BERKELEY -- A Berkeley rent board commissioner up for re-election in November has collected thousands of dollars even though she missed more than half the meetings she was required to attend over an 18 month period, a Bay Area News Group investigation has revealed.
Rent Stabilization Board Commissioner Nicole Drake, who is an aide to City Councilwoman Linda Maio, has missed 10 of 18 meetings since Dec. 13, 2011, or more than 50 percent.
As election season approaches, some rent board commissioners are renewing charges that Drake has missed so many meetings that she, in essence, has "abandoned" her seat.
Drake, who is running for a second four-year term, argues that the complaints are politically motivated.
"It's coming up now because I'm running for re-election," Drake said, adding, that the criticisms are not really about missed meetings, but "about my support for the grand jury recommendations." In June, the Alameda County Grand Jury issued a report highly critical of the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board. Drake is the lone commissioner to welcome the report.
Rent board Chair Lisa Stephens argues that the concern is about Drake's spotty attendance, which shows her lack of commitment to her duties on the board.
"Job performance is part of what you run on," Stephens said. "I don't know why she wants to run again. It baffles me. She missed so many meetings."
Four years ago Drake was part of the pro-tenant
As documented on the rent board website, Drake missed seven of 11 board meetings between Dec. 13, 2010 and Oct. 17, 2011 and missed three of seven board meetings between Dec. 19, 2011 and June 18. In 2011 she missed nine committee meetings out of 16.
Drake explained that three meetings missed in June and August of 2011 were due to medical reasons and that she missed subcommittee meetings because the board scheduled them during hours she works at City Hall.
"My number one job is legislative aide to (Council member) Linda Maio," Drake said.
Stephens countered that when the board scheduled committee meetings to accommodate Drake's schedule, "She still didn't show."
The board addressed the question last year by rewriting commissioner attendance rules to dock the offending rent commissioner's pay -- they get $500/month plus health benefits -- for all absences beyond two.
"It's a question of public funds," Stephens said. "We were paying someone not to show up."
Pointing out that the board had not dealt in a similar way with a previous board member who skipped multiple meetings, Drake argued that valuable meeting time was spent crafting new rules to target her.
Drake says her detractors are motivated by her public support for the June 2012 grand jury report. "They see me as a threat," she said.
In the report, the grand jury concludes that the rent board "operates without effective oversight and accountability" and that the board's independence from the city "contributes to excesses in its registration fees, in compensation for the director and members of the board...."
In a preliminary response posted on the rent board website, Stephens and board administrators wrote that the report "ignored significant evidence substantiating the effective enforcement and reasonableness of the administration of Berkeley's rent and eviction laws, choosing to mask a disagreement about what type of rent control law Berkeley should have under the guise of criticism of administrative issues."
A formal response to the report will be issued later this month, Stephens said.