Alameda’s City Manager Refused to Hire “Handpicked” Union Head for Fire Chief. Now She Could Lose Her Job.

When it came time for Alameda City Manager Jill Keimach to select a new leader for the city’s fire department, two members of the city council made their preferences crystal clear. Malia Vella and Jim Oddie wanted Keimach to choose Domenick Weaver, a fire captain and 17-year labor union veteran who had previously served as president of the Alameda Firefighters Association for the job.

Their fondness for Domenick should come as no surprise. Alameda is a progressive city of heavy labor influence, and Vella and Oddie were both elected with union support. Under the city charter, the appointment of fire chief is the responsibility of the city manager, however. Interference by city council members is prohibited and grounds for removal from office.

But that didn’t stop Vella and Oddie. According to Keimach, the two began an “unrelenting” campaign of political pressure to get her to hire Domenick, a candidate “handpicked by the local (firefighters) union.” Keimach says she was “asked to cast aside the requirement of a fair and transparent process and give no consideration to other candidates who present superior qualifications and experience.”

It didn’t work. The city manager resisted the pressure to hire Domenick, instead conducting a rigorous search and recruitment drive. The top applicant, Salinas Fire Chief Edmond Rodriguez -- a far more experienced and credentialed individual -- was ultimately hired.

Oddie and Vella allegedly responded by threatening Keimach’s job.

“[Oddie] said ‘well she better do the right thing,’” said Police Chief Paul Rolleri, recalling a disturbing conversation he had with the councilman. “‘There are already two council members who are ready to fire her if she doesn’t.’” At that point, the police chief realized “they’re actually thinking about canning her if she doesn’t pick the right guy.”

The intimidation tactics became even more egregious, according to Keimach.

Separately, Oddie and Vella, in a private meeting with the city manager, suggested, as Keimach recounted in her letter, that “the selection of their candidate would be in the interest of labor peace and would avoid an incident similar to the one involving Raymond Zack.”

Zack was a 52-year-old suicidal man who stood neck deep in water off the city shoreline in 2011 as police and firefighters stayed on land for nearly an hour and watched him eventually drown.

Raising the Zack incident, which pre-dated Keimach’s tenure, was a “thinly veiled threat (that) insults the very notion of good government,” the city manager wrote.

The question now is whether the council members will follow through on their alleged threats. A performance evaluation for the city manager is scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 17. City Attorney Janet Kern recommended it be postponed pending an investigation into Keimach’s allegations, which will be conducted by an outside law firm, but the council declined. All eyes are now on Tuesday’s meeting.


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