The Oakland police officer’s union told the City of Oakland yesterday it would not reimburse taxpayers for turning a city-sponsored event into a political rally for mayoral candidate Don Perata. The November event, which cost city taxpayers $709 to put on at the police union’s downtown headquarters, was supposed to be a meet-and-greet with new Police Chief Anthony Batts. But then after Batts left, the cops union transformed the event into an endorsement meeting for Perata. As a result, city money was used illegally for political purposes.
But the police union is refusing to pay back the money to taxpayers, because union President Dom Arotzarena says he “didn’t know” that the event had used city funds. The Oakland Public Ethics Commission had asked the cops’ union to pay the $709 back after receiving a complaint by Grand Lake-area activist Pamela Drake, a supporter of Perata’s rival, Councilwoman Jean Quan. Drake had attended the event in order to hear Batts speak. According to the Trib, City Administrator Dan Lindheim had also asked the ethics commission to look into the matter.
The Public Ethics Commission, however, does not have the authority to force the cops union to pay back the money because the union is a private entity and the commission has no jurisdiction over it. But city officials have learned an important lesson. They should have never agreed to sponsor an event hosted by a private group.
Still, the ethics commission is not out of options. It could ask Perata to pay back the money. After all, he was the one who benefitted from the police union’s misuse of public funds.