The Oakland City Auditor Courtney Ruby has presided over the preparation of a report entitled “Non‐Interference in Administrative Affairs, Performance Audit, FY 2009‐10 – FY 2011‐12,” that is plainly a racist abuse of power. It says, on page 21, that the City Of Oakland has a “culture of interference” that involves “multiple councilmembers” yet only points an accusatory finger at the two veteran black elected officials, Larry Reid (District 7) and Desley Brooks (District 6).
UPDATE: Auditor’s Report Bombshell
Yet, the report reads:
There is a general culture of interference within the City. The audit found that the culture of interference appears to be felt across many City departments and is perceived to come from multiple Councilmembers.
If that’ the case, then all of the councilmembers and the specific cases should have been documented in the report. But the fact is that Ms. Ruby’s selection of both Councilmember’s Reid and Brooks, was her’s alone – it did not come as the result of a directive either by the Oakland City Council or any law enforcement agency. Ms. Ruby has said to me on camera that she watches council meetings, and makes the determination of what to look into based on her own judgement.
She said it here starting at the 15 minute mark when we talked about the ABC Security issue in 2011:
This blogger does not mean this personally toward the City Auditor – Ms. Ruby, who was given an open amount of video time to tell her story for Zennie62 when she first took office and did so, moreover I personally admire her, even as I disagree with her methods – but from the perspective of conducting the policy and political business of the City of Oakland, there’s no other way to evaluate the “interference” document. Thus, I write this, not with glee, but with tears in my eyes.
The “Culture Of Interference” Is Part Of City Council Accountability To The Public
What makes Ruby’s report so hard to defend and to justify, and that gives it the tinge of racism, is this one sentence that has appeared on many, if not hundreds of Oakland staff reports to the Oakland City Council as well as media accounts: “Oakland City Council directed staff at the (pick the meeting date)”
Let’s look at some examples in brief:
1) City Of Oakland Energy and Climate Action Plan:
“On July 7, 2009, Oakland City Council directed staff to develop the draft ECAP…”
2) City can negotiate on new police center:
“The Oakland City Council directed staff officials…”
And there are many, many more.
Additionally, there are documents, also many of them, where City Staff asks the Oakland City Council to approve a resolution. One example is the March 8th, 2011 Agenda Report By The Redevelopment Agency Of The City Of Oakland calling for the Agency, which is also the Oakland City Council, to give the City Administrator a directive to apply for a grant, and then to accept the grant once it’s received.
Note the City Staff wrote the resolution.
There are so many examples of that, they could fill a book. In fact, technically, they do. The Oakland City Clerk’s Office has binders full of, well, agendas and staff reports.
That sets what the Oakland City Auditor describes as “the culture of interference,” because the council member that’s on the committee that approves the resolution, then votes for it when it reaches the full council, has the right to then check on the progress of the item. This is done many times each day informally, and how I know this is from my own time as Economic Adviser to Elihu Harris when he was the Mayor of Oakland, and we quite literally suffered under what was called a Council-Manager form of government, but we referred to it as “Weak Mayor” because the Mayor had one vote, and no power to fire anyone.
Still, Mayor Harris was the undisputed Mayor of Oakland, and he was not shy about using his title to get things done. There are countless examples of Mayor Harris in action, most notably after the 1991 Oakland Hills Fire (which was before the time I worked for him), when he worked with then-City Manager directed what, to this day, I hold out as the best example of what the City of Oakland’s capable of doing under extreme pressure. Those citizen, many friends of mine and people who watched their homes burn to the ground, needed to know their city was their to help them. It was.
All of the thoughts, hopes, fears, and criticisms of a city fell on the weight of the shoulders of one man: Elihu Harris. No staff member complained if he made a call to request help. No one cried out “Your violating the City Charter.” Nothing.
And everyone got the help they needed: emergency response centers, which came about working with FEMA – New zoning laws and other changes, all came about via the public pressuring elected officials, and those politicians carrying those needs and desires to Oakland City Staff. If that’s the “culture of interference” Courtney’s pointing to, and it is, I’ll take it.
Ruby writes of tales of Oakland Councilmembers and aides threatening and bullying city staff members. But, as one who’s used various methods to try and get city staff to move forward on development projects, I’ve found that only a weak and neurotic staffer takes even the simplest request as a threat. I have personally disdained such employees of the City of Oakland, and believed that the city would be better served without them.
It was that belief that, as well as the observation that a friend of mine, an Oaklander, could do the job of redeveloping The Rotunda, after the City Of Oakland spent $7 million on studies, and gave out millions to outside developers, who then did nothing.
Except waste the Oakland taxpayer’s money.
The same Oakland City staff that Ruby’s trying to keep from feeling the heat failed to return a single phone call made by Phil Tagami to get the ball rolling on The Rotunda – and he called 96 times. It took the intervention of Mayor Harris, and a public display by this blogger at the 1997 morning meeting of the Community And Economic Development Committee that was designed to make a point that we wasted money on studies to get the ball rolling.
I’m passionate for Oakland and have little patience with those who aren’t. I’m sure that my words represents anyone who runs for elected office in Oakland, win or lose.
The Nature Of Being On The City Council Is To Intervene
When Sean Sullivan ran for the Oakland City Council District Three seat that my great current Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney won, his platform was “job creation,” “public safety,” and “essential neighborhood services.” On his website, Sullivan wrote “What I’ve heard in every neighborhood are issues of safety, potholes, lighting, maintaining parks, protecting library hours and programs, and putting the needs of residents first.” He could not do that without talking with city staff.
When his challenger, Councilmember McElhaney established her campaign she wrote that she wanted this for Oakland: “We deserve a city government that is accessible and responsive. We must fight for transparency, customer service and accountability.” You can’t do that without applying some pressure to Oakland City Staff to act and get things done. The Oakland electorate expects this, and in its worst times of need will demand it.
Many of the issues that Ruby has complained about in her report are totally ridiculous, for example from page 32: “Cost analyses—some Councilmembers have requested cost analyses from staff. These requests can be cumbersome, reprioritize the staff’s workload and the staff asked to prepare the analysis may not be the appropriate person for the task, resulting in incorrect or incomplete analyses.”
That’s a joke. If a councilmember makes that kind of request as part of a committee meeting, the staff should sort out who’s best to do it, and then get it done – not whine about it. I’ve been on committees representing the Mayor where the cost analysis by staff was terrible – so bad I had to do my own. Real estate developers trying to bring more retail to Oakland and needing the City’s help were delight that I, as one friend put it, “got it.” I “got it” enough to know when a city staff report was terrible and said so in committee.
I have no idea where Ruby got that from, but if it comes from an Oakland staff member who’s complaining about a request that originated in a committee, that staffer should be terminated. The committee process is where city staff meets the public via the city council, and for the purpose of solving problems Oaklanders face. That should be communicated to and understood by anyone working for the City of Oakland
A Terrible Report That Must Be Rewritten
In closing, the Oakland City Auditor’s Report is terrible and must be rewritten. The idea that we have a “culture of interference” is true, but it’s also silly – every city has that. What has to be looked at is how council and staff work together, and come to a point where we have a working blueprint for proper management of day-to-day tasks in a political environment.
Lastly, Ruby’s report constitutes a wanton abuse of power by someone who should know better. She’s done nothing to help or improve Oakland government via the report, and everything to encourage a climate of finger-pointing and poor morale.
Wait, I think we had that already.
Even if it wasn’t intended as such, it’s hard to look at the City Auditor’s Report as anything other than an attack on two Oakland black councilmembers.