them do what they’ve always done. And that’s why the economics are the way that are in the city.”
Joe Debro, president of Bay Area Black Builders, agrees that the unfair procedures are connected to city staff and their ties to big contacts.

“No matter what the council policy is, the staff does what it wants to do,” Debro said.  “This has been going on for the last 30 years or so. The politicians pass what are fair laws, but they don’t have any way to enforce them.”

Joe Debro

Joe Debro

The staff has all the information and controls the process, he said. Frequently, Debro said,  “They come in at the last minute (at City Council meetings), needing something passed that night, or they are going to lose the money next week. But they’ve known that for six months. “

Unfortunately, the influence of developer Phil Tagami and other large contactors on the process is the normal operating procedure, she said. “I’ve been saying consistently since I’ve come on the council. We have to make sure the playing field really is level, not just lip service.”

There will never be significant hiring of Oakland workers on projects as long as the city relies on big out-of-town contactors. Local hiring cannot be separated from ensuring that contracts go to small, local construction firms, she said.

According to Brooks, one way to improve opportunities for small firms would be to create self-insurance, bonding and an owner controlled insurance program (OCIP), all of which would reduce the amount of capital that companies must  take out of circulation for long periods of time to guarantee their job performance.

An important reform was putting all the Army Base project hires and where they live on the web, a policy that Brooks advocated.
Another significant reform has been the city’s prompt payment policy.  “If the city actually implemented that policy, which I wrote, small contractors wouldn’t have to carry the city while they wait to get paid,” said Brooks.

In examining the city’s record of offering contracts to small companies, it is important “to follow the dollars,” not just the numbers of companies, according to Brooks.

In one $14 million deal, the developer hired contractors for $10 million, and a “good percentage went to African American contractors,” she said. ”But it was only for a total of $160,000 out of $10 million worth of contracts.

“It’s not just the percentages of participation – let’s look at the distribution of the dollars and wealth.”

Courtesy of Oakland Post, April 18, 2013 (www.postnewsgroup.com)

 

Small Local Contractor Asks: Where is Oakland’s Level Playing Field

From the point of view of Turner Group Construction –a local, small African-American owned firm – the company has experienced nothing but headaches since it has tried to work for the City of Oakland. The company has found out first-hand why many small contractors consider the city’s  “level playing field “ to be anything but.

Most recently, the company demanded a retraction from City Auditor Courtney Ruby’s March Performance Audit that focused on

Len Turner

Len Turner

allegations that two City Council members unethically attempted to direct business to the Turner Group.

According to the firm’s retraction demand, the report, which mentioned Turner Group 26 times, “implies that Turner engaged in

unethical conduct, when in fact Turner was simply reacting, ethically and legally, to the highly unusual decision of city staff to improperly sole source contracts to a politically influential, out-of-town company.”

Ruby took only three days to dismiss the complaint. “We decline your request to alter the report,” she said in her April 12 reply.
“Please be advised that at no point…(did the report) conclude that Turner Group Construction engaged in unethical conduct. The ethics of Turner’s conduct was outside the scope of the audit.”

The twists and turns experienced by Turner Group in Oakland  were the opposite of an open and transparent process. First, Turner Group was part of a consortium that was recommended to be part of the Army Base Project.  Then the recommended award was withdrawn after contractor Phil Tagami complained, though he was not a party to the bidding process and had not yet received the Exclusive Negotiating Agreement (ENA) on the project.

Next, city staff tried to give a sole source, no bid contact to do the Army base work to Top Grade Construction, part of the Tagami team.  The size of the award more than doubled.

At that point, Top Grade offered Turner Group what it considered a menial “pass through” contract, a small slice of the deal to buy the firm’s silence. Turner Group refused the deal.

Councilmembers Desley Brooks and Larry Reid opposed the staff-approved no bid contract, saying it violated the city’s requirements for open bidding.

Ultimately on June 19, 2012 the City Council gave the award to the Downrite Corporation, the lowest bidder.
The final insult – from Turner Group’s point of view – was to have its reputation maligned by the City Auditor, who did not even seek to interview them in her report.

