Oakland City Councilmember Dan Kalb and an ad-hoc Oakland-based citizens group have developed and released for public input a blueprint for government ethics reform in Oakland. In addition to proposing the establishment of a governmental ethics ordinance, the blueprint includes proposals for a 2014 ballot measure that would amend the Oakland Charter provisions governing Oakland’s Public Ethics Commission.

“We have a responsibility to increase the public’s confidence and trust in City Hall,” said Councilmember Kalb. “You can’t engender trust if your government ethics watchdog is neutered. It’s essential that we provide our Public Ethics Commission with the authority, responsibilities, and staff resources to fulfill its mission of enforcing ethics laws and ensuring fairness and integrity in our local government.”

Oakland has had a Public Ethics Commission (PEC) for nearly 18 years with a goal of ensuring fairness, openness, honesty and integrity in city government. Yet, groups and individual observers in Oakland have called for reforms to strengthen the PEC, noting that it has had insufficient resources and authority to follow through on its mandate. The Alameda County Grand Jury, for example, noted in a June 2013 report that “local independent oversight of public ethics is essential” but described problems that limit the ability of the PEC to effectively fulfill this role.

The Grand Jury noted that the PEC’s limited staffing and resources affects its viability.  The report contrasted the Oakland PEC with San Francisco’s ethics commission, which has a staff of 17 and annual operating budget of approximately $2.2 million. By comparison, the FY 13-15 Budget approved by the Oakland City Council provides just two full time staff for the PEC, with an annual operating budget of merely $300,000.

The report released by Councilmember Kalb and the Ethics & Good Government Working Group he formed proposes PEC reforms that address the problems of limited authority and insufficient funds for the PEC. The group had a public meeting to gather input back in September of last year. Observers of the PEC approve of the proposals.

“When I was a commissioner on the Oakland Public Ethics Commission, it was clear that the organization’s mission was larger than its resources,” said Jon Sylvester, Golden Gate University School of Law professor and an informal advisor to Kalb’s ethics working group. “The Commission can play a very beneficial role in Oakland, but it must have the tools and the budget to do so. Councilmember Kalb and the working group have come up with strong proposals to give the Ethics Commission more authority and improved structure. I support that effort.” Sylvester served on the PEC from 2001 to 2004.

“The League of Women Voters of Oakland was instrumental in the creation of the Public Ethics Commission and adoption of our city’s Sunshine Ordinance,” said Katherine Gavzy, President of the Oakland League and a member of the working group. “We believe strongly that the Public Ethics Commission’s authority and resources must be enhanced for them to be truly effective. We commend the Ethics & Good Government Working Group project for developing new legislation to do this, and hope the City Council will give these proposals positive and serious consideration. For the people of Oakland to retain faith in their city government, they need to be assured that adequate structures are in place to keep it fair, open and ethical.”

The reform proposals include:

  • Requirements for minimum staffing (7 FTEs) so the PEC can adequately administer and enforce the laws under its jurisdiction.
  • Improvements and enhancements in enforcement capabilities, including specific authority to enforce relevant charter provisions relating to conflicts of interest and non-interference.
  • Revolving door restrictions on city officials regarding acceptance of post-service employment with employers to whom they awarded government contracts.

Ethics Commissions that exist in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego and San Jose have significantly more authority and staff resources than Oakland’s PEC.

“Thanks so much to the working group members and the other expert advisors who have contributed to the blueprint,” added Kalb. “We have more work to do, but I intend to do what is necessary to enact these much-needed changes for Oakland this year.”

Councilmember Kalb is seeking additional public input on the proposals in his blueprint, which is available here online. For more information, call (510) 238-7013 or e-mail Councilmember Kalb’s office at oluby@oaklandnet.com.

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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42 Responses

  1. r2d2ii

    This looks like the real thing. City Council ain’t gonna like it.

  2. Len Raphael

    Much to like, especially the method of selecting and firing members. Regardless of what happens to Dan’s proposal, we should push for the same method for other boards and committees.

    Don’t like the tentative idea of imposing a regulatory fee on local candidate campaign committees based on the amount of their cumulative
    contributions of $100 or more.

    That only raises the cost of running for upstarts and incumbents both. Hard enough to overcome power of incumbency now who are the underdogs against incumbents here, almost every time.

    John Osborne’s @bayreporta suggestion is good one: tax independent campaign contributions, not candidate committees.

  3. Len Raphael

    Since Dan’s proposal is going to whittled down by the other council members, might as well ask for a lot more up front.

