By Steven Tavares.
The spate of controversies that followed the Oakland City Council’s decision last August to initially award a $1 billion garbage contract to a local operator with little requisite infrastructure to handle the job has gained the attention of the Alameda County civil grand jury, according to City Hall sources.
The county grand jury process is secretive in nature to protect whistle-blowers, but some members of the City Council and other staffers have already testified before the 19-member grand jury, said sources with knowledge of the proceedings.
At issue are the circumstances surrounding the request-for-proposals (RFP) provided by Waste Management for renewal of its Oakland garbage contract. After the City Council abruptly changed gears and supported the cheaper bid from Oakland-based California Waste Solutions to handle the entire contract, Waste Management sued the city. The council’s decision was also in opposition to its staff’s recommendation.
California Waste Solutions was previously contracted to provide half of Oakland’s recycling services. In Waste Management’s complaint, they charged the city undercut their bid by illegally providing its details to California Waste Solutions.
The lawsuit named virtually the entire Oakland city government, but specifically charged Councilmembers Rebecca Kaplan, Lynette Gibson McElhaney and Dan Kalb with violating their own RFP rules when they called for a new round negotiations over the lucrative waste contract.
Every member of the council voted in favor of California Waste Solutions, except Councilmember Desley Brooks, who abstained, and Councilmember Larry Reid, who was absent. Reid, in fact, has strong ties to California Waste Solutions’ CEO David Duong and is godfather to one of his sons.
The city later agreed to split the contract between the two companies, thereby, ending the conflict.
But, exactly who gave California Waste Solutions access to the competing bid may be part of what the grand jury is investigating, says a source. At minimum, reviewing Oakland’s procedures in the RFP process is well within the grand jury’s overall mission to act as a watchdog of local government.
The Oakland City Council has been the subject of several harsh findings by the grand jury in recent years that have reverberating across the city’s politics. The significantback-log of forensic investigations at the Oakland Police Department’s crime lab was highlighted by the grand jury in 2012.
The next year, it slammed Oakland officials for an inability to “self-police” itself, specifically over alleged violations of the City Charter’s non-interference laws by Brooks and Reid. In the same report, the grand jury called for strengthening the Oakland Ethics Commission’s power to levy fines.
Oakland also failed to provide proper oversight of numerous fiscal issues such as its failure to recover $1.4 million in fire inspection fees, according to last year’s report, along with the Oakland Unified School’s inability to perform timely and accurate audits of its books
The Alameda County grand jury’s annual report is typically released in late June.
While referencing the rash of negative press following Council President Lynette Gibson McElhaney and the entire council, a City Hall source added, “This is going to minor as compared to what’s ahead of us.”