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PROGRESS ON PUBLIC ETHICS REFORM IN OAKLAND, 2014
Voters Approve Measure CC;
Council Adopts Governmental Ethics Act
- Making it more independent;
- Allowing it to assess larger fines for violations;
- Giving it greater responsibilities and enforcement oversight over local ethics and campaign finance laws, including a new governmental ethics ordinance;
- Increasing its staff resources so it can do the job people expect it to do; and
- Providing additional transparency.
As a necessary companion to the Charter Amendment, the new Oakland Governmental Ethics Act is the result of extensive collaboration between the PEC, my office, and the office of City Attorney Barbara Parker, including months of research, drafting, and vetting at public meetings. The PEC initiated drafting of the Act and City Attorney Parker and I finalized and sponsored the legislation before the City Council. On December 9th, the City Council unanimously voted to adopt the Ethics Act, which is now law.
Restoring Trust in Government
Charter amendment ballot measure to strengthen Ethics Commission coming before City Council
Councilmember Kalb has introduced a Charter Amendment that would strengthen the Oakland Public Ethics Commission, providing it with more staff, independence, and authority. The Charter Amendment is being proposed to the City Council as a ballot measure that would go before the voters during the November election of this year. At its meeting of June 9th, the Public Ethics Commission voted unanimously to recommend the Charter Amendment.
The Charter Amendment ballot measure will be considered by the City Council at their meeting on Tuesday, July 15. The meeting is open to the public and begins at 5:30 pm.
Why Oakland needs a stronger Public Ethics Commission with more resources
From Councilmember Kalb’s staff report to the City Council about the measure:
“The primary goal of an empowered PEC is restoring and safeguarding the public’s trust in our City government. In June of 2013, the Alameda County Grand Jury issued a report stating that “local independent oversight of public ethics is essential” and that, while the PEC is a remedy for achieving such oversight, its limited staffing and resources hamper its viability. The Grand Jury concluded with this formal Recommendation: “The Oakland City Council must provide the Public Ethics Commission with sufficient financial resources to properly investigate allegations of ethics violations.”
In response to the 2012-2013 Final Report of the Grand Jury, the City Council wrote with unanimous approval:
“Enhanced powers and authority for the PEC would be helpful to enforcing ethical behavior and legal requirements for Oakland public officials. Work is in progress toward this goal: Even prior to the Grand Jury report, Councilmember Kalb began convening a working group of experts on ethics and good government to work with him and the PEC Director to research, draft, and consider various enhancements and expansions of powers, authority, and independence of the PEC. The Commission will be asked to hold public hearings on these recommendations. After the recommendations have been publicly vetted with and possibly supplemented by the PEC, they will be brought to the City Council for discussion and adoption.”
On September 3, 2013, the PEC submitted a formal letter to the Council to request sufficient authority and resources to fulfill its mandates. The letter noted that, because an ethics agency may potentially investigate City officials and employees, there is an inherent structural conflict of interest if the same officials have budget or other control over the PEC. As the letter explains, this flaw “diminishes the Commission’s effectiveness as well as the public’s perception of the fairness and neutrality of the process.”
To solve this problem and achieve our shared public policy goal of an effective PEC, the relevant best practices include (1) an independently staffed agency, where hiring and firing is not completely under authority of The Administration, and (2) budget protection. My proposal contains provisions to achieve both.
The Ethics Commissions of both San Francisco and Los Angeles are independent agencies with significantly larger budgets and more staff than in Oakland, the ability to terminate their agency’s Executive Officer, and significant enforcement powers, are the Filing Officers for required disclosure statements in their jurisdictions, and were established with robust and detailed Charter provisions, which provides the protection of requiring voter approval before amendments can be made to their core structures. Because of its subject matter expertise and education and enforcement mission, the PEC is the best agency to be Oakland’s Filing Officer for disclosure filings. Transferring that duty to the PEC, as other jurisdictions have done, allows our hardworking, overstretched City Clerk’s office to focus on its many other responsibilities.
The Charter Amendment before you represents the culmination of our promise to the Grand Jury, in the form of real reform and enhancement of the PEC, including increased resources and authority. ”