By Ken A. Epstein
If you read the city auditor’s new report like it’s the gospel truth, then Courtney Ruby’s 64-page “performance review” cites damning evidence against two members of the Oakland City Council who are accused of interfering with staff in awarding a multi-million dollar contract for part of the city’s Oakland Army Base development project.
But to a critical reader who expects an audit to back up its claims with evidence, the allegations against City Councilmembers Desley Brooks and Larry Reid quickly begin to fall apart.
According to Ruby, Reid and Brooks in 2011 interfered with city staff, attempting to steer a contact worth at least $2 million to Turner Group Construction, a local minority –owned construction company.
But the facts do not line up with Ruby’s account. The contract ultimately went out to bid, and the City Council, including Brooks and Reid, voted 7-0 (with Jane Brunner abstaining), June 19, 2012 to give the contract to the lowest bidder, Downrite Construction.
Strange behavior for public officials who were allegedly directing business to Turner Construction. Their vote does not square with Ruby’s statement: “Both the councilmembers involvement and interference in the contracting process appears to inappropriately favor Turner.”
Ruby’s Army Base allegations are a key part of her “Non-Interference in Administrative Affairs Performance Audit” for 2009 through mid-2012, released March 21, and widely reported uncritically in the media.
The audit never claims the two councilmembers stood to gain financially from the alleged behavior or tries to explain the reasons for the councilmembers’ actions.
If one looks to the audit for reasons, they will not be found. Ruby did not ask Brooks and Reid for interviews until after the audit was completed. Nor did the auditor’s office talk to a representative of Turner Construction, which has earned a record in the city as a responsible builder that seeks to hire and train the formerly incarcerated.
Unlike most audit reports, Ruby’s findings lack evidence. Of course, she cannot identify whistleblowers, but she does not quote or paraphrase any of those she interviewed.
Her report says she reviewed telephone records and “all the councilmembers’ and all council aides´ email accounts for evidence of interference,” including “tens of thousands of emails.”
None of this evidence was quoted or cited in the report.
The report said “27 hotline tips were received” and the auditors’ staff talked to “more than 40 individuals, which included interviewing specific employees in areas likely to have instances of interference.”
This sounds like a lot, but these numbers are connected to multiple allegations spread over three years. . How many tips did the auditor receive, and how many people did she talk to specifically about the Army Base contract? She does not say.
Just as important as the councilmembers’ unexplained vote to the lowest bidder and lack of documented evidence, the auditor fails to go back to the beginning of the council discussion in 2009
It’s hard to understand a story when you come in at the middle.
Ruby starts her timeline on May 20, 2011 and concludes it with the City Council vote on June 19, 2012.
But she leaves out the most important part of what happened, which goes back to Au