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Friday, July 29, 2011

Letter To The Tattler: Council Member Kurt Brinkman

Council Member Brinkman Defends His Position On City Attorney Ballot Initiative

The following is verbatim from Council Member Kurt Brinkman submitted for posting here:

To the Citizens of Emeryville,
I feel that it is important to share my perspective of the voter initiative to eliminate the office of City Attorney. This voter initiative further proposes that we replace this position with outside legal services. My objection to this specific voter initiative is in the spirit of promoting a sense of fairness in the upcoming election cycle, where you, the voters, will be asked to elect three city council members. The voter initiative process has given one of our long term city councilmembers a two month head start on his campaign. A sense of fairness would dictate that, if a council member wants to bring forward a voter initiative, that this action should take place in the off term city election cycle for that councilmember’s term. Councilmembers are elected to represent and carry out the wishes of the residents of Emeryville. If our council members do not carry out these wishes, then the election process is the time to replace our elected officials. I believe that a majority of the Emeryville City Council has supported our long standing approach to ensure that our City’s legal needs are met in a competent and cost effective manner. Further, I believe that the residents of Emeryville have been well served by our city attorney and his legal staff. So I ask you, the Citizens of Emeryville, to continue to allow City Council of Emeryville to do what we were elected to do. If change is necessary in the office of city attorney, let’s collectively make these changes without being restricted and dictated by this specific voter initiative. Change should come from the election process of who serves on the City Council and not that of this voter initiative.

Kurt Brinkman

Recieved 4:31 PM


  1. Rebuttal To Councilman Brinkman's Letter-

    Mr Brinkman says the City Attorney has done a good job in the letter and he asks you to allow the attorney to stay on. He says this NOW. Before his colleagues on the council switched sides and joined with the people and democracy he said you shouldn't be allowed to decide for yourselves. No, he and Mayor Nora Davis say you can't be trusted with the vote.
    Mr Brinkman's position that it's somehow unfair that council member Bukowski is allowed to bring this ballot initiative is groundless. Anybody that argues that we should engage in a program of regulation further limiting free elections is suspect but for a politician who would enjoy protection of his position of power by such an argument is offensive and should be wholly discounted. Mr Brinkman is free to bring his own ballot initiative if he thinks it will help him politically and the people can sort it out for themselves.

    What is it about the people freely voting and deciding on their own how their city should be run that so offends Mr Brinkman? He and his cohort mayor Nora Davis should seriously rethink this pompous and anti-democratic program of theirs.

  2. The question it Mr. Biddle that is the issue OR is it the office of the City Attorney? Because, if it is Mr. Biddle, then the this measure simply personifies the office of the City Attorney and that is wrong.

    Check the record, four years ago, coinciding with his reelection, Mr. Bukowski, went on an anti-Biddle campaign, what a coincidence! Then upon reelection, aside from voting against Biddle's contract, Bukowski was quiet about the City Attorney. Now, not surprisingly, Bukowski is up for reelection and here we go again, he is creating an issue where none exists and a target out of Biddle.

    I ask you, what has Biddle done in his past 20+ years of service that is so egregious to the City? He is an employee of the City Council, his job is directed by the City Council, it is to implement the will of the City Council within legal constraints.

    If the residents of the City of Emeryville are unhappy with the shape and forward progress of the City, blame you Council members, including Bukowski, do not blame Mr. Biddle. If residents think things will change by passing this ballot measure, we are wrong. Legal Counsel is retained to enforce the will of the client, and the client, in this case, is the City Council, which was elected by the residents to represent their interest.

    Mr. Biddle and his staff in aggregate cost the City approximately $150/hour...tell me where we will be able to find legal counsel for that amount? This measure is a sham, brought forth by a desperate individual who is only thinking of himself and his paycheck and will do nothing more than drive the City into debt.

    This is just an attempt by Mr. Bukowski to beg for reelection, beg for a source of income at the expense of the residents and the City of Emeryville.

