RULE founding member Brian Donahue, brother of Councilmember Scott Donahue and The Emeryville Tattler opinion blog writer apparently took exception to small businesses requesting a non-partisan Minimum Wage Impact Study through an online petition. The riled Donahue proceeded on a systematic confrontation of small, local businesses last week though repeated phone calls and personal appearances. Businesses that were called or personally confronted by him chose to be anonymous for fear of retaliation by him and his union affiliates.
“We received so many phone calls and angry, confrontational voicemails from him, demanding comment on this issue and completely misrepresenting our position already, that there was no point in engaging in discussion” noted one establishment who was also contacted by SEIU spokesperson Shum Preston with similar vitriol. “He also charged into our store during business hours and spent 20 minutes badgering us about whether we were a ‘good business’ or a ‘bad business’. That’s why he received an angry ‘no comment’ in response. Because he was completely out of control and inappropriate, and we had a hunch he would spin our response to fit his own agenda, which is what he’s done now with the ‘no comment’.”
“I won’t go into detail but he was not pleasant” noted another business and described the phone exchange with Mr. Donahue as “QUITE hostile”.
These were two of many reported phone calls that Mr. Donahue made throughout the course of the afternoon trying to get small businesses to relent their support for the petition and claiming that “small business got everything they wanted” at the April Study Session. It should be noted that nowhere in this petition did it state any opposition to the historically unprecedented minimum wage increase, it merely asked for a more thorough and transparent study to disclose its impacts on everyone (The same study that Emeryville Staff initially recommended to Council but Councilmember Asher pushed to remove from the implementation timeline back in January). Accused by some of being a “Bully” through his aggressive and confrontational demeanor, Donahue’s antics may have gone overboard this time.
Dianne Martinez was the only one to acknowledge me when I alerted her to the harassing phone calls and appearances to local business. “I’m sure you know that I have as much control over Brian’s actions as anyone has over yours, which is to say none. I don’t take threats lightly, however, and I encourage you or anyone else who has received a threat to call EPD immediately.” When Mr. Donahue got wind that I intervened (I sent an email to his supportive Councilmembers and RULE Steering committee members asking them to cease this activity), I got this nicely worded email from him:
If this was a way of intimidating the media & small businesses in our community to not question Council’s unpopular measure, it may have backfired.
Council “conflict” called into question
In addition to being a brother of a Councilmember, Brian is close friends with Councilmember Jac Asher and a founding member of the self-described “advocacy” group RULE (Residents United for a Livable Emeryville) who put forth and supported Dianne Martinez and Scott Donahue in the last election. One small business owner expressed concern about this seemingly “open” relationship between Council and Mr. Donahue. Two weeks ago, this business owner made a legal inquiry about actions taken by the City Council via a private email to one Councilmember. The email was forwarded and replied to by City Attorney Michael Biddle and copied to other Councilmembers. Within four hours, the business owner received an aggressive voicemail from Brian Donahue asking for comment and threatening to run with the story publicly. Mr. Donahue subsequently showed up at the business.
“My concern here is not with Donahue’s actions, but with the City Council.” noted the businesses owner who chose to remain anonymous for fear of further harassment and damage to his business reputation. “I was voicing a concern and raising a legal issue. My private email and the response of the City Attorney were communicated to someone in the media within hours. He had detailed knowledge of the City Attorney’s response. How does that happen? When you tack on the tone of Donahue’s blog and his aggressive demeanor, it’s hard not to put two and two together and think that this type of ‘friends and family’ access has a very directed purpose.”
The Emeryville Police Department acknowledged previous encounters with Mr. Donahue: “We’ve had contact with Brian Donahue before and he does know when to stop pressing an issue before he crosses the line and could be arrested. For businesses that feel he is intimidating them or interfering with their business or refusing to leave, I would encourage the owner or manager to call the police. The business owner or manager can place him or anyone under citizen’s arrest and the EPD would accept a lawful arrest. Because it is a misdemeanor, the arrestee would most likely receive a violation 602.1(a) citation.”
Are the “inmates running the asylum”?
Brian’s verbal abuse has not been exclusive to residents and businesses and he’s ridiculed many staff members throughout the years. You can’t help but wonder how this affects staff morale when a majority of council now aligns with the man who has verbally terrorized them throughout the years. For those paying attention, there’s a dysfunction that seems to have gripped City Hall and perhaps a cause of the recent exodus of key members of staff including City Manager Sabrina Landreth & City Attorney Michael Biddle. Internal grumblings are becoming more apparent as Council continues to hammer them with aggressive demands, unreasonable timelines and continually dismissing their professional opinions.
The inability of Council and the political groups that align with these thuggish tactics and inability to deter them are an unfortunate reflection on them. It might be time for them to reconsider their decidedly passive approach and consider the negative attention it brings to them. You also have to wonder out loud how this behavior in fact reflects on us as a city. Perhaps this is the tipping point that is needed to get Emeryville back on a more rational track.
A playlist of Mr. Donahue’s Public Comments can be watched on the EPOA YouTube Channel:
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