ALAMEDA — Just before City Council members went into closed session Monday evening to discuss whether to fire her, City Manager Jill Keimach told them she does not regret her actions, which included having secretly recorded a conversation with two of them.
“I was put to the test in Alameda,” Keimach said. “My ethics and good governance would require me to make all those decisions again.”
She was referring to the pressure she said Vice Mayor Malia Vella and Councilman Jim Oddie applied when she was selecting a fire chief. Both wanted her to select a candidate favored by the firefighters’ union, according to Keimach. It was during a council-ordered independent investigation that her role in taping Vella and Oddie was revealed.
Earlier Monday, Keimach’s attorney, Therese Cannata, said in a letter to the city clerk that the city manager wanted the council to discuss her fate during an open meeting instead of behind closed doors.
That request was apparently rejected and not addressed publicly during the meeting by the council or by City Attorney Janet Kern.
Approximately 40 people spoke before the council went into closed session — all but two supported Keimach or called for the release of the investigator’s report and the recording she made using her cell phone.
Cannata called the taping “a red herring.”
“Consider not the fact of the recording, but what is on the recording,” she said.
Michael McDonough, president of the Alameda Chamber of Commerce, said the lack of information about the investigator’s findings or the recording was “a breeding ground for rumor.”
He also said it “has spiraled into a catastrophe that may have long-term consequences for Alameda.”
Jim Sweeney, an Alameda resident since 1972, said Vella and Oddie should recuse themselves from considering Keimach’s allegations and voting on whether she should keep her job.
“Just on the face of it, it’s the right thing to do” said Irene Dieter, another resident.
But Mike Henneberry, a former member of the city’s Planning Board and a leader of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, called the public comments “a dog and pony show.”
Many of those who spoke did not vote for Vella and Oddie, Henneberry said, adding that a decision over whether to fire Keimach would be undermined because she was allowed to speak during the meeting.
The council had not acted on Keimach’s fate by this newspaper’s deadline.
The City Charter puts all hiring decisions for key personnel in the hands of the city manager. Council interference is prohibited and can be grounds for removal from office.
Keimach was placed on paid administrative leave in March after the council received and reviewed an independent report by Michael Jenkins of the California law firm Jenkins & Hogan over her allegations that Vella and and Oddie wrongfully interfered in her selection of the fire chief.
The council’s decision to place Keimach on leave with full salary and benefits was unanimous.
Keimach recorded the approximately hour-long conversation because she felt what Vella and Oddie were doing amounted to extortion, according to Cannata, her attorney. Cannata said the council members told Keimach she could face difficulties in future labor negotiations and that her choice of fire chief could affect how firefighters do their jobs.
Vella and Oddie allegedly wanted Keimach to pick Domenick Weaver, an Alameda fire captain and union leader, as the next chief of the city’s department.
Instead, Keimach went with Edmond Rodriguez, who took over the department’s top slot last November after serving with the Salinas Fire Department.
Vella denied Keimach’s allegations in an email to this news organization on Saturday.
“When she raised these concerns in October, the City Council — including myself — voted to retain an independent, outside law firm to investigate Ms. Keimach’s allegations. That firm spent a significant amount of time interviewing witnesses and reviewing evidence in order to objectively determine the truth,” Vella wrote.
Vella said she hopes the full investigative report will be released to the public.
“The actions of Ms. Keimach and her attorneys, and their selective release of information from a report that is not public, is concerning,” Vella said. “I will continue to advocate to my colleagues for the release of the findings because the public has the right to transparency in this and all city matters and I very much look forward to the public release of the investigator’s findings in the coming weeks, if not sooner.”
Vella, Oddie and the other council members did not speak publicly Monday about Keimach’s allegations before going into closed session.
Check back for updates.