Oakland Mayor May Have Violated Charter on 'State of the City' Address


Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf appears to have violated the charter of the City of Oakland by failing to give a mandatory "state of the City" address before City Council in the first Council meeting of October, which would have been Tuesday, October 1. 

The apparent failure was first noticed by members of the public. Gene Hazard and Asata Odibala brought the failure to the attention of the Council President during public comment at the October 15 City Council meeting. Odibala stated at that meeting that she'd contacted the Mayor's Office and she was told that there was no current date for the address. 

Schaaf's address was scheduled to a November 5 meeting, subsequently. At that meeting, Schaaf characterized her comments not as a state of the city address, but as an invitation to an offsite "state of the city" event to be held in February 2020. Schaaf noted that the public would have the opportunity to reserve a limited number of entry-passes through Eventbrite, and that some members of the public would be specifically invited. City Council members did not object to Schaaf's actions at the meeting.

Later that week, however, at a Rules Committee meeting, Council President Rebecca Kaplan asked City Attorney's Office staff to weigh in on the matter of holding the state of the city address off site at a private venue with attendance limits. The City Attorney claimed they were not able to opine at the Rules Committee meeting, but did commit to investigating the issue further. 

The language in the City Charter states that the Mayor:

"...shall, at the first meeting of the City Council in October, appear before the Council to deliver a general address on the State of the City, and recommend the adoption of such measures as he/she may deem expedient and proper." 

According to California law, and throughout its usage in the charter, "shall" is considered a mandatory directive--voluntary actions are represented by "may". The Charter appears to have no language that allows the Mayor to overlook the state of the city mandate, to hold it offsite in a non-public venue, or to hold the address on another date. 

When questions about the Charter were brought up by Kaplan at the behest of members of the public at the November 5 meeting, Schaaf agreed that her actions seemed contrary to what is stated in the Charter. Schaaf then called the February event "an opportunity to open up the information and the celebration in a different venue that feels more positive than this chamber often feels."

This is the first time since assuming office that Schaaf has failed to appear at the charter-mandated Council meeting in October to deliver an address. Generally, she has delivered what has been termed a "digest" of an address she plans to deliver at a private venue at a later date. In 2018, shortly before the election, Schaaf gave what she characterized as her full address at the City Council meeting in October. In 2015, 2016 and 2017, Schaaf held the state of the city event in late October or early November. This is the first address that has been scheduled more than a few weeks from the original date of the Charter-mandated address. 

It's not clear what legal rubric governs Schaaf's public address. California's Brown Act has noticing, attendance and recording requirements for public city meetings like the one that Schaaf was supposed to deliver her state of the city address at. Public meetings of the Council by California law must be noticed in advance with a static agenda. Such meetings must be recorded. City Council and other meetings are usually recorded and broadcast live by KTOP, the city's public affairs station. The public has an absolute right to participate and comment at such meetings, both in a public comment section, and on every item. In a public meeting, while the Council may limit the amount of time an individual speaks, they must allow every individual who wishes to speak and submits a speaker card for the item speak, regardless of the total number of individuals.  

In response to questions about Schaaf's failure to give a state of the city address in the charter-mandated way, Justin Berton, Schaaf's Communication Director told me that Schaaf was "fully aware of all of her duties under the charter" although he clarified that he wasn't implying Schaaf deliberately violated the Charter. Berton could not say why the Mayor failed this year to appear before Council at the first meeting in October. Berton added that the February address would not be broadcast on KTOP, but on "social media" platforms and the City's website. 




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