Going back to  the beginning, the sun seemed to be shining on Turner Group Construction in August 2009 when the city conducted open bidding to award the Oakland Army Base demolition and remediation (Building 6) project, which was worth at least $2 million but would later go as high as $6 million between two contracts.

PARC Services was the lowest bidder. PARC was made up of a consortium of contactors that included Turner Group and other local contractors.
“The preliminary staff recommendation is to select PARC Services for the job,” according to an Oct. 9 email written by John Monetta, the city’s real estate manager.

Though small, Turner Group is well known and respected for its work in Oakland. The company has a reputation for going out its way to create opportunities for the formerly incarcerated.

Turner Group’s successful projects and their contract dollar amount include Alameda County, ($6 million),  Oakland Unified School District ($17 million), Kaiser Hospital ($4 million) and San Francisco Boys and Girls Club ($3.5 million).

Phil Tagami

Phil Tagami

But almost immediately, the deal began to go south.  Phil Tagami, who was negotiating at that time to become master developer of the Army Base project, told staff to withdraw the offer to PARC Services.

“(We) must insist that the bid solicitation be rejected and the process significantly revised with our direct involvement before being re-started,” Tagami wrote in an Oct. 15, 2009 email to Walter Cohen, then director to Oakland’s Community and Economic Development Agency.

Tagami wanted the contact to go a company that was part of what he called his team, Top Grade Construction, a large firm based in Livermore.

Without a word, city staff withdrew the award recommendation. A year and a half passed with no action on the demolition contact.
When the contact reappeared, staff was tying to hand the job to Top Grade, without sending the contact out to public bid.
At the same time, the amount of money on the table was increased. The staff in June 2011 wanted to give Top Grade two sole source contracts, one for $1,676,750 and another for $2 million, an open-ended contract that could rise as high as $4 million.

At this point, it looked like the award to Top Grade was clear sailing, The obstacles, however, were Councilmembers Desley Brooks and Larry Reid, who were demanding that staff follow the city’s open bidding rules.

Apparently certain the company had the contacts in the bag, Top Grade CEO and President Bill Gates in June 2011 sent emails to Turner Group, offering what he called a “mentoring program.”

The offer: Turner Group would “manage $362,240” on the project and receive $15,000 to install fencing and straw on the Army Base site and $31,567” in management fees,” according to an email sent by Gates to Len Turner, president of Turner Group on June 16, 2011.

The contactors who would do the bulk of the work would be companies picked by To Grade and paid with joint checks provided by Top Grade.

Len Turner rejected this offer, viewing it as a “pass through” deal, designed to buy his company’s silence and acceptance of Top Grade’s sole source agreement.

Turner did not look at the deal as a legitimate offer to manage a project but as a bit of “handyman work” putting up fence and installing straw.

“From our viewpoint, our portion is 10 percent to be a silent partner,” Turner wrote in an Aug. 22, 2011 email.
“We don’t interview our subs and/or help negotiate pricing. The subs are being passed over to Turner Group with joint checks being provided by Top Grade.”

“Turner group is being handicapped, and this is not the type of partnership Turner Group is looking for Turner Group has a lot to offer, and if this is the final offer, we respectfully decline the offer,” Turner wrote to Gates.

Ken Houston, senior vice president of Turner Group, was not impressed with what he considered Gate’s empty words about “future job opportunities at the Oakland Army Base…(for) training local minorities.”

This deal was promoted with city staff’s knowledge. According to Gates, copies of his emails to Turner Group were submitted to city staffers.

When Gate’s sole source contract failed to be approved by the City Council, staff ultimately conducted an open bidding process, which was won by Downrite Corporation, an Oakland-based firm, a victory for City Council members who had fought for the open process.

Few members of the public would have known the story behind this contract  if it had not been for the City Auditor’s March 21 report, which dragged the facts of this case into the spotlight.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, April 18, 2013 (www.postnewsgroup.com)

Kitty Epstein Receives Urban Affairs Association Award

 Kitty Kelly Epstein receives Urban Activist Award from Vice President of SAGE Publications Michele Sordi.

Kitty Kelly Epstein receives Urban Activist Award from Vice President of SAGE Publications Michele Sordi.

