By Shanthi Gonzales

Did you know that there are nearly three dozen boards and commissions in Oakland?

There is one for nearly everything you can think of, from Children’s Fairyland to the Police Review Board and the Oakland Housing Authority.

I have had the pleasure of serving on the Oakland Library Advisory Commission for the past 2.5 years, and have found that commission service is a really important way to learn more about Oakland and to meet some of the people who care about making Oakland even better.

As part of a great team of leaders on the Library Advisory Commission, I have seen the role that board and commission service can play in leadership development.  We have had some of the best and brightest trainers in Oakland come speak to us about a variety of important topics, such as understanding public budgets, public speaking, advocacy, and services available to important population groups in Oakland such as immigrants and the disabled.

In investigating how to create greater financial stability for the library over the long haul, we have built the commission’s capacity in research and writing.  In our efforts to share more regularly with the community of library advocates, we have built our capacity in social media, writing and communications.

In our efforts to bring about greater collaboration among all of Oakland’s library advocates, we have built our capacity in the area of coalition building and convening.  And in our efforts to advocate for strong and vibrant library services, we have met with all the city’s elected officials to emphasize the important role libraries play in the life of a thriving city.  We have spoken before City Council and all over the city on behalf of the library.

I didn’t know that I would have all of these amazing experiences when I joined the commission, or that I would meet so many people that have become dear friends.  Commission service has been a very rewarding experience for me personally, and I believe the city’s library system is stronger for advocacy that the LAC has done among the city’s elected officials.

Most critically, I believe that board and commission service is an important way to build your own leadership skills, and a critical entry point for people who care about the city and want to make it even better.  So if there is something you are passionate about, check out the city’s list of boards and commissions and see if there is one you would like to serve on.  It is not an arduous process to apply, and our city needs more involved people who care about strong and accountable city services.

Also, if you love libraries, we have room for one more commissioner on the LAC.  Contact if you are interested.

Shanthi Gonzales is Vice Chair of the Oakland Library Advisory Commission and is a Candidate for the Oakland School Board in 2014.


Editor’s Note: This piece reflects an individual opinion and is not a reported story from Oakland Local. Oakland Local invites community residents to share their views about events and issues in Oakland. 

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About The Author

The Library Advisory Commission reports and makes recommendations to the Oakland City Council on Oakland Public Library policies; provides citizen oversight of Measure Q tax funds; and advocates on behalf of OPL programs and services. The Commission consists of 15 seats, appointed by the Mayor and Council. The public is welcome to attend the Commission’s meeting which are held on the last Monday of the month at 5:15 p.m. in the Brad Walters Community Room at the Main Library, 125 14th St.

18 Responses

  1. Len Raphael

    What isn’t mentioned here is that many of the appointments are vetted by both the local council member and must be approved by the Mayor’s office.

    Residents critical of current policies get filtered out.

  2. R2D2II

    And even if the board or commission members are not vetted by the Council or Mayor or are vetted and found acceptable, the work of the board or commission is very likely to be ignored by the electeds. Specifically I have in mind the following:

    The Citizens Police Review Board

    The Community Policing Advisory Board

    The Public Ethics Commission

    The Measure Y Violence Prevention and Public Safety Oversight Committee

    The Council and Mayor have little difficulty in (or hesitation to) essentially decommission any commission which may actually say or do something meaningful.

  3. len raphael

    R2, Now that you mention, I’ve heard the same thing you’re saying from several members of different boards who were political loyalists but took their board duties seriously only to find that their boards or committees were ignored. A pity because if they weren’t on the boards, they might be more be more publicly candid with their well informed criticism of City operations.

  4. len raphael

    Why do many of the most interesting local online posts about Oakland govt come from people using screen names/aliases? Do they work for or do business with the city? Afraid of “becoming a target” as I’ve heard neighbors say when asked to sign petitions etc.

  5. R2D2II

    Aliases are absolutely necessary for anyone with organizational or even certain personal affiliations in Oakland.

