Undemocratic tricks to disenfranchise public:
Council Uses Last Ditch Parliamentary Move to Avoid Mere Formality, Citizen Vote Blocked
Short-circuiting a referendum aimed at firing controversial City Attorney Michael Biddle, Emeryville's City Council resorted Friday to drastic, and some would say undemocratic, action to prevent it from appearing on the ballot. All at taxpayer expense.
The city-wide ballot measure, chiefly pushed by City Councilman Ken Bukowski, would outsource the city's legal services to private firms, and eliminate the office of city attorney. As Mr Biddle already hires outside firms to conduct virtually all of the city's legal affairs, the councilman argues a cost savings would emerge by cutting out Mr Biddle, whom he regards as little more than a million-dollar-a-year middleman. Others say the measure is only the latest salvo in an ongoing personal feud between the two.
Mr Bukowski began circulating petitions on April 26th with six other citizen volunteers. On July 15th he turned in 724 signatures, of which 567 were certified by the Alameda County Registrar of Voters, 16 more than the required 551 needed to place the referendum before Emeryville voters in November.
The final step, the formality of certification by the city council, would occur at the council's regularly scheduled meeting August 2nd, in time to meet the County's deadline. On Friday however, the city clerk announced that the council had last December canceled that meeting and they were so far unwilling to reinstate it, sending the referendum into electoral limbo. A meeting scheduled for August 16th would be too late, say county officials.
By the next election, in the spring of 2012, the signatures would be voided and new petitions would have to be circulated.
Mr Bukowski said his four colleagues on the council are allied with Mr. Biddle and accused them of using parliamentary procedures to thwart his efforts and avoid going before voters. "At our last meeting, the council voted to 'study' the measure. That is a stalling tactic so they did not have to put it on the November ballot,” councilman Bukowski said. City Manager Pat O'Keeffe seemed to concur with Mr Bukowski, telling the council at the meeting, "You've already studied it".
According to council member Bukowski, the council has spent some $10,000 in taxpayer funds for legal advice from a private law firm in how to torpedo the measure. The council turned to former longtime Berkeley City Attorney Manuela Albuquerque now of Los Angeles-based Burke,Williams & Sorensen. Mr Bukowski described the use of public funds as a “blatant conflict-of-interest.”
Mr Bukowski said that unless the council schedules a meeting for August 2nd, its normal time slot for a regular meeting and votes to certify the measure for the voters consideration, he would pursue a Writ of Mandate and notify the County Grand Jury.