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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Scheme Nixes Election With Stroke Of Pen

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.


  1. I think the Council should put their distaste for Bukowski and affection for Biddle aside and let the people decide. They're not behaving as adults. This is starting to become an embarrassment for the city.

  2. This whole thing shows how sick the Emeryville City Council is! Bukowski is just doing this because he wants to get re-elected and the council is trying to stop the people's vote because they see this as Bukowski's thing and they hate him. They don't want to let him have a victory even if it means screwing us over.

  3. We may not have Chicago-style pizza, but we sure have Chicago-style politics.

  4. Brian, can you please explain the process for getting a referendum on the ballot at the municipal level? Why does the City Council even need to certify it? I don't think most people understand this process. I can't formulate an opinion on this matter at this time becasue there is so much information missing is this article.

  5. Sacramento makes the policy here. Here's how a citizen ballot initiative is made: First the County has to notify the city that the proper number of valid signatures have been garnered. Then the city council must vote to certify that an election is to be held in that city. Only the city council is authorized to do this.

    If the city itself wants to put something on the ballot for the voters, they may do it by fiat, skipping the signature drive. That's what the problem is with the business tax cap...the council stopped a citizen ballot initiative to get rid of the cap by informing the citizens who initiated the drive that they (the council) were willing to place the issue on the ballot by fiat. Then after it was too late, they reneged on their deal and so now the people of Emeryville will not be able to vote on whether there should be a business tax cap. You can thank council members Kurt Brinkman and Nora Davis for that.

  6. It certainly seems as though the Council has thwarted Bukowski once again. They cancelled the City Council meeting scheduled for August 2nd way back in December. Did they know something then? Who knows! I do however question Bukowski's motives and I also question whether or not the Citizens have enough accurate information to vote on the issue. I know the City Manager prepared a staff report that is public record indicating it would be much more expensive to the taxpayers to Contract out all Legal services and get rid of Biddle. Bukowski says the opposite. So who do you believe when it comes time to vote? Where do you go for accurate information on the issue? I guess you try to determine which side has the most integrity, Bukowski or the rest of the Council and the City Manager. Might as well flip a coin!

  7. To answer the above question about who knows if the council was aware in December about the City Attorney ballot initiative: Well I know. The answer is NO they didn't know. What is your point?

    The city council could convene a meeting on August 2nd to allow the people to vote in November. It's their choice. No laws will be broken if they choose to meet and forward the ballot initiative. If they believe in democracy, they'll grant the people the chance to vote. The Emeryville city council majority so far shamefully, is attempting to stop the people of Emeryville from deciding for themselves whether the City Attorney should be fired.

    As to Mr Bukowski's motives: How does that change whether the people should control their own destiny? Mr Bukowski's motives, whatever they are, are not germane.

    The commentor above seems to take the position that the council should decide about this since they are smarter than the people. To this I say all comments are welcome here even those that call for the suppression of democracy. However I add that it takes all kinds.

  8. Conspiracy theory 101 Brian- My point is that the City Council has been aware of several items that may end up on the ballot- Bukowski's hatred of Bittle, The business license cap etc. Everybody knows that the August 2nd meeting is the deadline for ballot initiative approvals for a November election soooooo!!!! Good luck getting them to convene at this point. They have already made plans to be unavailable! As far as Bukowski's motives are concerned, germane maybe but still disingenuous in my opinion. As far as the Council deciding on this matter- I think it's clear they have made their choice and since the good citizens of Emeryville elected them to office, I guess you have to live with it!

  9. How about if Bukowski and Biddle have a pillow fight?

  10. Brian, the 7/25, 7:33 commenter seems to be mostly siding with you and you are attacking him/her. I don't get it. You are putting words in the commenter's mouth. I don't see a scrap of what you have attributed to him/her from what he/she has written.

    For you to say Ken Bukowski's motives are not germane is just naive. Of course an initiative sponsor's motives are germane. When PG&E and Mercury insurance financed Propositions 16 and 17, their sponsorship was germane. If Amazon gets a measure on the ballot to cancel the recent online sales tax law, their sponsorship will be germane. Bukowski may not stand to gain financially from this measure, but he stands to benefit politically and that is absolutely relevant and part of a healthy debate on the measure. Rather that attacking people who seem to seem to mostly agree with you, why don't you try to flush out the legitimate concern that there is a lot of conflicting information floating around regarding this measure.

    If you'd stop giving us information that was so shamefully biased toward YOUR point of view and give us information that was factual, I think you would win a lot of good will and gratitude from residents on an issue like this. (And don't give me your line about how you represent the interest of residents - you don't represent the views of any of the Emeryville residents I know.) Instead of giving us information we can actually use, you just perch on this blog, waiting to pounce on anyone who raises concerns they have. By telling people their concerns are not legitimate, you further turn people off and alienate yourself. If that is what you were trying to accomplish, nice work.

  11. Council member Bukowski's motives for his involvement in the City Attorney ballot initiative are not germane to the question of the people's desire to vote on the issue. Even if Mr Bukowski were somehow benefitting financially from his involvement in this issue (not proven), the people have spoken and they have said they want to be able to vote on this issue. The County agrees and Mr Bukowski has nothing to do with it from this point forward.

    Having said that, councilman Bukowski's motives, if they can be proven to be nefarious is a legitimate story that the people need to know about. At this point however, proclamations as to his motives are speculation.

    Perhaps in the future, I'll write an opinion piece about my perceptions of his motives here. I suppose you can wait for that opinion peice if you're so inclined..