Oakland Police Commissioner Claims City Administrator & City Attorney Have Obstructed the Commission

Posted on April 10, 2019


2019-04-10_19-37-45The Oakland City Administrator’s Office has prevented the Oakland Police Commission from fulfilling certain elements of the Police Commission enabling ordinance–the law that grants the Commission its legal status and powers over the Oakland Police Department–according to public testimony given by Police Commissioner, Edwin Prather.

Prather gave the testimony during a public comment period for a “supplemental quarterly report” by the CAO on its interaction with the Commission at Public Safety Committee meeting Tuesday, April 9, 2019. Prather bluntly described the CAO’s actions as “dilatory and obstructive”. He also called the report, “offensive”.



Prather’s comments followed an oral report by Stephanie Hom, a Deputy City Administrator, outlining the CAO interactions with the Police Commission–including the posting of job notices for key positions at the Commission, such as the Inspector General and Independent Legal Counsel. Council Person Rebecca Kaplan, a member of the four person Public Safety Committee, also had unusually harsh words for the CAO, saying that the report “almost seems like an attempt to deceive the public”.

The most contentious issue in the report centered on the ongoing power struggle around the hiring of the Inspector General, a Police Commission position specified in the enabling ordinance. Prather claimed that the Commission crafted the position according to the language in the enabling ordinance which puts the Inspector General position under the control of the Commission, and then sent the job description to the CAO in October, 2018. According to Prather, the CAO did not reply until February 2019, and then sent back a significantly altered job description. The Commission balked at agreeing to the Administrator’s new terms and the position has remained in limbo since.



The enabling ordinance contains no ambiguity about the job description and hiring being under purview of the Police Commission; it even notes that background check can only be submitted to the Commission.


Prather also said that the City Attorney’s Office has put similar obstacles in the way of the Commission’s independent legal counsel hiring specified by the enabling ordinance. Prather added that the current counsel, who reports to the City Attorney, shared privileged information from a closed session with the City Attorney against the express instructions of the Commission. Prather added that the Commission’s administrative assistant is also instructed by the CAO to forego attendance at the Commission’s twice-monthly meetings.



Hom explained that the City Administrator, Sabrina Landreth, followed the City Attorney’s Office opinion–and the opinion of a third-party consultant contracted by the Attorney–that the Inspector General position violates the Charter and chose not follow the enabling ordinance as passed by the City Council in July 2018.

The City Charter, however, directs the City Administrator to enforce and carry out laws as passed by the council, in two sections of the Charter.





The ongoing power struggle arises from the fraught efforts to pass the enabling ordinance –the actual city law that would enumerate the powers suggested by voter Measure LL, which added the Police Commission to the Charter. The process has taken years: first delayed by “meet and confer” requirements with the Oakland Police union requested by the Administrator which seem to have lasted nearly a year. The process was delayed again, as the City Attorney declared the Office of the Inspector General position illegal as defined by the Charter. The legislation finally made its way to full council in June, 2018 where, despite the ongoing complaints of the City Attorney, the Council voted 6 to 1 [with only former Council Person Annie Campbell Washington voting no] to accept the enabling ordinance with Office of the Inspector General and other issues, like independent counsel.

Indeed, City Administrator Sabrina Landreth took the unusual step of prefacing the 2nd reading of the vote for the enabling ordinance with a prepared statement and stern warning against violating the Charter by passing the enabling ordinance.



As Kaplan noted, and Hom corroborated, the legal opinions upon which Landreth is currently basing her findings are those which the City Attorney offered at the time of the ordinance vote in 2018, before the enabling ordinance passed.



The Oakland City Attorney’s Office went as far as contracting a third party law firm in 2018 for an opinion on the legality of the Police Commission enabling ordinance.


As Kaplan also stressed, during a period between June 2016 and January, 2017, Landreth functioned as interim Police Chief after the resignation/firing of Sean Whent during the Celeste Guap rape scandal. If Landreth’s vision of the IG were to be enacted, she would have the power to fire the official with the power to investigate events that happened during Landreth’s time as chief.

The committee voted unanimously to submit a resolution to the Rules Committee for scheduling as an item on City Council agenda obligating the City Administrator to release the job positions as the Commission intends them. The resolution is already on Thursday’s Rules agenda, and will be heard tomorrow at 10:45 am, and could be on the City Council agenda as soon as next Tuesday.



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