    Even very minor participants in political activities antagonistic to the establishment will put you on the Mayor’s or a Council member’s shit list.

  6. R2D2II

    I should point out that being on a shit list means that your opinions, no matter how thoughtful or potentially useful will be ignored. You either kiss asses or you are human trash.

    The reason for this is that theOakland establishment is entirely corrupt in terms of democratic values and every policy matter is seen purely in terms of its political risk to the status quo. It’s no wonder why Oakland never moves forward.

    Honesty has been thrown out in favor of a false veneer of progress. Regarding public safety we have such things as the Mayor’s “100 blocks”or “crime is down today as compared to yesterday.” We have Council members who promote better street lighting as a crime reduction scheme or claim that crime is not so bad in their district or that increasing the number of police academies from zero to two or three a year will give us a full-sized force (this can only reduce the rate of attrition).

    Transparency is a term bandied about by the Mayor and Council but actually everything is made as obscure as possible to avoid useful criticism, creativity or any meaningful scrutiny. No one on the Council has a any real leadership skills so the political strategy is pitting one loud interest group against another. It’s the oldest political trick in the book, known as “divide and conquer.”

    When the authorities act like criminals, the criminals rule.

  7. R2D2II

    A propos my comments above: the Tribune reports this morning that City Auditor Courtney Ruby has decided to run for Mayor despite her strong disavowal of any such interest last year.

    Despite her personal goals, Ruby has no doubt been pressured to run by persuasive civic-minded people because of her success in city-wide elective office and her willingness to take political risks based on principle. These attributes make her unique among all candidates who belong to the elected (or appointed) Oakland establishment.

  8. Len Raphael

    R2, I have a different take on Courtney Ruby. Maybe I have a double standard for a fellow CPA but I’ve found her performance only good compared to the very low general standard for Oakland officials and no weird personnel abuses like the prior auditor.

    Her office has performed very few audits of anything over her two terms, and other than a notable two or three on controversial subjects, her audits have been blandly uninformative. The best one, on pension obligation bonds was farmed out. I’m no fan of Brooks or Reid but I thought her report on them was politically motivated though not racist.

    She totally avoided auditing at least two elephants in the fiscal closet: the sewer tax and the tax override revenues that were supposed to go to pay down the old PFRS pension obligation.

    How many tens of millions of dollars went down the sewer tax drain and we still have a sewer system that’s near collapse. Was that a 9% raise in that one recently?

    The audit trail on the sewer tax is likely to lead to compensation costs and contracts of the Public Works Dept.

    On PFRS Ruby and Russo once made some sounds about supporting repeal of binding arbitration for police and fire fighters. Not a peep from her on that in several years. That also would greatly annoy potential election supporters.

    Nothing an auditor who wanted to run for mayor would want to touch for fear of losing union support.

    Auditors are supposed to be independent minded. Our auditor is just another politician.

  9. R2D2II

    I don’t doubt what you are saying and Ruby certainly is a pol with the same kinds of challenges as any other poll. That said, Ruby is still a major cut above the likes of Quan or Schaaf.

  10. R2D2II

    Ruby’s entry into the mayoral race will also likely broaden the public discussion of corrupt/illegal practices by electeds. For example Council members’ interference in departmental administration. You can bet that Schaaf or Quan will not want to talk about such matters. In fact Schaaf has been bragging in recent weeks about her direct interference in how the Building Inspection Department works. Schaaf simply does not understand that she is a policy maker. She can push the Council to make a policy that a department work as efficiently as possible. But she is way out of line when she gets directly involved in the running of a department. She and her cronies on the Council simply do not understand the separation of powers aspect of governance. Not to mention the role of openness, honest communication and public participation.

