All too often, elected members of city councils and school boards fail to recognize that their jobs are to set policy, not to directly run agencies.

The problem has reached crisis stage in Oakland where some, most notably Councilwoman Desley Brooks, have stepped way over the line. After stinging criticism from the city administrator, city auditor and grand jury about Brooks' meddling, it's time for the council to act.

Council President Pat Kernighan has called for censuring Brooks. The action, to be considered at a special meeting July 25, would be symbolic because there would be no fine or other penalty. But it would send a long-overdue message.

Oakland City Councilwoman Desley Brooks looks on during a council meeting at Oakland City Hall in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013. (Ray
Oakland City Councilwoman Desley Brooks looks on during a council meeting at Oakland City Hall in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013. (Ray Chavez/Staff)

It's time to assure city residents that council members will stop acting on their own to advance their personal agendas, bolster their pet projects or benefit their political backers. It's time to assure city employees that individual council members cannot overrule their professional judgment.

The long-standing "culture of interference," identified in City Auditor Courtney Ruby's investigation, must end. There's a proper chain of command set out in the Oakland city charter that must be followed. Council members may contact staff members to make inquiries. All other communication about running the city must go through the city administrator or mayor.


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Unfortunately, some don't get it. The auditor found that Brooks interfered with the construction of two city recreation centers, that she and Councilman Larry Reid meddled in the contracting for demolition of an Oakland Army Base building, that a Reid aide tried to get a parking ticket fixed, and that Brooks threatened a city employee's work assignment.

This behavior, if proven, would be criminal. But District Attorney Nancy O'Malley says the statute of limitations has passed so she can't act. That's unfortunate.

Some have claimed the auditor's report is racially biased because it singles out Brooks and Reid, who are both African-American. We find that allegation offensive. Playing the race card here is inappropriate. An "everyone else does it" defense claim is unacceptable.

In the case of the teen centers, Brooks micromanaged the projects, even going so far as to directly hire people as city employees to work in one. They started jobs that have direct contact with minors before the legally required fingerprinting, drug testing and background checks had been completed.

Kernighan proposes biannual ethics training for all council members. She calls for censuring Brooks for the teen center debacle. But she stops short of censure for Reid and Brooks for the Army Base because the auditor's report on that relies on reports from city employees whose identities are protected by state whistle-blower laws.

Kernighan's proposals are exactly right. The council should fully embrace them.