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December 8, 2014

Oakland City Council to Vote Tuesday on Comprehensive Ethics Reform Law

Government Ethics Act will empower the Public Ethics Commission and strengthen ethical standards for Oakland public employees

Oakland, CA – On Tuesday, December 9, the Oakland City Council will vote on a comprehensive ethics reform ordinance sponsored by City Councilmember Dan Kalb and City Attorney Barbara J. Parker.

The Government Ethics Act will provide a clear and comprehensive framework of laws to ensure that Oakland government operates with integrity, that appointed and elected officials make decisions in the best interests of the people of Oakland and that the laws are effectively and fairly enforced.

Among other things, the Act establishes rules regarding gifts to public officials that are stricter than state law, restricts former City employees’ ability to lobby on behalf of or accept employment with potential City contractors (so-called "revolving door" employment) and bans City contracts with high-level City officials.

The Act also incorporates existing state and local laws, including restrictions on nepotism and a prohibition on interference in administrative affairs by City Councilmembers.

“The Government Ethics Act will further empower the City’s Public Ethics Commission to enforce both state and local ethics laws, and provide clear penalties for violations,” Councilmember Kalb said. “This ordinance is part of my effort to strengthen the public’s trust and confidence in City Hall.”

The Act is a companion to Measure CC, the ballot measure that amended the City Charter to increase the authority, independence and staff resources of Oakland’s Public Ethics Commission. The measure passed last month with 74% of the vote.

“Oakland residents overwhelmingly voted for higher ethical standards and real teeth to enforce  laws against corruption, conflicts of interest and other ethical violations,” City Attorney Parker said. “This ordinance allows us to fulfill our mission of ensuring fairness, openness, honesty and integrity in our City government.”

Oakland’s Public Ethics Commission was formed in 1996. Since that time, the commission has had minimal staffing. Currently, the PEC has only two staff members, and a limited authority to investigate potential ethics violations.

Both Councilmember Kalb and City Attorney Parker have introduced initiatives to ensure that integrity, transparency and honesty in City government are top priorities. In early 2013, Councilmember Kalb convened a working group of local experts on ethics and good government with the purpose of researching best practices and identifying needed reforms. Proposals developed by the group included the charter amendment passed last month.

The Act is the result of months of research, drafting and collaboration by the Public Ethics Commission, Councilmember Kalb’s Office and the City Attorney’s Office. The City Council voted unanimously to adopt the Act on November 18. Before the Act becomes law, the Council must vote on a “second reading” of the legislation on December 9.

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