    We need to strengthen the City Auditor’s office so it is not outgunned by contractors and other City departments budget shell games. Start by raising the Auditor’s compensation to equal that of City Attorney, who makes about 250k/year plus benefits. The City Auditor gets about 140k/year plus benefits.

    The guy who ran the finance department before he left for Concord last year, Scott Johnson, got about 230k plus benefits.

    Competent private industry CPA’s running internal audits of organizations the size of Oakland always get paid above 200k/year and probably closer to 350k.

    Next, make sure the Auditor’s Dept. has enough funding to hire real auditors with real audit experience. Again, compensation should be at least what staff attorney’s for Oakland are paid.

    if we’re not able/willing to pay that kind of money to staff our internal audit department, then we’ll get the kind of City Auditor we’re paying for: A politically ambitious office holder who sees the position as a stepping stone to higher, better paying, more prestigious offices. An auditor who will be careful not to look to hard at controversial areas with big dollars involved that could annoy potential big dollar future supporters.

  4. OaklandNative

    But who reads the City Charter? Do the City Officials even read it? I get the impression that most don’t.

  5. r2d2ii

    “A politically ambitious office holder who sees the position as a stepping stone to higher, better paying, more prestigious offices.”

    Actually more ordinary pols like this would be very good for Oakland. To use an office as a stepping stone usually requires some actual results while in that office. As it is most of our Council members have been people without goals who are completely uninterested in real achievement. Once elected they never leave or move from Council staff to Council member then perhaps to Mayor like current pols Quan, Schaaf, Kernighan, Reid, Kaplan and Brooks and recent pols Nadel and De La Fuente.

  6. r2d2ii

    “But who reads the City Charter?”

    The proposed ethics reform will force the pols to pay attention to the Charter.

  7. OaklandNative

    The proposed amendment might bring some immediate attention to the City Charter. But they might forget about it with time.

    Keep in mind, there is more to the City Charter than this amendment. City officials should know, or refer to it on a regular basis. I have not seen that done.

    For example, the City Charter already defines the role of the Auditor. Except for a catchy headlines, I have not seen much coming from the Auditor.

  8. James Miller

    Just to row against the mainstream a bit here, is there any evidence that these types of municipal reforms actually “increase trust” in city government? I know that’s hard to measure, but maybe if someone (not me, please :)) took a look at, say, tax approvals rates before and after the adoption of these reforms in San Diego or wherever, it would help sustain this no-duh seeming drumbeat about trust in government.

    For the record, I tend to think trust issues here in Oakland have to do with incompetence, narrow-mindedness and one-party rule, not corruption or lack of ethics.

    Sure, I get it’s hard to argue against “more sunshine,” but there is real and opportunity cost in time and resources in expanding these systems. What can people point to as far as improvements in governance, public finance or anything else, other than “more enforcement is always great?”

    There’s this assumption that electeds are all crooks and thieves and anyone trying to make something happen in the city at a large scale must be gaming; the only reason we dont know this for a fact is because we dont have enough ethics snoopers. This unproven assumption underlies the call for more staff and more authority.

    I also dont like ballot box budgeting. What if we get the ethical government we deserve but are stuck with 7 do-nothing FTEs? “Deterrence” is not good enough for me, frankly. I dont believe in it with guns and I dont believe in it here.

    A big help for me would be: can people lay out specific instances in actually existing Oakland politics where the current PEC couldnt punish wrongdoing but now they will be able to? How would these changes have impacted the Desley Brooks situation, for instance? What do people imagine being better if these were in place?

    Again, the problem with Oakland is quality of leadership, not corruption.

  9. OaklandNative

    I agree that all this talk about ethics give the appearance of honesty and trasnparency. However, I believe it will only be a brief conversation. Soon everyone will forget.

    Most of the public won’t really care. A few politically-inclined residents will try the new procedures. They might be treated like rabble-rowsers. Unless they have a simple concern, they’ll probably be frustrated in trying out the new amendment. At some point, someone will talk “lawsuit” to which a couple of officials will feign concern. I doubt any lawsuit will follow. I think most officials know this.

    So as far as the public is concerned, this is windowdressing. It sounds good. It stops people from criticizing the officals. A couple of politicians can try to use it for re-election.

    But I think singling out Desley Brooks is unfair. Other councilmembers do the same thing. Brooks is just the scapegoat.

  10. r2d2ii

    “The problem with Oakland is quality of leadership, not corruption.”

    It’s not an either/or situation. Lack of leadership or blind following of a leader are corruptive and generate bad (evil) consequences. Remember British conservative Edmund Burke’s statement from 200 years ago that all that evil needs to succeed is for good people to do nothing. Oakland’s problems have to do with this kind of evil, coming from essentially a do-nothing government.

