Dellums Gets Sued Again

Another former top city official accuses the mayor and his wife of unethical conduct. Plus, a third lawsuit threatens to turn the whole legal affair on its head.

When former City Administrator Deborah Edgerly sued the City
of Oakland earlier this month, the scandalous claims she made about
Mayor Ron Dellums and his wife, Cynthia Dellums, were met
with some skepticism. After all, the mayor had fired Edgerly last year
amid charges that she was incompetent and had improperly interfered in
a police investigation. Plus, it looked as though Edgerly was looking
to score a payout from the city after she had failed to land a job in a
small town on the East Coast. But Edgerly’s lawsuit, and the
allegations in it, may have gained a bit of credibility last week when
her former top deputy and good friend, Cheryl Thompson, filed
her own suit against the city, leveling some of the very same charges
against the mayor and his wife.

In a lawsuit filed in Alameda County Superior Court, Thompson, a
former assistant city administrator, alleges that she, too, was fired
last summer, in part because she said she refused some highly
questionable requests by the Dellums administration. Thompson says that
in 2008, the mayor’s chief of staff David Chai repeatedly asked
her to relocate city staff so that Cynthia Dellums could have her own
office in City Hall. Cynthia Dellums is an unpaid advisor to the mayor
and not an official city employee. Thompson also alleged that Chai
repeatedly asked her to help Cynthia Dellums buy furniture and phones
for the office she wanted, using taxpayer funds.

In addition, Thompson claims that Chai sought reimbursement last
June for the Dellumses trip to South Africa, which Chai paid for.
Thompson said Chai asked for a pay raise and bonus of 5 percent to
finance his out-of-pocket expenses for the Dellumses’ trip. In each
instance, Thompson said she refused the requests and lodged protests
with elected city officials.

Paul Rose, spokesman for the mayor’s office, said Dellums and
Chai declined to comment on Thompson’s suit. Alex Katz,
spokesman for the City Attorney’s Office, which defends the city in
such litigation, also said his office had no comment and “would respond
in court.”

In her suit, Edgerly made the same allegation about Chai asking for
a 5 percent salary increase and bonus to pay for the Dellumses’ South
Africa trip. Edgerly said Chai paid for the excursion with his personal
credit card. Edgerly also said that Chai and Cynthia Dellums asked that
Edgerly provide office space for Mrs. Dellums and use taxpayer funds to
buy five computers and desks for the staff she wanted.

Edgerly, however, also made several eye-popping allegations that
Thompson did not. For instance, the former city administrator said that
Cynthia Dellums directed her to fire three city employees —
then-Controller Bill Noland, then-Employment Services Director
Aliza Gallo, and city spokeswoman Karen Boyd. Edgerly
also said that the mayor’s wife wanted her to hire two people who
worked on Ron Dellums’ 2006 mayoral campaign — Gene
Hazzard
and Gay Plair Cobb. Edgerly also alleged that
Cynthia Dellums wanted the city to pay for her cell phone and for the
Dellumses’ PG&E bill — presumably because the mayor’s wife
used her phone in her role as the mayor’s advisor and because the
Dellumses conduct much of their city work from home.

Although Edgerly and Thompson’s close friendship raises questions
about whether they coordinated their attacks against the mayor, the
fact that two former top city officials are now leveling allegations
about unethical conduct likely will make it tougher for him to rebut
them. Moreover, the two lawsuits threaten to cloud the rest of Dellums’
first term in City Hall and hamper his reelection campaign, should he
decide to run again. Dellums’ supporters also will have a difficult
time pointing to the many ethical problems of ex-state Senator Don
Perata
, who is seeking to replace Dellums as mayor in 2010, when
Dellums himself is now being charged with some of his own.

In addition, Edgerly and Thompson’s lawsuits threaten to further
fracture Dellums’ political coalition of blacks, organized labor, and
progressives, because both women are black and both have fought
fiercely over the years to protect African-American jobs in city
government.

In fact, Thompson alleges in her lawsuit that she also was singled
out for retaliation because, she said, she has repeatedly resisted
efforts to give Latinos preference over blacks in city hiring. Thompson
claims that the office of City Attorney John Russo facilitated
her termination last year because she had publicly disagreed with the
city attorney’s position on Oakland’s Equal Access to Services
Ordinance and refused to implement it. Thompson claims that Russo’s
office and members of the city council, particularly Councilman
Ignacio De La Fuente, wanted to use the ordinance to give
preference to bilingual job applicants — specifically, Latino
applicants — for positions in which she said being bilingual was
not “a bona fide job requirement.” The internal City Hall fight in
recent years over the Equal Access ordinance and Edgerly and Thompson’s
refusal to implement it has furthered exposed the racial tensions in
Oakland government between blacks and Latinos and the fight over
coveted city jobs.

Thompson’s allegations against Russo also may make a quick
settlement of her claims less likely. In addition to damages, she is
demanding that the city award her severance pay that she says Edgerly
had promised her before she was fired. Complicating matters further are
the allegations that Edgerly also made against the city attorney.
Edgerly claims that Russo helped Dellums fire her last year because she
had requested that Russo reimburse the city for $4,200 in salary
advances that he received. For his part, Russo told the Oakland
Tribune
last year that he would “never, ever, ever, ever recommend
a penny to settle any lawsuit” filed by Edgerly.

And finally, the whole Edgerly-Thompson-Dellums-Russo affair is
further muddied by yet another lawsuit against the city. Last week,
Scott Valladon, the son of the former Oakland police officers’
union chief Bob Valladon, sued the city, Russo, Edgerly,
Thompson, and one of Russo’s deputies, Vicki Laden, for
allegedly releasing his private medical information to the press last
summer in violation of the law. The lawsuit raises the uncomfortable
possibility that the city will have to defend Edgerly and Thompson in
the case — while they are suing the city at the same time —
because Scott Valladon sued them in their capacity as city employees.
And in yet another twist, Thompson claims in her lawsuit that Russo and
Laden sought to retaliate against her in violation of her
constitutional rights by falsely blaming her for leaking Scott
Valladon’s private medical information.

The controversy stems from a July 29, 2008, KGO-TV news story about
the attempts of Scott Valladon to graduate from the Oakland police
academy and join the force. The story quoted a letter from an Oakland
physician who said that the younger Valladon “will not be able to
perform essential job functions” because of his history of seizures.
The letter apparently was part of Scott Valladon’s medical file.

In a separate letter from around the same time, Laden accused
Thompson of being KGO’s source, noting that Thompson had been one of
just two recipients of an e-mail that Laden had sent questioning Scott
Valladon’s fitness to be a police officer. City Hall insiders also
suspected Thompson or Edgerly, or both, had leaked the information in
an attempt to discredit Bob Valladon and the police department because
department officials had accused Edgerly of not only interfering in a
police investigation involving her nephew, but also of possibly tipping
him off about the police bust of a gang of which he allegedly was a
member.

It’s apparent from Scott Valladon’s lawsuit, which he filed on his
own behalf, that he doesn’t know who leaked his medical file. As for
Thompson, she only says that she didn’t do it. But regardless of who is
responsible, the next twelve months promise to be a very messy time
inside City Hall, and another difficult period for Ron Dellums.

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