Michele Byrd, the now former Housing and Community Development Director, was fired by the City of Oakland on Friday, April 19th 2019. Since the news of that action, there has been a lot of change. Foremost among them is that Maraskeshia Smith, the City of Oakland’s Assistant City Administrator who was hired June 5th of 2018, is essentially taking the place of Byrd, and that’s at the tip of a lot of chaos and poor morale that’s reportedly developed. The rest of the story is below.
(Update: at 9:02 PM EST, a City of Oakland staffer called me to say that the City “reversed” its termination action and offered Ms. Byrd a settlement and a resignation. “That’s much better treatment,” the staffer said. I have continued to reach out to Mayor Schaaf, who has not agreed to go on the record with Zennie62Media as of this writing.)
The initial story (which was broken by Zennie62Media via a twitter tweet on April 22nd and thank to not one, but many calls and texts from City of Oakland staff members) was that The City of Oakland fired Housing and Community Development Director Michele Byrd over a March 29th 2019 television interview she gave to a news organization regarding the Oakland Rent Board and claims that she was not enforcing the city’s laws against illegal evictions.
How Did Michele King Come To Talk To The TV News?
The original news came from an irate City of Oakland staff member who said that “no one in the City saw this coming. The news organization targeted her, even though it wasn’t her fault. They (the City Administration and the Mayor of Oakland) made her take the fall (for their jobs).” The City Of Oakland Staffer I talked to didn’t know why Byrd agreed to talk to the news organization “We all wondered why someone didn’t talk to her about what to say.”
There has been a lot of speculation regarding how Ms. Byrd became the person who was authorized to talk to that television news organization. Two other City of Oakland staffers have said to me that they believe Byrd was set up by the Oakland Mayor’s Office to give that interview.
Another Oakland Staffer texted that “requests were made of admin to interview multiple people but admin apparently decided to only have Byrd be interviewed.”
I have several texts and calls into Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf to confirm that action, but none have been returned.
More News From City Of Oakland Staff
Moving forward, several more city staff members have reached out to this blogger to inform that it was Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and City Administrator Sabrina Landrieth who gave the order to fire Ms. Byrd. Now, the more detailed back story has it that the Mayor and the City Administrator dispatched Ms. Smith to fire Byrd, and head the reorganization of Housing and Community Development.
In all of this, the news that Maryann Leshin is replacing Byrd is not true, but for an interesting reason. First, this space wrote “for about two years, (Leshin) has served in the capacity of Deputy Director of the City Of Oakland Housing and Community Development Department. Blunt-force racial cosmetics: black Byrd is replaced by white Leshin.”
Second, as this blogger was told by one City of Oakland Staffer “That (hiring Leshin) was the idea, but they didn’t want to have a white person replace a black person, so Smith was put in charge.” (If so, then the Mayor Schaaf’s political sensors were spot on: had she taken such an action as replacing a black department head with a white one and for reasons that many believe are baseless, a number of Southern cities would have ran her out of town.)
Additionally, I’ve been informed by an Oakland City Staffer that the new recent hire in Housing and Community Development has, they claimed, hired “their friends” and reportedly, is “mean to employees.” That’s something Mayor Schaaf has to address, because it’s leading to poor working conditions and morale in the department.
In The Byrd Story, The Main Problem Of Oakland Illegal Eviction Enforcement Is Ignored
The sad part of this entire story is that the original issue of why years of illegal landlord evictions have been ignored has been all but forgotten. One City Staffer texted this blogger to explain that the City hired a new person (not yet identified) to handle illegal landlord evictions (and the same person a City Staffer personally identified as “mean”, above). The trouble is, as another Oakland staffer informed me, Michele Byrd told the Oakland City Council, the City of Oakland lacks a true method of enforcing laws against illegal landlord evictions!
So, as another City of Oakland person remarked “Byrd defended Oakland in the media, warned Oakland of enforcement problems, and how does she get rewarded? She’s fired.
It’s one thing for Oakland to have a fine against illegal landlord evictions, but in this blogger’s view, the City of Oakland does not have a true, easily findable, online process to file a complaint, and even though illegal evictions are criminal, there’s no form of punishment that points to the use of Oakland police power.
In other words, an Oakland Police Officer writing a citation and / or jailing a landlord for an illegal eviction would cause the anti-illegal eviction laws to be followed. A tenant can file a complaint with the Oakland Rent Board, but that’s about it; a well-monied tenant can hire a tenant’s rights lawyer, but some of them strike deals with the landlord that isn’t in the tenants favor, just gives them more time to move out of their apartment.
Oakland Mayor Schaaf’s Office Needs To Break Its Silence On This Matter
Another Oakland City Staffer informed this blogger than Oakland Public Information Officer (PIO) Autumn King reportedly told city employees “Don’t talk to Zennie about this. He’s wrong.”
Well, first, I know Autumn King: she and I were introduced to each other via Melissa Russo (the wife of former Oakland City Councilmember and City Attorney John Russo) when she was heading up the media relations effort for the Chabot Science Center six years ago. Moreover, the three of us had brunch at my favorite place for breakfast in Oakland, Lakeshore Cafe at 3257 Lakeshore, in 2013, and around the time they were focused on a number of story initiatives including this one on Asteriod 1998 QE2.
In her position as Oakland PIO, Autumn King has sent several press releases to this blogger on various subjects, so for her to not reach out to me to tell the Mayor’s Office side of the story only hurts the City of Oakland Administration, not Oakland News Now, and because city staff has completely ignored her “order” (as if someone can prevent someone else from exercising their American right of free speech), and talked to me, anyway.
Second, I want to thank Autumn King for mentioning my name and publication in a City of Oakland staff meeting.
Zennie Abraham is the CEO of Zennie62Media