Judge orders Oakland City Council president to submit documents in ethics probe

Lynette Gibson McElhaney
Lynette Gibson McElhaney

OAKLAND (BCN) — A judge issued a filing ruling Monday granting the Oakland Public Ethics Commission’s petition to compel Oakland City Council president Lynette Gibson McElhaney to turn over public records in an inquiry into whether she used her office for personal gain.

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Kimberly Colwell had issued a temporary ruling on the matter on Thursday and the ruling automatically became final Monday after Gibson McElhaney didn’t file any opposition to the commission’s position or show up in court.

Colwell’s ruling requires Gibson McElhaney to comply with the commission’s subpoena for her correspondence about her opposition to a townhouse project next to her home on 32nd Street in West Oakland by Nov. 23.

The Public Ethics Commission filed suit on Oct. 5 against Gibson McElhaney, who seeks re-election on Tuesday, alleging that she has repeatedly broken promises to turn over records for its investigation into whether she thwarted the development by influencing the city planning commission’s vote on the property.

Gibson McElhaney, who is completing her first term on the City Council, hasn’t responded to multiple phone calls seeking comment on the matter.

Public Ethics Commission chief investigator Milad Dalju wrote in a sworn declaration that the commission began asking Gibson McElhaney for her office records on July 22 but she has failed to comply.

Dalju said he initially gave Gibson McElhaney an Aug. 10 deadline to comply but agreed to extend the deadline to Aug. 25 after she said she never received the commission’s original email.

Dalju said Gibson McElhaney sent an email to the commission on Sept. 1 promising to comply with its subpoena by the next day but she never did so and still hasn’t complied.

Gibson McElhaney, whose District 3 seat includes West Oakland, Adams Point and downtown Oakland, is being challenged by community activist Noni Sessions.

The Alameda County Civil Grand Jury said in its annual report in June that Gibson McElhaney violated government ethics and conflict of interest rules by using her council office’s resources to prevent the
townhouse development.

The grand jury said Gibson McElhaney was wrong to contact Rachel Flynn, Oakland’s director of planning and building, to voice her objections to the project, saying she “privately contacted city senior staff, attempting to improperly influence decisions, which subverted the public process.”

The panel said Flynn’s attempt to “pacify” Gibson McElhaney “gave the appearance that she was collaborating with the councilmember to obstruct the property owner.”

The grand jury concluded that Gibson McElhaney “had a conflict of interest with the townhouse project and interfered with the project’s approval process.”

The panel also found that Gibson McElhaney used city resources to fight the housing project by directing her chief of staff, Zachary Ward, to write her appeal against the development.

“The councilmember’s use of her city staff on the townhouse project was a misuse of city resources for her personal benefit,” the grand jury said.

In addition, the grand jury criticized the Public Ethics Commission for not investigating Gibson McElhaney and enforcing Oakland’s applicable laws and criticized the City Council for failing to censure Gibson

The Public Ethics Commission will hear a brief report on the Gibson McElhaney investigation at its meeting at City Hall at 6:30 p.m. Monday but won’t discuss the matter in depth, a staff member said.

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