By Post Staff

Kitty Kelly Epstein, an Oakland activist and educator, received the 2013 Marilyn Gittel Activist Scholar award recently when the Urban Affairs Association held its national conference at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco.

Scholars from across the U.S. and many other countries, including Libya, South Africa, China, and Singapore presented research at the April 3-6 conference on topics ranging from urban policy in the age of Obama to the development of Black suburbs, causes of gentrification and bottom up views on race and diversity.

Dr. Epstein’s award was presented by Sage Publications and UAA at a plenary session that included participation by Isaac Taggart and Kimberly Mayfield Lynch.

Together, the three discussed Oakland’s unique history and activism as well as such community efforts as creation of a diverse teaching force, service to individuals returning to the community from incarceration and experiments with participatory democracy.

The presentations discussed policy and electoral changes that are also covered in Dr. Epstein’s book, “Organizing to Change a City.”

The UAA “was borne out of the 1960s era of social change and conflict,” said Margaret Wilder, the executive director of the organization. “The purpose was simple: to make academic research institutions more relevant to urban communities.  Their work in partnership with the residents of urban communities, as exemplified by Kitty Kelly Epstein’s fine efforts, demonstrates that there is a role for academics to play in the great community and social struggles of today.”

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, April 12, 2013 (www.postnewsgroup.com)

 

NAACP Alleges Bias; African American Chamber Says Audit “Maligns” Contractor

By Ken A. Epstein

The Oakland African American Chamber of Commerce is saying that City Auditor Courtney Ruby’s recent report  “maligns” the reputation of Turner Group Construction, a local contracting firm that Ruby accused two city council members of trying to favor.

Wil Hardee

Wil Hardee

In a separate letter, the Oakland branch of the NAACP accused the auditor of producing a biased report that is a “character assassination” of the two council members, Larry Reid and Desley Brooks.

In an April 1 letter to Ruby, the African American Chamber says the auditor’s report claims “ that the actions of two council  members ‘appear’ to have favored the Turner Group” and also alleges that the company has “conducted itself unethically or committed some illegalities regarding the Oakland Army Base” development project.

“Without any clear and convincing evidence of wrongdoing by the Turner Group, the report unfairly implies that they have been less than legal in their city contracting activities. To be sure, such implication of wronging maligns their reputation,” according to the letter signed by Wil Hardee, president and CEO of the African American Chamber.

“Such implication … negatively impacts not only their ability to do business with Oakland but also other entities as well,” the letter said.

The letters also says“ Fairness dictates that some formal repudiation of this unfair implication is warranted.”

Turner Group is a member of the African American Chamber.

The Oakland Branch of the NAACP also sent a letter to Ruby dated April 5 and signed by George Holland, branch president.

“The bell has been rung, and the damage has been done,” said the NAACP letter. “The audit was extremely biased…(and) you concluded that these two council members violated the law.

“They were found guilty by you, and you even suggest the punishment,” Holland wrote in the letter. “Simply stated, it is a racist attack and a character assassination,” the letter said, which requested a meeting with Ruby to express the NAACP’s concerns.

George Holland

George Holland

Meanwhile, the Sutton Law Firm on behalf of Turner Construction has demanded a retraction of statements concerning the firm made in the audit. “We believe that your office’s work on the audit report falls short of Generally Accepted Government Auditing Standards (GAGA Standards), as the report contains statements which are incomplete, inaccurate and biased,” the attorney’s 14-page letter said.

“The audit report implies that Turner engaged in unethical conduct , when in fact Turner was simply reacting, ethically and legally, to the highly unusual decision of city staff to improperly sole source contracts to a politically influential, out-of-town company,” the letter said.

“We insist that you confirm whether you will make the initially  requested retractions and corrections by no later than Monday, April 15,” according to the letter on behalf of Turner Group.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, April 11, 2013 (www.postnewsgroup.com)

 

Fight for Army Base Jobs Linked to Audit Issues

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor

One of the key issues in Oakland City Auditor Courtney Ruby’s recent Non-Interference in Administrative Affairs Performance Audit involves a contract to demolish a structure known as Building 6 at the Oakland Army Base.

The contract was originally awarded by staff to Turner Construction of Oakland in 2009 following a competitive bid.

