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Mayor Explains “No” Vote on City Manager Hire

On Tuesday, Alameda City Council voted 4-1 to hire Moraga Town Manager Jill Keimach as City Manager for Alameda. (Town of Moraga website.)

On Tuesday, Alameda City Council voted 4-1 to hire Moraga Town Manager Jill Keimach as City Manager for Alameda. (Town of Moraga website.)

Yesterday evening, from Washington, D.C., where she’s traveling, Alameda Mayor Trish Spencer explained her lone “no” vote on the hiring of Moraga Town Manager Jill Keimach as City Manager for Alameda.

Earlier this month, the City of Alameda announced Keimach as the preferred candidate for the City Manager slot, which was vacated early last year by John Russo, and filled on an interim basis by Elizabeth Warmerdam.

But Spencer voted against her hiring on Tuesday night, setting local tongues wagging over what was expected to be a routine, unanimous vote.

By telephone, Spencer ticked of a laundry list of issues specific to Alameda, a town roughly four times the size of land-locked Moraga.

“We are a full-service city,” Spencer explained. “We have our own fire and police department. We are more racially and economically diverse than Moraga. Moraga is much more suburban. We are working on the rent control issue, and breaking new ground in this area. We are routinely exposed to complex litigation.”

(Moraga has it’s own police department, but fire protection is provided by the Moraga Orinda Fire District, which is governed by a separate board of directors. In Alameda, the local firefighters union has dominated council politics in recent years.)

Spencer verbally bulleted a number of standout issues in Alameda that she says warrant a more experienced leader, perhaps one who previously held an Assistant City Manager position:

  • MARAD leases for the ready-reserve fleet
  • Estuary development – Encinal Terminals and Alameda Marina
  • Relationship with Coast Guard Island
  • Issues with Oakland Airport noise (Spencer: “We had six public speakers on a recent item about changes at Oakland Airport that would involve using a new runway.”)
  • Commuter ferry operations
  • Alameda Municipal Power, the City of Alameda-owned utility
  • Residents very active in their community and government

“We are a real, mid-sized city, and active city, not a small city,” Spencer said. “This is not a good time for Alameda to be a training ground for a city manager. We need a city manager who’s ready to go. It’s a great opportunity for her. The other side of that is that it’s a risk for our city. I think she has potential, I don’t think Alameda has time. We need a city manager to lead now. It’s not easy.”

Spencer’s rejection must certainly have stung Keimach, who, while most recently worked as the Town Manager for Moraga, put in six years as the community development director for the city of Fremont, which boasts a population of over 200,000. There, she was on the negotiating team that worked to move the Oakland Athletics major-league baseball team to Fremont, and worked on implementing development regulations regarding Fremont’s ridgeline.

Reached by e-mail, Keimach told Action Alameda News, “every councilmember voted for what they believe is best for Alameda and I respect all of their views. I continue to be honored to be selected by the council to be Alameda’s next City Manager.”

Judging from her (Spencer’s) mood and tone on the telephone, Keimach’s work on the Oakland A’s move probably bolster’s Spencer’s negative opinion; the proposal to move the A’s to Fremont was announced in 2006, and ultimately shelved in 2009, and the A’s still play in Oakland. In February, 2009, local sports columnist Ray Ratto announced, “A’s nonsensical Fremont stadium plan is dead.”

Spencer contrasted Keimach with Russo, saying, “he came from Oakland, a larger city. It was his first time being a city manager, but he worked in several capacities in Oakland, as the City Attorney, as a councilmember, on the finance committee. That’s not the skills set that Keimach brings. Our city manager works hard preparing agendas and the supporting documentation, and interacting with all the departments, running the city.”

The problem with Keimach’s candidacy may have started with the recruitment process from the outset, which Spencer says she didn’t support, and didn’t work well.

Given that Keimach’s appointment was fait accompli based on the expected votes of the other four councilmembers, why didn’t Spencer go ahead and vote “yes” anyway, in the name of council consensus?

“I believe people expect me to vote what I believe in. If I don’t believe in something, I don’t put my name on it,” Spencer said.

Nonetheless, Spencer said, “I will be supporting her to the best of my ability.

Keimach is expected to start in early March.

2 comments to Mayor Explains “No” Vote on City Manager Hire

  • Bill2

    Good article. Thanks for the coverage. I now have both sides of the story and it helps.

  • carol

    Spencer is attending the annual US Conference of Mayors: http://usmayors.org/84thWinterMeeting/PreRegisteredMayorsPhotos.asp
    where she is probably able to discuss city manager concerns with the mayors of similarly sized cities around the USA.

    I couldn’t find anything about this national mayors conference on the City of Alameda website. I wonder why this trip isn’t “City Hall News” ?

    Once again, it is clear Mayor Spencer put a lot of thought into her vote. Thanks for the interview, AAN!

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