By Steven Tavares.
In the end the unions got their man. Following an hour-long deliberation, highlighted by some contention, including questions about the applicant’s integrity, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors appointed Henry Levy as treasurer-tax collector, replacing the retired Donald White.
Levy, a long-time East Bay certified public accountant, received backing from Alameda County Supervisors Richard Valle, Nate Miley and Wilma Chan—arguably the board’s three most union-friendly officials. But the appointment was not unanimous. Supervisor Keith Carson voted no and Supervisor Scott Haggerty abstained after supporting the runner-up for the position, former Fremont Mayor Bill Harrison.
Levy will serve the remaining two years of White’s term and be up for election in June 2018. During candidate interviews last week, Levy said he would run for the office, if appointed. Levy will be officially sworn-in within the next 20 days, said Alameda County Administrator Susan Muranishi.
In many ways, Tuesday morning’s decision was heavily influenced by union labor interests. It’s no surprise since Valle and Miley declined to begin deliberations following last Tuesday’s interviews in order to allow the Alameda Labor Council and Service Employees International Union Local 1021 to issue an endorsement. Later that day, both endorsed Levy, a former union shop steward who later started his own accounting firm in the late 1980s.
However, local labor’s support for Levy was not unanimous. The Building and Construction Trades Council of Alameda County backed Harrison, as did some firefighters unions. Gary Jimenez, regional vice president for SEIU Local 1021 said Harrison’s candidacy was unacceptable to the union and its 70 members currently employed in the county treasurer-tax collector’s office. Jimenez criticized Harrison’s role, as Fremont mayor, in a bid by some city employees to decertify the union.
Jimenez said Fremont undermined SEIU Local 1021 during the decertification process. while Harrison did nothing. City officials, Jimenez added, showed solidarity with the breakaway union members, for instance, by sitting with them at a subsequent state Public Employee Relations Board hearing. “We cannot accept someone in public leadership that doesn’t have that level of respect for the law and for us as a labor and things that we do for our workers,” said Jimenez.
The influential Alameda Labor Council Secretary-Treasurer Josie Camacho called Levy “highly-qualified” and with an annual budget eclipsing $2.3 billion, Alameda County needs a treasurer “who will be a great watchdog and monitor the expenditures of our county.”
A third, long shot bid by current Assistant Treasurer-Tax Collector Gregory Lawson also clouded matters after White endorsed his candidacy. White, who had served in the position for 32 years, said, with some distress, that other county elected officials who have retired during non-election years had a hand in naming their successors, including the last three—former Alameda County District Attorney Tom Orloff choosing Nancy O’Malley; Sheriff Charlie Plummer picking Gregory Ahern; and Auditor-Controller Patrick O’Connell backing Steve Manning. “In each case it was the assistant who was successful in replacing them,” said White. “I just would like to be afforded the same opportunity to have some say in who follows me as the treasurer-tax collector.”
White added, nearly every other county treasurer in the state has promoted the former officeholder’s underling. “Your vote today would continue my legacy and my tradition of making sure that a person of color is given the opportunity to have some access to banking and financial services in a financial arena where minorities are well unrepresentative,” said White.
Carson was swayed by White’s recommendation and initially supported Lawson. But after three of the five supervisors voiced support for Levy, Carson changed his vote to Harrison. Carson then questioned Levy’s credibility after alleging he had lied during last week’s interviews about meeting beforehand with supervisors. Carson said Levy’s answer was demonstrably false and labeled the act “disturbing” on five separate occasions. “The issue of integrity and honesty to me is very critical in a position in which you oversee not only the finances and the investments of this county, but also working with a number of people,” said Carson.
There was also no attempt by Levy to reconcile his comments, said Carson. “The honest response should have been, ‘Yes, I did request to meet with somebody and I met with them a couple of weeks ago,’ Carson continued. “Not only did they meet with me, but also with my staff present.” During last week’s interview, Levy suggested meetings he had with four of the five supervisors were less than official.
After the appointment was finalized, Haggerty further added to the cloud of uncertainty over Levy’s appointment when he asked county counsel whether it planned to perform a background check on the new treasurer-tax collector to ascertain whether he has any conflicts of interests.
Alameda County counsel Donna Ziegler said such inquiries are not typically done for elected offices and Levy and the other candidacy needed only to submit documentation beforehand that they satisfied the office’s minimum requirements, that being, for instance, whether they lived in the county and were licensed as a certified public accountant. Haggerty backed Harrison, who served as campaign treasurer for his 2016 re-election.
During deliberations, Miley said all the applicants were qualified for the job. He added, “I don’t think there’s a question about any of the candidate’s integrity,” although the comment came prior to Carson questioning Levy’s honesty. Miley lauded White’s service to the county, but ultimately discounted Lawson’s candidacy because he lacks a CPA’s license. Similar to Haggerty’s connection with one of the applicants, Levy served as Miley’s campaign treasurer last year. In both case, county counsel had previously deemed neither had a conflict in the appointment process.
While referencing a perception that the public is woefully unaware about county government, Chan said many don’t know offices such as treasurer-tax collector are elected positions. “Usually when people are elected to these jobs they stay for a very, very long time and I think there always has to be some accountability to the public, no matter how long someone has served,” said Chan. In supporting Levy, she said lauded his background as a CPA and hoped his office will be consumer-oriented. Chan backed as her second choice the fourth candidate in the race, Dr. Candi Clark, an assistant superintendent for the Castro Valley Unified School District.
Last week, Valle was clear in his intention to back the union’s hand-picked candidate. In choosing Levy, he said, “My heart is with my friends in labor, to be quite honest with you, and that’s where I cut my teeth in my career many, many years ago and my heart will always be with labor.”