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Monday, August 8, 2011

Council Finally Moves To Allow City Attorney Ballot Initiative

Brinkman & West say NO:
Council Majority Will Allow People To Decide About Their City Attorney In November

Tonight, the city council voted 3-2 (Brinkman & West dissenting) to finally allow the people of Emeryville to decide for themselves in a November ballot whether their City Attorney should be kept or whether city legal services should instead be subcontracted out as some other cities do.  The vote came down after four council members (Brinkman dissenting) voted to certify the successful City Attorney petition drive as forwarded from the Alameda County Registrar of Voters.  The decision about the City Attorney is now in the hands of the people of Emeryville.

The council by way of the City Manager*, ironically, contracted out the services of former Berkeley City Attorney Manuela Albuquerque to advise them in the decision.  Ms Albuquerque cautioned the council against disenfranchising the people but called the City Attorney plebiscite an improper "constraint on constitutionally granted council power".  

No Legal Effect
A major finding of impropriety regarding the initiative according to Ms Albuquerque centers around the fact that the Emeryville City Attorney, Mike Biddle doesn't actually work for the city proper but instead he works for a joint power authority set up by the council to allow Mr Biddle and other would be employee staff members to avoid paying social security taxes.
Council member Bukowski, the initiator of the ballot initiative called the ruling by Ms Albuquerque disingenuous, "To say that the City Attorney doesn't work for the city is a mere technicality" he said.
Ms Albuquerque said however since the City Attorney doesn't work for the city, the ballot initiative has "no legal effect" and that if the people vote to discharge Mr Biddle in November, the council could ignore the people's verdict.

Councilwoman Jennifer West joined councilman Kurt Brinkman in an attempt to stop the popular vote, calling the whole affair improper, "It ties the hands of the council to make prudent decisions" she said before casting her NO vote.

The council majority agreed that it is less unseemly to move to stop the people's will after the November vote if they have to than to shut down the vote entirely.  Councilwoman Nora Davis said the initiative is "irresponsible and inaccurate" and that people were "conned into putting their names on the petition" but she added she has "confidence that the Emeryville voters will make the right decision".  She called the initiative part of council member Bukowski's "vicious vendetta against the City Attorney".  All four of Mr Bukowski's colleagues on the council have said they will stand by Mr Biddle and they will work to try to defeat the measure in November.

*Correction: The story reported only the council hired the outside attorney until 11:17 am Tuesday 8/9/11.  Council member Bukowski noted to the Tattler that it was the City Manager that hired Ms Albuquerque.


  1. Basically, Nora Davis and her whole political machine are up for a plebiscite. Do you want to allow Michael Biddle, the Imeda Marcos of Emeryville politics to continue to draw a million dollars a year for calling outside consul and hiring them to do a job he is incapable of. This guy Biddle is a clown who found a degree in a cracker-jack box and has milked that into a steady $450,000 a YEAR. Have you ever seen this worthless bonehead in a courtroom? Well I have. He's akin to the county's most incompetent public defender: shows up unprepared, client goes to prison, and he still collects his check.

  2. What really sad is there are people on the city council who don't like the idea of the people governing their actions. You were elected to carry out the will of the people, not to do as you see fit. If you don't like it, move to an undemocratic country...

  3. The advise from the attorney that the council ignore the people's vote is creepy. It really shows what these four council members are made out of that they are receptive to ignoring the people's will.

  4. This story is totally confusing. What did the two differenct votes mean? What were the specific actions of each?

  5. I don't think you have correctly stated the positions of some Councilmembers when you say, "All four of Mr Bukowski's colleagues on the council have said they will stand by Mr Biddle and they will work to try to defeat the measure in November."

    I cannot speak for her, but I think if you asked Councilmember West, she would say that she does not necessarily support Mr. Biddle, but that she does not support the a decision by the voters to require the Council to hire a contract attorney. You can support the principle of having an in-house City Attorney without supporting Mr. Biddle personally. I believe more than one Councilmember feels this way. Councilmember Bukowski has the exact opposite stance. He would like you to believe he has a problem with the office of the City Attorney. In reality, he has a problem with the person who is the City Attorney. Eliminating the position is a bad way to get rid of the person. It's too extreme.

    If we don't like the City Attorney, we should elect a City Council that will hire a different person. Requiring the Council to contract out the position seems short sighted to me. What happens if it becomes disadvantageous to contract out the position? Then the voters would have to undo what they have done. That is very inefficient and costly. If we want efficient government, we should let the Council do their job of running the City and not try to micromanage. If the majority of voters think they are not doing a proper job then we can replace them with people who will.

  6. Note To The Readers-
    The two votes cast by the council were: first, should the council certify the legitimacy of the petition as obtained by the County (who certified it themselves). And second, should the issue then be placed on the ballot in November for the people to decide. The vote in the first case was 4- (Brinkman) and in the second 3-2 (Brinkman, West).

    Council member West joined Nora Davis, Kurt Brinkman and Ruth Atkin in support of Mr Biddle and they all agreed to help write arguments against the ballot initiative and rebuttals to the proponents arguements in the County distributed voter guide.

  7. I tried to post a comment but it got bounced - I think I may have exceeded some (unstated) comment length limit. So I posted my comment on my own blog, and you can see it here:

    ~Michael Webber

  8. Note To Readers-
    Michael Webber's comment will not post here probably due to a limit embedded in the blog architecture. This is the first time I have seen this problem. I invite Mr Webber to resend his comment in parts.

  9. Brian,

    I sent in the post in multiple parts and initially it looked like it published, but when I reloaded your blog the segments all disappeared. You have my permission to post my comments as a "letter to the editor" if you wish, which might be better given the length of the comments anyway.


  10. Michael,

    I too believe it is time for change. Ken Bukowski needs to be booted. So many lapses in ethics... so sad.