OAKLAND -- A potentially divisive proposal to audit City Auditor Courtney Ruby's report accusing two council members of violating the city charter has been shelved, possibly for good.
City Council President Pat Kernighan said she pulled the proposal from Tuesday's agenda because it risked distracting the council from dealing with approving the city's budget and other pressing matters.
Two African-American organizations had blasted Ruby's March audit that accused Council members Desley Brooks and Larry Reid of violating the city's charter's prohibition against telling city staffers what to do.
Brooks and Reid were the only two African-Americans on the council during the period covered by the audit. One of the allegations was that they directed staffers to swing a $2 million construction contract to an Oakland-based African-American-owned construction firm.
Supporters rallied behind both council members during council meetings, and the Oakland chapter of the NAACP drafted a letter calling Ruby's audit "a racist attack and a character assassination." Critics of the audit were expected to address the council Tuesday for what promised to be a lengthy and spirited debate.
NAACP Chapter President George Holland on Wednesday said Ruby still needed to be held accountable for the report. "She can't go unscathed," he said. "It's something that should not have happened, and she should have to answer for it in some way."
Reid had proposed last month to hire an outside auditor to review Ruby's work.
Kernighan said she had Reid's blessing to remove the proposal from Tuesday's agenda. She also removed her own item about the audit's recommendations.
"The council needs to focus on the critical issues at hand," Kernighan said in an email. She didn't know if the proposals would return to the council at a later date.
Reid and Brooks did not return phone calls on Wednesday.
Councilwoman Lynette Gibson McElhaney, who is African-American, said the audit "tapped into some broader racial frustrations" and added that she was "delighted that it's not coming before the council."
With three new council members elected last year all pledging to put an end to persistent council bickering, Gibson McElhaney said the audit debate had changed the tone of the council for the worse.
"We lost a month of focus and energy and team building," she said. "And I don't want us dealing with that when we have to deal with so many other pressing matters."
The audit touched a nerve in part because it found a widespread culture of council members inappropriately bossing around city staffers, yet only collected sufficient evidence to cite Brooks and Reid. Also, significant evidence came in the form of interviews with anonymous staffers that could not be shared publicly.
Ruby did not return phone calls. In a message to supporters Wednesday, she said the audit identified issues that are "critical to moving Oakland forward."
Ruby's audit came amid concerns from top city officials that Brooks had improperly directed staffers in building a recreation center and staffing it with workers paid through her office. The report found multiple violations by Brooks concerning two recreation centers, in addition to the allegation that she and Reid pressed staffers to swing the construction contract to Turner Group Construction.
Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435 or firstname.lastname@example.org