Lynette Gibson McElhaney.
Frustrated with the pace at which the new department of violence prevention is being established, Oakland City Council President Larry Reid and Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney want the city to issue a $300,000 no-bid contract to hire an outside consultant who can speed the process up.
The consultant would report directly to Reid and Gibson McElhaney, not the city administrator and mayor.
The proposed setup raises questions about whether it violates the city's separation of powers law. Department heads, under city law, report to the city administrator. In addition, city law forbids councilmembers from directing the work of city staff.
Also, one name that's been mentioned repeatedly for the no-bid contract is David Muhammad, a criminal justice reformer who previously worked at the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.
Before that, Muhammad was Alameda County's chief probation officer, but he resigned from the position in 2012
following sexual assault and harassment allegations. A female deputy probation officer alleged that Muhammad sexually assaulted her in a car in the San Leandro Marina parking lot. She also alleged Muhammad told her she should allow his brother to have sex with her.
Muhammad was never criminally charged in the matter, but the incident ended his public-sector career. An impartial third party working for the county concluded the allegations were "not substantiated," but the county later settled a civil lawsuit
Gibson McElhaney described Muhammad as a pioneer and expert in the field of criminal justice reform and violence reduction. But she said others will be considered for the contract, if the council approves it, and there will be a selection process that occurs through the council's Life Enrichment Committee, which Gibson McElhaney chairs.
"Members of the community coalition have expressed frustration with what they perceive to be an administrative delay in implementation," Gibson McElhaney explained in an email. She continued that a hearing this Tuesday regarding the proposed contract will provide "an opportunity to openly speak to the issue and keep both the council and administration alerted to their efforts and their expectations."
The council established the department of violence prevention last July after several months of intense, and at times divisive, debate. Supporters of the new department, Gibson McElhaney, Reid, and Rebecca Kaplan, argued it's necessary to elevate violence prevention strategies by creating a new department and hiring a director who reports directly to the city administrator and mayor.
At several council meetings, activists showed up to support the department's creation. Many of them were Black and and had lost immediate family members to gun violence. Gibson McElhaney's own family has been impacted by gun violence. Two years ago, 17-year-old Torian Hughes, who she considered her grandson, was killed in West Oakland.
But other councilmembers have criticized the idea for the new department.
"We have plenty of departments," Councilmember Noel Gallo said at a council meeting last June. Gallo said there weren't any new strategies being proposed, and that instead, a new layer of bureaucracy was being created.
“They brought you out to tell us your stories, to cry in front of us, and to show us your pain, but they never talked about substantively what this department was going to do," Councilmember Desley Brooks told members of the public who supported establishing the new department at meeting last Summer.
Brooks said the public was being sold a fake "bill of goods."
Opponents of the new department pointed to Oakland's existing Measure Z violence prevention programs
, which are housed in the department of human services. They're funded with millions of special tax revenues each year and include crisis response teams, life coaching, and education and economic self-sufficiency programs.
Councilmembers Brooks, Gallo, and Annie Campbell Washington sought to set up a blue ribbon commission to study violence reduction efforts that have worked in other cities before establishing an entire new department, but while the blue ribbon commission was approved last summer along with the new department, the requirement that it complete its work before the department of violence prevention is set up was voted down.