Lynette Gibson McElhaney.
At yesterday's Oakland City Council Life Enrichment Committee meeting, councilmembers decided not to approve a $300,000 no-bid contract
to hire an outside consultant tasked with helping set up the new department of violence prevention. Instead, the proposed contract is being held in committee for a vote at a future date.
But Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney, who chairs the committee, expressed concerns about the slow pace at which the new department is being established by the city, as well as decisions made by the mayor and city administrator to appoint interim leadership instead of a new department head.
Several community activists also voiced frustration with Mayor Libby Schaaf and the city administration, who they accused of dragging their feet on getting the new department up and running.
"The [department of violence prevention] was passed in July 2017. Why is it taking so long," said Audrey Cornish at yesterday's meeting. Her son Torian Hughes was murdered in 2016 in West Oakland.
The new department was proposed last year by Gibson McElhaney, Council President Larry Reid, and Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan. Other councilmembers expressed skepticism about setting up what they said would be just another bureaucracy, however. Debate over whether to establish the agency was highly divisive
, but in the the end the council decided a new department could elevate non-police solutions to community violence within the budget process and overall city policy.
But the recently proposed consulting contract raised questions about when and how city councilmembers can guide the work of the administration. Under Oakland's charter, councilmembers can't direct city staff. But the resolution to approve hiring the consultant talks about providing guidance to the administration in setting up the new department. The consultant would report directly to Gibson McElhaney and Reid, not the city administrator.
Councilmembers Dan Kalb and Annie Campbell Washington said at yesterday's hearing they might support hiring the consultant, but that they are concerned about the contract.
"The part I have questions about is having this person report, in terms of a formal sense, what this says, report directly, in terms of a formal sense, to the city councilmembers," Kalb said. He said the department and its consultants should report to the city administrator.
"It does not sound usual at all with what we would do to set up a department, which would report to the city administrator," Campbell Washington added during yesterday's meeting.
Campbell Washington also questioned where the $300,000 would come from in the city budget. And she questioned the no-bid nature of the contract, saying it sounds like someone has already been selected for the work.
Gibson McElhaney acknowledged earlier this week that one name that's been floated for the work is David Muhammad, the former chief probation officer of Alameda County. Muhammad resigned from the post in 2012 after allegations of sexual assault.
Gibson McElhaney said the contract wasn't being voted on, but rather would stay in committee.
She said that the community activists who pushed for establishment of the new department have felt "silenced" and ignored since last year, and they want more transparency from the city administration in terms of how the department is being launched. The consultant would help provide this transparency and inform the city administration about community concerns, she said.