    What we have in Oakland is a City Council which is essentially comprised of people with the mindset of low-to-mid-level bureaucrats. These are people whose primary goals are to keep their jobs, avoid risks and advance up the ladder of rewards by getting credit for doing good things.

    Our electeds tend to come from nonprofits or from city hall staff positions to begin with–completely non-risk jobs where they get credit for completing their paper assignments and saying the right things, just like they did in school. After they get some experience of the way things are “done” and garner some confidence in public speaking and claiming credit for having written something or voted for something “good,” they make their move up the ladder.

    What our bureaucrat/council members do is invariably divisive and destructive of progress and decreases trust in government and morale among public servants like cops and including citizens who work in volunteer committees in Oakland’s City Hall.

    Oakland’s Council members bicker, maneuver to defeat one another’s proposals and work very hard to claim credit for “doing things” which usually don’t amount to much at all. It’s all about putting on a good show and definitely not about telling the truth, building confidence and moving the city as a whole forward.

    Real leadership, on the other hand, is all about setting a good and reasonable goal, working toward it and bringing it to fruition so that some real change actually occurs. Dan Kalb has taken the first step towards being a leader for Oakland. One of the natural consequences of good leadership is an increase in confidence and effectiveness in the organization as a whole. Leadership is not about passing a piece of legislation–it’s about the process of getting all parties concerned (for Oakland this is electeds, voters and public servants) truly involved. Oakland passes plenty of legislation and we all know what the results are.

    Whether or not the actual ethics legislation is “effective” will matter much less than what Kalb and whatever allies he can muster do to bring Oakland as a whole together to amend the charter in a meaningful way. The process of doing this successfully will be a real and lasting achievement.

    What goes on now regarding ethics in the Council, as in noninterference in administrative matters, is openly and flagrantly against the letter and spirit of the law in Oakland. Several Council members have spoken openly about “how to get things done” in Oakland by interfering–these include Brooks and Reid who were called out by Auditor Ruby but also Council member Schaaf who recently wrote about “her idea” for a virtual construction/building inspection project. Not her job.

    Oakland Council members at this point just don’t get it about how effective government really works. Again, they maintain the mindset of minor bureaucrats. Hopefully Kalb can help change their minds so they can work together productively. That will be the ethical benefit of his proposed charter amendment.

  11. OaklandNative

    I wouldn’t be that harsh.

    The politicians have been passionate and concerned. Each one represents a different group. The citizens who complain the loudest get the most attention. Unfortunately, we have come to the point where everyone is yelling. Everyone drowns each other out. That is a mess.

    We have competing interests. Looking at the dog park and Latham Square. Those might have seemed like little projects, but they were very divisive–even on here. That was a mess.

    Desley Brooks serves her community well. So does Larry Reid. They compete with Schaaf’s and DeKalb’s constintuencies who have very different values and experiences.

    So this public ethics amendment is meaningless window dressing. It just looks good to say that we all value “public ethics,” whatever that means. It could all cause a big mess in the long run when someone tries to “interpret” what it really means.

  12. r2d2ii

    “I wouldn’t be that harsh.”

    Change always seems harsh to those who don’t like it.

    “The politicians have been passionate and concerned.”

    That’s called the “show.” I’m referring to the “go.”

    “Each one represents a different group.”

    Nope. For example Council Districts 4 and 6, Schaaf and Brooks, cover areas bordering on one another with people of similar economic status and interests. Schaaf lives in the hills and is identified by some with Montclair. However her district includes lots of more disadvantaged people on the flats. Brooks’ district, where I live, not far from Brooks herself, covers much of Deep East as well as areas which most people would consider elite.

  13. OaklandNative

    R2D2 wrote:

    “Change always seems harsh to those who don’t like it.”

    List some of the “changes” you’ve made (including any that I might have misunderstood as “harsh”)?

    “That’s called the “show.” I’m referring to the “go.””

    Desley Brooks got into hot water for getting things done. I’ve seen a couple of other ones get things done in their district. I know one of them did something improperly, but has not gotten flak. But he/she got his/her community’s need fulfilled. He/she just kept it quiet.

    “Each one represents a different group.”

    “Nope. For example Council Districts 4 and 6, Schaaf and Brooks, cover areas bordering on one another with people of similar economic status and interests. Schaaf lives in the hills and is identified by some with Montclair. However her district includes lots of more disadvantaged people on the flats. Brooks’ district, where I live, not far from Brooks herself, covers much of Deep East as well as areas which most people would consider elite.”

    The people who support Desley are generally different from those who support Schaaf and Kaplan.

