By Ken Epstein
City Councilmember Noel Gallo is coming under a lot of pressure for backing a proposal by a community coalition that wants the City Council to put a charter amendment on the November ballot to create a Public Safety Oversight Commission in Oakland.
With the support of Gallo, who chairs the council’s Public Safety Committee, and Councilmember Dan Kalb, the resolution cleared the Rules Committee last week and is scheduled to be discussed next week at Public Safety.
While Gallo says he has not heard directly from the Oakland Police Officers Association (OPOA), he is getting the message second hand.
“What I’ve been hearing from colleagues and other people is almost threatening, (saying) how do I dare do what the citizens asked me to do,” said Gallo in an interview with the Post.
He says people are advancing their own “personal agendas. “
“They’re not concerned about the overall direction of the city,” he said. “I’m disappointed about some of the comments I’m getting.”
If a version of the measure passes at Public Safety, it will go to the full council for a vote. But if the ballot measure is not approved by council by the time it breaks for its August recess, the proposed city charter amendment cannot be on the ballot until the next election in 2016.
The proposal is the product of nine months of work by a citywide coalition of police accountability activists, who want to
create a public safety commission that would assume most of the authority over the police department, including discipline of officers, currently in the hands of the City Administrator’s office.
The new commission would combine the staff members and budgets of several existing committees and therefore would not generate new expenses, according to the measure’s supporters.
Rashidah Grinage, a spokesperson the Coalition for Police Accountability that is calling for the charter amendment, says she has heard that the OPOA is threatening not to back renewal of the city’s Measure Y public safety tax in November if the council puts police accountability measure on the ballot.
Barry Donelan, president of the OPOA, says the proposed police oversight would only create unnecessary bureaucracy.
“I think there’s no need for a layer of oversight on top of what we have already,” he said. “I think the city is better served using its meager financial resources to fight crime rather than to create another (committee).”
He said his organization is not part of the discussion over the wording of the new Measure Y but denied that OPOA is saying anything negative about the ballot measure.
“We have not been part of it since day one,” he said, but “anything that puts more resources into (reducing the) high amount of crime in Oakland is a good thing,” he said.
Gallo said that because of the work of Grinage and the Coalition for Police Accountability, he now understands the need to strengthen the city’s oversight of the police department.
“I’m extremely grateful to Rashidah and all the people who have brought this (measure) forward, he said, because they have forced him to examine the city is doing to provide police oversight and to understand that at present the city is ineffective and failing to deliver on its promise, he said.
Post Publisher Paul Cobb says his has heard that OPOA is opposing the police accountability measure by contacting community members who support it and letting them know of the OPOA’s displeasure.
Cobb said this is similar to the tactic used by former OPOA President Bob Valladon who threatened the late Post Editor Chauncey Bailey when he was investigating corruption at OPD, shortly before Bailey was assassinated in 2007.
Councilmember Lynette McElhney, who serves on the Public Safety Committee, says she opposes putting a police accountability measure on the ballot at this time.
“We need a much more deliberative process than 35 days in examining it,” she said, adding that the community coalition may have been working on the proposal for nine months, but council members have had it only for a couple of weeks.
“I think it can be a diversion to the more important measure, which is the successor to (Measure) Y,” she said. “We should not be focused on anything but the successor to Y.
“We need to be focused on the $22 million a year that Y brings to this community,” she said. “I don’t want to talk about any other measure. It would be a disaster if we lost that money.”
Councilmember Dan Kalb, who also sits on the Public Safety committee, likes the idea of having a police commission in Oakland. “I’m aware that they have police commissions in other cities, (and) I generally look favorably to having such an agency here in Oakland.”
He said that he is hearing around City Hall that there is not enough time to discuss the issue and modify it.
“To finish (that work) in time for the ballot may be very challenging,” Kalb said. “But if other council members support it and we can get the right final language, I would support it.”
Courtesy of the Oakland Post, June 21, 2014 (postnewsgroup.com)