A group of Alamedans upset with the handling of former City Manager Jill Keimach’s dismissal are in the early stages of mounting a petition effort to recall Councilmember Malia Vella. Proponents of the recall served Vella with a notice of intent during Tuesday night’s council meeting. Grounds for the recall and her removal from office, according to the notice of intent, are simply the “Improper handling of the City Manager Jill Keimach matter.”
Last month, the Alameda City Council released Keimach from her duties as city manager after learning that she secretly recorded a conversation with Vella and Councilmember Jim Oddie — but not before approving a compensation package for Keimach worth more than $900,000. In March, the council had voted unanimously to place Keimach on paid administrative leave, but the public was unaware of the recording incident at the time. In April, the council voted to refer the recording incident to the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office. What preceded Keimach’s termination, however, had already roiled Alameda politics for months.
Last October, Keimach accused some councilmembers — who turned out to be Vella and Oddie — of violating a provision in the city charter that forbids elected city officials from interfering with the city manager’s duties. Specifically, Keimach charged the councilmembers with threatening her employment if she did not hire for the open position of fire chief a candidate who was backed by the Alameda firefighters’ union. An independent investigator, however, later found no evidence that Vella committed any wrongdoing, but found that Oddie violated the interference provision by sending a letter of recommendation for the union-backed candidate to Keimach using city letterhead. The investigator also recommended the city council amend the specific provision in the city charter for clarity.
[Read related: “Investigation Concludes That Alameda Council Member Jim Oddie Violated City Charter“]
Despite the investigative report’s findings, some in the community — particularly the Alameda Citizens Task Force — have questioned some of its conclusions regarding Vella and Oddie’s role in the controversy. In a rebuttal to the report sent by the Alameda Citizens Task Force to city officials last month, the group conceded that Vella did not violate the city charter, but said the issue cannot be fully resolved without a public release of Keimach’s recording of Vella and Oddie. Members of this group have routinely chanted “Release the tape” at recent council meetings. And they’ve cited passages in the investigative report that highlight longstanding criticisms of the power of the Alameda firefighters’ union over City Hall.
Proponents of the recall effort did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
On Wednesday, Vella tweeted about the existence of the intent to recall, along with a statement. “I was hopeful that when an independent investigator found that none of [Keimach’s] allegations against me had any basis in fact that all of us could move past this distraction and allow me to serve the people of Alameda,” said Vella. “This does not seem to be the case. A very few people in this community continue to favor Ms. Keimach and believe her dismissal and her more than $900,000 settlement with the City was somehow unfair.” Vella also notes that she voted against the Keimach settlement.
The recall effort against Vella is still in its early stages, and a similar recall effort against Oddie was recently flubbed by the same group of proponents. Following service of the intent to recall, its backers have seven days to deliver the intent and an affidavit of service to the city clerk’s office. This kickstarts a somewhat onerous process of getting the recall question on the November ballot.
Oddie was served during the June 5 council meeting, but the attempt by proponents to file the paperwork with the city clerk came two days late. Further complicating their effort is a provision in the election code that prohibits a recall within six months of the end of an elected official’s term. Oddie is up for reelection in November and his term is due to end on Dec. 18, meaning the last possible date to begin the recall process was June 18, said Alameda City Clerk Lara Weisiger.
Provided at least 20 of the 33 signatures included on Vella’s notice of intent are deemed valid by the city clerk, Vella will have 10 days to offer a response to the recall petition, Weisiger added. Next, proponents are required to publish the notice of recall, and the format of the resulting petition must be approved by Weisiger. The latter step can sometimes be time-consuming, Weisiger noted, with slight changes — for example, an incorrect font size — setting back the approval process up to 10 days for each request for modifications.
Once the city clerk approves the notice of intent, the hard part for proponents begins. In order to place the recall on the November ballot, proponents will need to collect 9,421 valid signatures — or 20 percent of Alameda’s 47,105 registered voters — over a 120-day period this summer.
Recall efforts in the East Bay rarely qualify for the ballot and more often than not amount to high-profile efforts to embarrass local elected officials. In 2012, an effort to recall then-Alameda Councilmember Rob Bonta ultimately fizzled, failing to qualify for the ballot. The intent to recall Bonta, like the one to recall Vella, was also partially about his support for the Alameda firefighters’ union. At the time, Bonta alleged the effort was intended to undermine his campaign for the State Assembly, which he won later that year.