Courtney Ruby

Courtney Ruby

But according to The Oakland Post, the Turner contract was thrown out after intervention by Oakland developer Phil Tagami, who was negotiating to become the Master Developer of the Oakland Army Base project.“(We) must insist that the bid solicitation be rejected and the process significantly revised with our direct involvement before being re-started,” wrote Tagami in an email dated Oct. 15, 2009 to Walter Cohen, then director of Oakland’s Community and Economic Development Agency.

Following Tagami’s selection as Master Developer for the project, the Building 6 demolition contract was awarded to Top Grade Construction company of Livermore by city staff on a no-bid basis. Top Grade was reportedly Tagami’s choice for the job.

City staff has said that the dropping of the Turner contract and the reopening of the Building 6 demolition contract was required because the “scope” of the demolition changed following the contract award.

But asked by then-Councilmember Jane Brunner at a Council Community and Economic Development Committee meeting in mid-October of 2011 why the revised contract went out on a no-bid basis, Redevelopment Agency staff member Al Auletta admitted that “We were working on that on the spirit of working together with the Master Developer. We’ve been told and we now understand that this was an incorrect way to handle it.”

The no-bid Top Grade Building 6 demolition contract went to Council Rules Committee in the summer of 2011 to be scheduled for discussion at the CED Committee—the first step for possible full Council approval—but after a meeting between Reid and staff members of the city’s Community and Economic Development Agency (CEDA), the Top Grade contract was dropped by staff and never revived.

Instead, at that October 2011 CED meeting, Brooks and Reid introduced an ordinance to reopen the Building 6 contract to open bid, but with new rules that would mandate that only Oakland-based firms with an existing workforce that was 33 percent Oakland residents could bid, with the further stipulation that the winning firm would have to employ 50 percent Oakland residents to work on the actual Building 6 demolition.

That Oakland-firm/Oakland-hire Building 6 demolition contract ordinance was eventually passed by the full City Council in the fall of 2011 by unanimous vote. The contract went out to bid and three Oakland companies qualified—Turner Construction, JH Fitzmaurice, and Downrite Corporation—with staff eventually picking Downrite and the full Council approving.

The Non-Interference audit lists only two instances alleging that Councilmembers Reid and Brooks improperly interfered with city staff in the Building 6 demolition contract negotiations.

Phil Tagami

Phil Tagami

The first allegation is listed at an unspecified date or dates in the month of June, 2011, during the time the Council Rules Committee was putting off discussion of the Top Grade contract.

The audit alleges that Reid and Brooks told staff that the Top Grade contract would not clear Rules, and that Brooks said she was “negotiating a portion of the contract with Turner Construction.”

The second allegation is listed as taking place between July and September of 2011, after the Top Grade contract died, when Reid and Brooks are said to have directed city staff to work with Turner Construction “to establish a bid proposal for the project.”The audit produces no documents to support the allegations, stating only that they occurred “according to” the Redevelopment Agency staff handling the contract.

No improper interference in favor of Turner Construction by Brooks or Reid in the Building 6 contract was alleged in the audit after mid-September, when the two Councilmembers first introduced the proposed new Oakland-firm/Oakland-hire procedures for the Building 6 demolition project.

Instead, when the full Council first considered the proposed new procedures in November of 2011, Brooks introduced an amendment that would reopen the contract bidding to non-Oakland firms if no more than two Oakland firms qualified in the first round of bidding, thus making it more likely rather than less likely that Turner Construction would have sufficient competition in the bidding.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, April 5, 2013 (www.postnewsgoup.com)

Community Challenges Ruby’s Audit

By Ken A. Epstein

Community members and local leaders showed up to speak out this week at the first City Council meeting since Auditor Courtney Ruby released a report targeting Councilmembers Desley Brooks and Larry for interfering with city staff.

Tom Chasm

Tom Chasm

While the main issues on the agenda concerned the city’s new budget, over 91 speakers had signed up for the Open Forum part of the meeting. Many of those who spoke challenged the methods and conclusions reached by Ruby in her March 21 audit.

“The auditor’s report as far as we are concerned was false. (There weren’t) any facts in that report,” said Len Turner, president of Turner Group Construction.