  11. James Miller

    I think it’s so cute that people (or, I guess, R2D2II and Bob Gammon) believe, somehow, that Oakland’s Mayor election is going to be more about issues the more people jump in. I fear it will be just the opposite, as any coverage of the race will be overtaken by the labor of simply listing and introducing all the candidates. As Len knows, candidate forums, already a joke, will be even a bigger joke with every additional candidate. There is no evidence at all that the more candidates you have, the better the public debate. I would argue just the opposite: two or three candidates makes it easier to get done introing the candidates and actually get to the issues.

    Len: an open Auditor seat obviously begs the question of your interest in the position. I can see avoiding it, for all the obvious reasons, but I also see a put-up-or-shut-up situation for you.

  12. R2D2II

    James Miller’s comments are just so adorable! And, at the same time, so very wise! Whodda thunk?

    I don’t think that the more in the Mayor’s race the merrier by any means and I never said that.

    I did say, and it bears repeating, that having someone who is not a part of the status quo establishment, like Joe Tuman, or someone who has publicly taken on the establishment’s failings at some political, and perhaps personal, risk, like Courtney Ruby, will no doubt broaden the debate.

    Left to their own devices, candidates Quan, Schaaf and, possibly, Kaplan, have a great deal invested in the status quo and will be exceedingly risk-averse with regard to any changes in city hall. Other candidates probably won’t have enough recognition to be viable. Candidate Parker I view as an establishment crony, since he was appointed to the Port Commission by Quan.

    At bottom the race for mayor has some potential for raising the consciousness of Oakland’s voters. I hope this may happen. I just happen to be a perpetual optimist. Naysayers of course have their own dismal worlds to endure.

  13. James Miller

    I think you’re right on all accounts there, R2D2II. Outside voices are needed. I think Im more chagrined about the paucity of media coverage and real political debate here in Oakland. When elections are covered, it’s often a single article, with a picture of each candidate and a paragraph summary of who they are; with lots of candidates, thats just the end of it.

    I happen to think that by the time you get to the Mayor’s race, it’s just too late for people who are switched off to switch on in any real way (and by switched on I mean somewhat informed, not just having an opinion). For all its history as a political hotbed, Oakland doesnt really have a culture that’s particularly political. Teamed with poor media coverage (or because of it), this lack of real interest convinces me that widespread enlightenment is unlikely.

    You’re right: it’s a dismal world to endure.

  14. Len Raphael

    Up until recently, Oakland had far too many smart residents who thought globally and ignored locally other than to vote for the person who sounded/looked like the state and national politicians they liked.

    That’s changing with the participation by a not insignificant number of smart energetic Occupy Oakland activists and supporters who have dived into the inner workings of Oakland muni government to work to defeat the DAC city wide OPD surveillance center.

    They’ve learned from their mistake during OO of ignoring the local realities and employ a wider range of tactics than during OO. They’re still learning and getting better at it. I’m sure they’l broaden their activism if they can avoid the normal splintering.

  15. R2D2II

    James Miller–you are quite right to point out the lack of adequate investigative journalism and competent major media coverage of Oakland politics. This is a fundamental reason Oakland’s inbred political establishment has remained in power essentially unchallenged for so many years.

  16. OaklandNative

    I would not say that we were less involved than the OO people or that we ignored local politics.

    When I listen to some of the new activists, I would say that we felt less empowered than the new people. We had different concerns (i.e., making education more relevant for African American students v. a doggy play park).

    Also keep in mind that many of us dealt with issues within our communities, schools or churches. There might have been less expectation from City Hall.

    Occupy Oakland was a wake up call. We saw outsiders treat us as if we didn’t exist.

  17. OaklandNative

    Another difference today is technology. We had fewer places to voice our opinions. The Oakland Tribune was not accessible.

    Today, people can get more involved with social media and blogs. They don’t have to leave their homes or jobs. They don’t even have to see each other.

  18. OaklandNative

    By the way, we have to realize the limitations of social media for activism. The people having the social media have their own community which may be different from the geographical community. For example, certain people living in East Oakland might use social media. The other people in the neighborhood might not. Thus, while the people using the social media may be on one page, the other people might be on a different page. We saw that with the Latham Square controversy.


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