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Stage Set For Fight Over Disaster Council Leadership

Re-enacting a disaster council ordinance may be setting up another fight at Alameda city hall. (File photo)

Re-enacting a disaster council ordinance may be setting up another fight at Alameda city hall. (File photo)

Fixing a mistake made under then-Mayor Marie Gilmore’s administration, regarding the City of Alameda disaster council, may be setting the stage for a fight at City Hall.

Between two city council meetings on March 15th, 2011 and April 6th, 2011, Alameda city council voted to revise the composition of various boards and commissions.

One of the victims to fall in the name of efficiency was the disaster council. According to meeting minutes, “the senior management analyst stated disaster council functions have been replaced by the [Emergency Operations Plan.]”

The problem is, the senior management analyst – the meeting minutes don’t name them – was wrong. The city still needs a disaster council ordinance by state law.

On Tuesday, city council will hear an item from staff that introduces a disaster council ordinance anew.

And this is where the potential for a fight comes in.

The proposed ordinance names the city manager as the chair of the council. Indeed, the agenda item as introduced to council is signed by current city manager Jill Keimach.

Historically, the council has been chaired by the mayor.

In Keimach’s report to council, she wrote, “the chain of command for emergency operations procedures and the functional responsibilities of the City’s departments during such an emergency generally include: The Fire Department, Police Department, and Public Works Department act as the ‘joint Command’ for the EOC and are responsible for Direct Intervention in the event of a large-scale emergency – during a disaster they are on the ‘front lines’ to maintain public safety and provide infrastructure repair.”

The mayor, Keimach writes, has important duties during an emergency such as communicating with residents and presiding over potential emergency city council meetings.

However, the Alameda Fire Department’s new Emergency Operations Center on Grand Street would be an activity hub in the event of an emergency.

Consequently, the groundwork has been laid for a proxy battle between Mayor Trish Spencer and Alameda firefighters, through city manager Jill Keimach.

The firefighters union backed Marie Gilmore for a second term as mayor in 2014, only to see Spencer win the seat. Since then, the union has taken every opportunity it’s had to come out swinging against the new mayor.

For her part, Spencer points to a 1951 ordinance, number 1029, that declares the mayor chair of the “civil defense and disaster council” and city manager vice-chair. That ordinance is included in the meeting packet.

Spencer also submitted for the record a sample disaster council ordinance that includes language naming either the city manager, chief administrative officer, or mayor, director of emergency services.

The mayor told Action Alameda News, “neither the city manager, chief of police or chief of the fire department live in Alameda.”

By definition, the mayor and councilmembers must reside within city limits.

Keimach’s ordinance further provides for the city manager – Keimach, currently – to name an assistant director of emergency services and an emergency manager, who would serve as vice-chair and assistant vice-chair of the council, respectively.

Compounding the politics, Spencer was not supportive of Keimach’s hiring earlier this year, saying, “We are a real, mid-sized city, and active city, not a small city. 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.”

Keimach was previously town manager for Moraga, which has a population of less than 20,000 people.

If sparks fly on Tuesday night over item 6-J, the disaster council ordinance, Alameda residents may find their thoughts turning to the famous movie line from “Dr. Strangelove” – “…you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room!”

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