The audit charged that Reid and Brooks in 2011 interfered with city staff attempting to steer a contract worth at least $2 million to the Turner Group, a local minority-owned construction company.

“The auditor never gave us an opportunity to speak to those false accusations,” Turner said. The report talks about favoritism, he said, but “Turner Group… has only received two contracts from the city in the last five years, each equally less than $50,000.”

At the time the contract was being negotiated, he said, “We met with about everyone on the council about the Army Base project,” including Councilmember Pat Kernighan, who is currently council president.

“Hopefully, you have received our rebuttal from our attorney,” he said.

“I think we are getting the message about your feelings about the auditor’s report, said Kernighan, responding to Turner.

Derek Barrett

Derek Barrett

Derek Barrett, president of the National Association of Minority Contactors, Northern California chapter, said the audit was unfair.

“I’m awfully discouraged with that rush to judgment concerning one of our local minority contactors,” said Barrett, who is a painting contractor in Oakland.

“Turner Group Construction has been a solid contractor. We feel that there has been unfair treatment due to the fact that you didn’t even get their side of the story.”

“Councilmember Reid and Councilmember Brooks, we thank you for caring that there is fair participation with the local (small businesses),” he said.

City labor leader Dwight McElroy, who attended the council meeting with hundreds of members to demand raises, also defended the two council members.

Speaking of “Brother Reid and Sister Brooks, there’s a smell that’s emanating from the accusations that (are being made), and the smell is not coming from either one of them,” said McElroy, a city public works employee and Oakland chapter president of SEIU 1021.

“The city’s auditors report falls fall short of the truth,” said Tom chasm, Urban Recycling Solutions, alleging that issues of interference originated from Phil Tagami, master developer of the Army Base development project.

According to Chasm, his company was working to bring recycled dirt for Army Base cleanup at no cost to the city, and the staff was encouraging him.

“We were told in August (2012) that things changed,” he said, “that the developer had other plans to import to import fill, barging 2,800,00 tons of soil at a cost of $40 to $50 million.”

“You ought to investigate why the developer is not creating jobs and saving this town $50 million,” said Chasm.

Heather Ehmke challenged Kernighan for statements in the press that the City Council should develop a process for censuring

Heather Emhke

Heather Ehmke

council members.

“The audit report was reckless and unsupported by evidence if there was a crime, council members should know before this is released to the media. No evidence was quoted or cited in the report.

“There was no crime for anyone to be censured (about),” said Ehmke.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, April 5, 2013 (www.postnewsgroup.com)

 

City Workers Demand Raises, Not More Cuts

By Ken A. Epstein

SEIU 1021, which represents 1,500 city workers, along with other unions that represent Oakland employees, held a rally at city hall and packed Tuesday night’s City Council meeting to make sure they were seen and heard.

City workers protested Thursday at City Hall

City workers protested Thursday at City Hall

After more years of cuts to their salaries and benefits, the economy is turning around, and they want to make sure Oakland officials recognize their suffering and that they need a wage increase.

The city has more money, according to the workers, but public officials, in a rush to spend millions of dollars on public safety, have forgotten the workers who make sure streets, neighborhoods and parks are clean, well lit and maintained.

“The city needs better policing, not just more police officers,” said Dwight McElroy, a Department of Public Works employee and Oakland chapter president of SEIU 1021.

“The city needs to reinvest in city programs and services that have been lost due to major cutbacks and job losses,” he said.

According to union estimates, city employees have given back 25 percent of their income since 2008, saving the city $30 million. The city has also laid off 20 percent or about 800 of its workers.

As a result of work furloughs and concessions, workers have lost homes and have had to seek second and third jobs in order to survive, said McElroy.

“All of us have suffered in the city’s economic crisis.  Many of us have lost our jobs. Many of us have lost our homes. Many of us have lost our savings – all of us are financially crippled,” said Shirnell Smith, employee at Oakland Police Department and SEIU 1021 bargaining team member, speaking at the meeting.

Despite the improved economy,  “The city has plans to continue to take from us,” said McElroy. “City administrators are taking advantage of a previous down economy and the workers are suffering, as are residents who count on these vital public services.”

