Former Oakland Councilmember and City Attorney John Russo is now firmly planted in his office as Alameda’s first non-Interim City Manager in several years. He leaves Oakland after 16 years of service, and as he revealed during our talk, doesn’t miss Oakland’s City Hall, but still lives in Oakland itself.
This is a brief recap of the conversation; a longer blog post will follow.
In this talk, held at his clean, pristine office, in the equally clean, pristine Alameda City Hall, Russo said his first job was to name Mike Noonan Alameda Police Chief. Chief Noonan had the “interim” tag, and Russo, eager to install a stable management team, took that designation off of Noonan’s title.
As to his relationship with the Mayor of Alameda, Marie Gilmore, Russo reports that it’s very good and he hopes the “honeymoon period” does not end. He says he find that, more often than not, they are “on the same page” with respect to how to solve a problem.
His goal was been to try to check off the list of contractual issues that have been “hanging around” for years. For example, he finished negotiations on a lease extension with the Alameda Marina, that had lingered since 2007 – the contract is close to being signed and done.
The firefighters contract ended in 2010 – that was his first major meeting. It was controversial, according to Russo, because, you essentially have some making good benefits that are supported by some taxpayers who have lost their own benefits. That’s putting a complicated issue in simple terms.
Alameda, being a smaller city, doesn’t have the cost problems Oakland has to deal with and has “substantial reserves.” Russo also informs that part of Alameda’s revenue comes from its utility operation.
Regarding Oakland, Russo doesn’t miss what he calls a culture where people are concerned about who’s getting credit, far more than getting things done. He later remarked that as City Attorney, it was “difficult” to have everyone on board with respect to transparency. He says Alameda actually wants to move in that direction.
In all, we spent 95 percent of our time talking about Alameda. For those who may think Russo left because of an idea that his pay would be reduced, that’s not the case, because the City Charter protects him. But, Russo did remark that he thinks the City should pay more for its next City Attorney than what will essentially be the salary of an associate at a major law firm (about $165,000).
In all, the video is 38 minutes long, and our talk was for just a bit longer.
And Oakland At-Large Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan’s interview is ready here: link – blog post to come.