    Of course, some people like all or none. Still, each councilperson has a different style and agenda that appeals to different groups.

  14. Len Raphael

    While i support Dan K’s proposal in concept, and I understand R2’s point about just the process of getting Council to agree on this would be progress, I find myself more in agreement with James and Native.

    Dan will have to give us a redacted list of real past abuses that are big enough to justify the monetary cost of staffing that Commission. We should not treat the money as “free” because it comes out of candidate campaign funds.

    I have to go back and read the staffing part of the proposal. Seven full time staff is a hecka lot, no matter what other cities do. If the proposed commission has enough power from a charter amendment and a director, one staff attorney, one auditor, and an admin support person that should be enough do serious investigation and prosecution of ethics violations.

    A commission would not have to do much investigating if people trusted it to follow up confidential tips.


    Never did understand Dan’s concern with “restoring trust” in Oakland government. Almost as if he believes the biggest problem is that voters ignore all the good things that Oakland government does, just because of a few bad apple officials/politicians.

    i’m not so sure he gets it yet that Oakland residents know much more about the workings of local government than officials realize.

    It’s the lack of results in job creation, crime reduction, roads, sewers, schools that cause residents not to trust their officials.

    As said above, would Dan’s proposal require truth in promises for candidates or incumbents advocating for one policy or propositon or another? Will this commission “fact check” candidates’ platforms? We already have the Auditor and Attorney opine on charter amendments. What good did that do us with Measure Y when it was the incumbents who misled the voters on the community police staffing ?

    I still support strengthening the Ethics Commission, using Dan’s member appointment method, with stronger powers, better staffing, but not with 7 full time staff and not by taxing candidates for office as proposed.

  15. Len Raphael

    Understand that Dan is asking for the sky and expecting to get something less, but we mortals have to decide what we want in the end.

  16. James Miller

    Id associate myself with Len’s comments, above.

    I would also add that I was totally with you, R2, until you characterized Kalb’s proposal as something out of sync with typical Oakland politics because of its daring and can-do nature.

    I would suggest that this effort is, in fact, more of the same policy, along the lines that you describe so well. It is a slam dunk feel good policy area, entirely pleasing to Usual Suspect-types in the local Democratic establishment, and distinctly unrelated to any of Oakland’s actual problems (to paraphrase Len: crime, jobs, poverty, infrastructure).

    That Dan has used, and will continue to use, his political capital on this shows, to me, that he’s out of step with what’s needed. This seems to me simple Red Meat for a North Oakland political base that cares more about the NSA collecting their meaningless emails than the fact that a third of the city is in poverty. DC is corrupt, so Oakland must be, too.

    Look: he puts it forward, and loses: he’s a martyr for sunshine. He puts it forward, and wins: he gets to say he combatted corruption. This is no political risk. This also means this takes no political courage.

    Here’s my challenge: if he actually wants to get this through, he needs to organize a grassroots effort to get signatures to get this on the ballot. If he relies on the Council to put it there, know that it will be watered down to nothingness. Again, Dan wins points with the do gooder Demo establishment. Ill eat all the hats on my block if he has the chops to organize such an effort.

    Meanwhile, poverty persists, crime is unacceptable, and, for gods sake, Broadway from 51st to 40th still looks like shit!

    Dan’s staffer on this was a big ethics geek over in San Francisco before he came over here. Oakland’s not San Francisco, but so many people seem to believe it is. I would hope Kalb would spend his staff money on someone focussed on our problems, not someone trying to replicate SF over here.

  17. Len Raphael

    James is right that if Dan wants to get a genuinely strong ethics commission charter amendment, he’ll have to organize a petition drive and not negotiate the proposal down to another toothless feel good Oakland council resolution, like their monthly declaration of a health emergency for HIV.

    Not highest on my list of need charter amendments. I’d much sooner see a Public Safety Commission established, or repeal of Binding Arbitration. Maybe a Compensation Board that negotiated wages and benefits for city employees.

    After those were explained to voters, the City government could make a start on deserving the trust and respect of its residents.

    Nonetheless, I’d be willing to help collect signatures for a tough charter amendment if he shifted the burden of paying for the commission away from challengers and to candidates only that are well funded. eg. a percentage of any non-candidate funding that exceed half the limit for that race, plus a percentage of all independent expenditures.

  18. Len Raphael

    James, understand Dan K’s proposal in the context of his experience in Common Cause also. I sat next to him for several weeks during the D1 council forums. He’s very much an idealist about government and the power of rules and procedures to make it better. It also helps that he doesn’t know Oakland political history or he wouldn’t even try doing this.

