Jim Oddie Balances Public Affiliations

Jim Oddie Balances Public Affiliations


Oddie wears two political hats as a city council member and as a political aide.

City Councilman Jim Oddie also works for the assemblyman whose district serves Alameda. And that’s all good—at least most of the time.

At a weekday event held by Alameda real estate brokers this May, Councilmember Jim Oddie was faced with the existential question of, “Who am I today?” In this case, the query was literal.

In addition to his role as an Alameda freshman councilman, Oddie performs the duties of district director for 18th District Assemblyman Rob Bonta, who represents Alameda, San Leandro and much of Oakland.

On such occasions, Oddie is prepared to switch his public affiliation on the fly by carrying two sets of magnetic-backed nametags: One etched with the seal of the State Assembly and the other with the municipal logo of Alameda. On this cold afternoon soiree at the South Shore Center, Oddie chose the banner of Alameda.

“The important thing is—and the Assembly really insisted on this—is to be careful that the public knows who you’re speaking for, and that’s why I have these little badges,” Oddie said as he pulled the pair from his coat pocket.

Deciding whom to represent at any particular moment was much easier for Oddie before his election last fall to the Alameda City Council. Once he was selected by Bonta to be the district’s liaison dealing with Alameda matters, an extra Bonta staffer has been tasked with representing the Assembly office at public events in Alameda when issues arise at City Hall.

There is nothing necessarily inappropriate about Oddie handling the concerns of Assembly district constituents by day and representing Alamedans on the city council by night. The latter job certainly comes with few financial incentives. While Oddie’s state salary tops $84,000 a year, as a council member he receives only $50 per meeting, which is capped at $100 a month no matter how frequently the council convenes. And because he already receives health benefits from his state job, he spares the city from paying that expense.

“Nobody tries to be on the city council for the money,” Oddie said. “It’s supposed to be a volunteer job. You have two meetings a month that don’t go more than about four hours. At least, that’s the intent,” Oddie said with a laugh because of the recent spate of city council meetings that have clocked in well after midnight and much longer than four hours. Oddie also is a licensed attorney, but said he has not practiced law for a few years.

Although it is rare for a legislative aide like Bonta to concurrently serve as an elected official with an overlapping constituency, it is not unprecedented. In the East Bay, a handful of officials wear two such political hats. Richmond Councilmember Jael Myrick recently worked for former Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, and San Leandro Councilwoman Deborah Cox is currently employed by Hayward Assemblyman Bill Quirk. In the South Bay, freshman Assemblyman Evan Low was employed as district director for local Assemblyman Paul Fong while also serving as mayor of Campbell. In addition, Tim Orozco, the district director for the East Bay’s 10th District State Sen. Bob Wieckowski, is hoping to join the ranks of his fellow overlappers by seeking a seat this spring on the San Jose City Council.

Problems with the arrangement, however, can sometimes arise. The Assembly ethics council strongly recommends that legislative staffers who also hold elected office assume loyalty to their employers and also avoid undermining the Assembly member’s agenda. In the past, the bitter fight between cities and the Legislature over the dissolution of redevelopment agencies became a classic test case for how officials with such divided loyalties could be caught between masters. As mayor of Campbell, the rising political star Low was unable to sign a city resolution opposing the governor’s strategy for ending redevelopment agencies. Although cities strongly opposed the plan, Low’s employer, Fong, supported it.

But Oddie doesn’t believe the issue ever will be a problem for him in Alameda. “It would be hard to imagine an issue when our Assembly member would have a different agenda than Alameda and Oakland or San Leandro,” Oddie said. “But you never know.”