“We are direct service providers. We are the individuals who actually make an impact on the quality of life for the multitude of employers and the citizens in Oakland.”

Negotiations between SEIU and IFPTE Local 21 and the city began last month.

Employee contracts expire on June 30.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, April 5, 2013 (www.postnewsgroup.com)

Fight for Army Base Jobs Linked to Audit Issues

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor

One of the key issues in Oakland City Auditor Courtney Ruby’s recent Non-Interference in Administrative Affairs Performance Audit involves a contract to demolish a structure known as Building 6 at the Oakland Army Base.

The contract was originally awarded by staff to Turner Construction of Oakland in 2009 following a competitive bid.

Courtney Ruby

Courtney Ruby

But according to The Oakland Post, the Turner contract was thrown out after intervention by Oakland developer Phil Tagami, who was negotiating to become the Master Developer of the Oakland Army Base project.

“(We) must insist that the bid soliciation be rejected and the process significantly revised with our direct involvement before being re-started,” wrote Tagami in an email dated Oct. 15, 2009 to Walter Cohen, then director of Oakland’s Community and Economic Development Agency.

Following Tagami’s selection as Master Developer for the project, the Building 6 demolition contract was awarded to Top Grade Construction company of Livermore by city staff on a no-bid basis. Top Grade was reportedly Tagami’s choice for the job.

City staff has said that the dropping of the Turner contract and the reopening of the Building 6 demolition contract was required because the “scope” of the demolition changed following the contract award.

But asked by then-Councilmember Jane Brunner at a Council Community and Economic Development Committee meeting in mid-October of 2011 why the revised contract went out on a no-bid basis, Redevelopment Agency staff member Al Auletta admitted that “We were working on that on the spirit of working together with the Master Developer. We’ve been told and we now understand that this was an incorrect way to handle it.”

The no-bid Top Grade Building 6 demolition contract went to Council Rules Committee in the summer of 2011 to be scheduled for discussion at the CED Committee—the first step for possible full Council approval—but after a meeting between Reid and staff members of the city’s Community and Economic Development Agency (CEDA), the Top Grade contract was dropped by staff and never revived.

Instead, at that October 2011 CED meeting, Brooks and Reid introduced an ordinance to reopen the Building 6 contract to open bid, but with new rules that would mandate that only Oakland-based firms with an existing workforce that was 33 percent Oakland residents could bid, with the further stipulation that the winning firm would have to employ 50 percent Oakland residents to work on the actual Building 6 demolition.

That Oakland-firm/Oakland-hire Building 6 demolition contract ordinance was eventually passed by the full City Council in the fall of 2011 by unanimous vote. The contract went out to bid and three Oakland companies qualified—Turner Construction, JH Fitzmaurice, and Downrite Corporation—with staff eventually picking Downrite and the full Council approving.

Phil Tagami

Phil Tagami

The Non-Interference audit lists only two instances alleging that Councilmembers Reid and Brooks improperly interfered with city staff in the Building 6 demolition contract negotiations.

The first allegation is listed at an unspecified date or dates in the month of June, 2011, during the time the Council Rules Committee was putting off discussion of the Top Grade contract.

The audit alleges that Reid and Brooks told staff that the Top Grade contract would not clear Rules, and that Brooks said she was “negotiating a portion of the contract with Turner Construction.”

The second allegation is listed as taking place between July and September of 2011, after the Top Grade contract died, when Reid and Brooks are said to have directed city staff to work with Turner Construction “to establish a bid proposal for the project.”

The audit produces no documents to support the allegations, stating only that they occurred “according to” the Redevelopment Agency staff handling the contract.

No improper interference in favor of Turner Construction by Brooks or Reid in the Building 6 contract was alleged in the audit after mid-September, when the two Councilmembers first introduced the proposed new Oakland-firm/Oakland-hire procedures for the Building 6 demolition project.

Instead, when the full Council first considered the proposed new procedures in November of 2011,

Brooks introduced an amendment that would reopen the contract bidding to non-Oakland firms if no more than two Oakland firms qualified in the first round of bidding, thus making it more likely rather than less likely that Turner Construction would have sufficient competition in the bidding.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, April 5, 2013 (www.postnewsgroup.com)