  3. Wait, we pay some incompetent guy $150/hr to sit around his office and call other law firms and hire them? Where can I get that job? I want to be city attorney.
    As far as Brinkman's jumbled reasoning---that's rich---coming from some guy who ran for and was elected to office who didn't even LIVE IN EMERYVILLE----and no, owning a rental house that someone else lives in doesn't count. I wonder how much Brinkman has received in sweetheart contracts for his fire alarm/extinguisher company because of his position as a public official.

  4. What a disgrace our City Council has become, the residents voted these misfits in now vote them out. Do it now one by one. Emeryville has more chance then one might think to become a people's town and a desirable place to reside. Maybe the new C.C. will focus on our downtown, not Bay Street either. What a joke, we have a Card Room for a center piece. Hurray, kids love it there. What a family oriented atmosphere.

  5. I think if you look at the facts, $150.00 an hour is a bargain. ask my divorce lawyer who charges $325/he and does nothing, delays and draws it all out.
    I believe you are confusing the two Councilman. Just google them and see who has a better reputation. And if people don't like either of them then go vote for someone else or run yourself, see if you get elected.

  6. To the last commenter-
    Of the two council men in question, Kurt Brinkman obviously has the better reputation. George W Bush, it should be noted, had a good reputation as well. A person's reputation is not a fail-safe predictor of behavior. In this case, the man with the better reputation is attempting to subvert the people's right to decide for themselves in an open and fair election.
    I don't know about you, but I think most people would say that trumps whatever good reputation Mr Brinkman might have. It's safe to say, Mr Brinkman's reputation has been brought down a peg or two by this unfortunate anti-democratic obstinacy of his.

  7. As a school employee, Mr. Brinkman wouldn't even talk to us unless he thought he could sell us something while he was on the school board. Every discussion I had with him revolved around one of his companies selling us something, and when he saw we weren't looking to put money in his pocket, he stopped talking to us. Before long, wouldn't you know it, he's running for City Council. I would expect no less from him when it comes to being part of the City Council.

  8. I don't understand Mr. Brinkman's contention that the measure is somehow unfair to propose because getting support for it gave Mr. Bukowski a "two month lead" in making himself familiar to voters. Surely Ms. Atkins and Ms. Davis could also have gone door to door during the two months explaining to voters why they did not support the measure, urging voters not to sign, or if they had already signed, not to vote for it should it qualify. That they did not avail themselves of this opportunity is their choice. Mr. Brinkman reminds me of a sixth grader complaining that some other kids got free time in the classroom because they had chosen to complete their classwork during recess.

  9. (I am posting this in parts, this is Part 1).

    Thanks for the accurate reporting.

    The special independent attorney told the Council that based on recent Supreme Court decisions, the City would very likely lose a lawsuit brought to place the measure on the ballot if the Council refused to place the measure on the ballot - the independent attorney repeatedly mentioned that placing the measure on the ballot is a "ministerial" duty which means it is not an issue, at this stage, that calls for administrative judgment or discretion.

    The independent attorney further advised the Council that not only would the Council most likely lose such a lawsuit, but would also have to pay attorneys' fees to the proponent of the initiative.

    [continued in part 2]

  10. [part 2]

    The independent counsel then advised the Council that if they opposed the initiative measure, the proper time to attack it was via lawsuit either after the measure went on the ballot, or via lawsuit after the voters had voted on it. Placing the measure on the ballot by no means indicated the Council supported it, only that the Council recognized their legal duty to do so.

    During the initial public comment period I then asked the Council to please defer their legal challenge until after the election since there was no need at this stage to spend limited City funds to oppose a measure that may or may not win.

