Council Rebukes City Attorney Biddle: InsubordinateAfter Emeryville City Attorney Mike Biddle was publicly chastised by the City Council May 6th for failing to produce suitable language for Emeryville voters to consider in November regarding the 'charter city' ballot initiative the Council is pursuing, they again sharply rebuked Mr Biddle last Tuesday for again failing to follow the same directive. Councilwoman Nora Davis, the City Attorney's strongest defender on the Council summed up the frustration she and her colleagues were feeling when she warned Mr Biddle, "You're not listening to what the five of us are saying."
The Council voted unanimously in April to bring to the voters the idea that the governing structure of the city be changed from what it is now, a 'general law' city, a structure that mostly defers to Sacramento rule, to a 'charter' city, a structure that allows for more home rule or local control. The Council wants voters to also decide if they want to capture a real estate transfer tax to make up for lost revenue in the wake of the demise of the Emeryville Redevelopment Agency two years ago. The ballot initiative would increase real estate transfer taxes to $12 per $1000 assessed valuation, the same as Alameda but less than neighboring cities Oakland and Berkeley.
The Council wants to write a short and focused charter so as not to confuse the voters in November but also because the focus of the proposed charter is narrow. The idea is to retain all the provisions of our current structure save the imposition of the real estate transfer tax. They indicated they are pursuing charter status because a real estate transfer tax is not legal under the provisions of general law city mandates. A charter city is free to let the citizens vote to impose a real estate transfer tax.
On Tuesday, Mr Biddle again failed to present a short and focused charter, standing by his previously released 12 page document. In so doing Mr Biddle subverted a direct order by an exasperated and unanimous Council on May 6th after first being told at an April 22nd Council meeting. Instead of facing an angry Council by himself this time, the City Attorney brought in a colleague attorney paid at the taxpayers expense, Manuela Albuquerque who backed up Mr Biddle's claim that a short and focused charter is impossible. However examples of seven different California city's charters were included in the Council's packet as Mayor Jac Asher had previously requested be presented at Tuesday's meeting. All seven of the charters are under two pages long as opposed to the 12 pages produced by Mr Biddle, the shortest he can make it he says.
Ms Asher expressed exasperation at the on-going recalcitrance of the City Attorney, "I don't understand it" she said from the dias.
Mr Biddle's hired attorney is the same Manuela Albuquerque he hired to fight off the unsuccessful 2011 Emeryville Measure F ballot initiative that sought to fire him.
After the strong rebuke from the Council, Ms Albuquerque apologized for the "misunderstanding" Tuesday. Mr Biddle told the Council he would try to appease them for the June 3rd meeting.
All five Council members for a third time told the City Attorney to come back to them with a short charter for the next meeting. Ms Davis warned Mr Biddle, who serves at the pleasure of the City Council, against any further insubordination; "We trump" she said tersely.