Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Complete & Up to Date Coverage of Tonight's City Attorney Debate

Candidates for Oakland City Attorney Square off at Jack London Square Waterfront Hotel Tonight

Nearly six months into the electoral process, the two final candidates for Oakland’s City Attorney race will debate tonight in an open forum at the Waterfront Hotel, located in Jack London Square.  The debate, co-produced by the Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce Public Policy Committee and the League of Women Voters kicks off at 6:30pm and is free to attend. Doors open at 6pm, and questions will be solicited from the audience.
The Office of the City Attorney (OCA) provides legal counsel to the City of Oakland, its employees, officers, agencies, boards and commissions. The OCA drafts ordinances, resolutions, contracts and other legal documents requested by city officials and departments, and reviews the form and legality of all city contracts and represents the city in litigation matters. The City Attorney role has been an elected position in Oakland since 2000. Elected City Attorneys are common in big California cities, including Los Angeles and San Francisco. 

The job of city attorney was most recently held by John Russo, for almost 11 full years who departed to become the City Manager of nearby Alameda in June of 2011.  Mr. Russo characterized the position as, “contentious” citing working with city council members as a key challenge to the performance of the office. Shortly after departing Russo said, “I believe [the city council] is a morally corrupt government and I just didn't want to serve anymore in that capacity… as city attorney you have confidentiality bonds that bind you and prevent you from being able to speak out…I didn't go into public service to help preside over what I believe has become a government that is not serving the people of Oakland.” Russo openly clashed with Mayor Quan and council members over everything from industrial marijuana growth farms to gang injunctions. In July 2011, the City Council appointed Barbara Parker, a long time staffer and Chief Assistant in the City Attorney’s Office to the elected City Attorney’s seat for the balance of the current term, which ends in January 2013.

Some public officials think it was a mistake to make the city attorney an elected position, because politics then can play a larger part in making legal decisions when protecting the city’s interest. However, the measure to eliminate the elected position was put to voters in November 2011 was roundly defeated. What do you think? Let us know your comments by following the event on Twitter tonight @oaklandchamber and using the tag #oakdebates.
Candidate Backgrounds

In 1996, Jane Brunner (right) ran for Oakland City Council against then-Planning Commissioner Peter Smith in the District 1 (North Oakland) seat vacated by Sheila Jordan, and she has held the council seat in District One ever since. The District, which encompasses North Oakland, including the Rockridge and Temescal neighborhoods and portions of Piedmont Avenue, is sometimes characterized on the council as more affluent and politically connected to the city power structure than other Oakland council districts.

By many accounts, Ms. Brunner has been a reliable and dedicated council member, and she is widely viewed as a policy and “big picture thinker” in the areas of labor relations and community development. Ms. Brunner has been a practicing attorney for over 25 years at the local law firm Siegel & Yee, in addition to holding her job on the council for the past 16 years. Brunner states that “the City Attorney’s Office has been remarkably mis-managed” citing that the 70 person office (35 are FTE attorneys) currently costs Oakland taxpayers over $32 million each year, of which approximately $6 million is spent on outside attorneys. Brunner says she is, “running for Oakland City Attorney because I want to make the City Attorney’s Office work for Oakland residents and businesses.” She received her JD from the University of California Hastings College of the Law in 1988 and has lived in the Rockridge neighborhood of Oakland for 35+ years.

In contrast, the other candidate, Barbara Parker (left) has not held elected office before. Ms. Parker is a non-partisan independent applicant who was appointed to the job last July in the wake of Russo’s mid-2011 departure. She is a Harvard educated attorney from the class of 1975, whose CV includes more than five years as an Assistant United States Attorney for the Northern District of California. Parker also has worked in the private sector for private law firms and Kaiser Hospitals. Prior to becoming City Attorney, Parker served for 20 years in the Oakland City Attorney’s Office, including 11 years as Chief Assistant City Attorney.  Parker has been quoted as saying "it is extremely important that the elected City Attorney bring competence, integrity and professionalism to the job of providing impartial advice to the City Council and City Administration, representing the Oakland community’s interests in court and advocating on behalf of all Oaklanders.” Ms. Parker lives in the Haddon Hill neighborhood of Oakland.

Chamber Support
The Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce (OMCC) public policy committee does not endorse political candidates, but there is a separate political action committee OakPAC that does. For more information on OakPAC, please contact Paul Junge, Executive Director at pjunge@oaklandchamber.com  
Full Debate Schedule
Tonight’s City Attorney debate is the first of six debates in this series. The full schedule is posted below; all debates are FREE and begin at 6:30pm.  All are welcome and encouraged to attend.

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