    It appeared to me that both Kurt Brinkman and Jennifer West were looking for any excuse to publicly oppose the measure, but only if they were certain that the majority of the Council would vote to put the measure on the ballot so the City wouldn't get sued, lose the suit, and pay attorneys' fees (a senseless waste of resources). Once they were assured that they wouldn't be stirring up real trouble for the City, they both voted against even PLACING THE MEASURE ON THE BALLOT. IMHO this is a breach of their ministerial duty to the CIty (placing the measure on the ballot was a ministerial, not discretionary, act per the City's own specially hired independent counsel) and reflects their own lack of understanding of ministerial and discretionary acts, something that is Civics 101.

    [continued in part 3]

  11. [part 3]

    The City Clerk's presentation then moved to the costs/benefits of in-house (staff) attorney vs. contracting out to a law firm.

    At this point I have to be purely opinionated and tell you that I have never seen such a lame, poorly-conceived, one-side "promotional piece" in my professional career.

    Rather than go out with RFP's (requests for proposal, essentially asking municipal law firms to bid for the business), the City Clerk tallied up the number of hours spent by current city counsel, and extrapolated how much those same hours would cost the City if spent on outside lawyers.

    Well of course you will always lose that type of pre-determined mathematical battle. In-house hours, no matter how egregiously over-paid, will always cost less than the SAME hours spent at outside law firms.

    But what is MISSING from such a simplistic approach is the the fact that you have to pay inside counsel for every work hour, rain or shine, but with outside counsel you only pay for what you need. In addition, outside counsel, when properly managed, does not "churn" hours with inexperienced associate "research," I would rather have one hour of "good" time (at a higher rate) then 10 hours of "wheel spinning" by inside counsel who may not understand the heart of the issue the way a specialized outside counsel does.

    [see part 4, continued]

  12. [part 4]

    Brian, during comments, made the interesting point that in the current recession, with the building boom over, maybe inside counsel won't have as much to do as before, and no allowance has been made for that slowdown in calculating the relative costs of inside vs. outside counsel.

    I was horrified to hear - did I hear correctly? - that Mr. Biddle is apparently not an "exempt" employee who does not get overtime pay. The City Clerk let drop a comment that Mr. Biddle (did I hear correctly, I want to get this right?) is currently billing the City an additional 30 hours per week beyond his normal 9-5 work day week (did I hear that right? what happened to 8-5? I have to assume that Mr. BIddle, as salaried employee, gets an hour off for lunch - does that mean he really only has a 35 hour work week? cushy).

    But the most telling point, the real elephant in the room, was the slide that showed that Mr. Biddle is part of the "executive leadership." My fear has long been that he usurps the discretion of both the City Manager and of the City Council. For the first time that I have seen, Mr. Biddle has been publicly acknowledged to have an "executive leadership" position. But I thought he was an advisor, not a leader?

    [see part 5, continued]

  13. [part 5 & the end]

    Ken was accused of having a vendetta against the City Attorney. I don't know about Ken, but I certainly would want to replace the existing City Attorney by any legal means, if I had been deliberately excluded from information, reports, and advice. Those two (Ken and Biddle) don't have to LIKE each other, but the City Attorney SIMPLY CANNOT be allowed to selectively counsel SOME Council Members more fully and more timely than others. THAT is why I signed Ken's initiative.

    During the second public comment period, I objected to the obviously one-sided, biased City Clerk's report on costs/benefits, and also pointed out that the Pollard wrongful discharge case, besides ruining a long-time employee's career, cost the City over $4 million dollars, and wondered where Mr. Biddle was during that whole fiasco - if the job of the CIty Attorney to to provide "in-office" assistance, why didn't he listen to Ms. Pollard's complaint and give it the fair hearing (and her the fair treatment) it deserved?

    I want to thank Ruth Atkin for voting to have the special Council meeting to allow this to come before the Council in time for the November general election, and to thank Mayor Davis, who despited clearly detesting the measure, electing to do her civid duty to place the measure on the ballot.

    And of course the greatest thanks to Ken who tirelessly fought an uphill battle to single-handedly put this measure on the ballot.

    ~William "Michael" Webber

    in the interests of full disclosure, I hope to file nominating papers this week to run for City Council. Yes, I believe it is time for a change.