  19. OaklandNative

    But if they can’t enforce the current City Charter, how will they enforce any amendments?

    We’re talking about this amendment now. Next year, it will be forgotten.

  20. OaklandNative

    But if this issue was brought before the voters, there might be more awareness and interest in it.

    Few people really pay attention to the City Council Meetings. They can be funny though. My date and I used to watch the meetings for entertainment. We had our favorite characters and everything.

  21. Nicolas Heidorn

    Councilmember Kalb’s proposed ethics reform package is a big step in the right direction. Most of it is simply Oakland catching up with other big California cities (an ethics commission with the power to enforce ethics laws — oh my!), but there are also some truly model elements in there, including possible private enforcement.

    Regarding the 7 FTE — that seems more than a reasonable amount. The Executive Director did a transparent work analysis here (http://www2.oaklandnet.com/oakca1/groups/ceda/documents/report/oak042924.pdf) indicating she needed 5 FTE just to perform current functions. On top of that Kalb is recommending that certain election-related City Clerk duties be transferred over and that the PEC be given extra enforcement duties over ethics violations — an extra 2 FTE certainly seems reasonable. Also, keep in mind the FY13-15 budget for the City of Oakland is just under 4,000 employees — 7 is a drop in the bucket budgetarily.

    Regarding the need for a PEC, I think the censure motion against Councilmember Brooks (whether you think the motion was fair or cynical) is all the proof needed for why a functioning PEC is vital. People who felt a response was needed to the grand jury and City Auditor reports concluded from the motion that the system is broken– it played out as political theater rather than a consideration of the facts. Brooks supporters also felt she was being unfairly singled out (and, in fact, recall that Council’s ultimate vote was to censure itself for its collective past acts that went unpoliced) in a politically motivated fashion that lacked all impartiality. The simple fact is that the Council cannot (and should not!) be expected to police itself; when it tries to do so it not only does not work but leads to bad blood between politicians who, more than anything, need to work together to lead this city.

  22. Len Raphael

    Since residents don’t even know there’s an Ethics Commish now, and aren’t aware of existing and past ethics violations, I don’t see how that’s affected their mis/distrust of local govt .

    When government officials bemoan “voter distrust in government” that’s shorthand = voter’s won’t approved more bonds or parcel taxes.

    In Oakland, it’s the widespread mistrust of police that’s the bigger problem. Very hard to solve and deter crimes if residents don’t trust cops to fairly investigate and protect witnesses’ from retaliation.

  23. OaklandNative

    Most people ask “What does it mean to me?” “How does it affect me?”

    A public ethics commission doesn’t seem to really impact people directly. Not every public offense is as sensational as the Port scandal a couple of years ago (public money openly spent on sex clubs, massage parlors, $400 haircuts, etc.–then the highly-paid offenders turned in receipts to be reimbursed).

    But city officials breaking the rules to help a community will not be as sensational. Desley Brooks broke rules, but she got things done. Keep in mind, most people distrust government and complain that public officials get nothing done. The fact that she broke rules to get work done strengthened her support. The same can be said of a couple of other councilmembers.

  24. r2d2ii

    There’s certainly an abundance of cynicism in the air here! As well as the remarkably nihilistic statement that only a fool pays attention to the law. Add these up and you’ve got Oakland all packaged up, going nowhere.

    What Oakland needs is a shakeup, a wake-up. Something to change the business-as-usual games. Kalb’s effort could become that. Could, with, as mentioned, a strong grassroots strategy.

    I think one of the alternative, nonestablishment, Mayoral candidates could embrace the ethical reform idea and thus help to shake something out of the old oak tree. As it is everyone is paying it safe. Safe as a midwestern Republican in my book. I think this aversion to risk is just plain stupid.

    What the Oakland establishment, perhaps especially candidates Quan and Schaaf, avoids at any cost is any admission that city hall has extremely low credibility and confidence. What a successful challenger should understand is that this admission should be the focus of any real reform.

  25. Len Raphael

    Dan is an idealist but he’s also big on consensus building. If he went above the heads of his colleagues, they would all sharpen their knives to get back at him.

    And to accurate, D1 voters wanted someone like Dan, Amy, or Richard who all made Council civility and consensus building big parts of their stump speeches.

    D1 Voters did not want a Len Raphel “Shake-up City Hall” or a Don Macleay Green party who shared the belief that City Hall had to be overhauled.

  26. John Klein

    With all due respect to Mr. Kalb’s good intentions, the fact is that the PEC as it now operates is COMPLETELY ineffective in dealing with citizen complaints. The PEC currently has complaints dating back to 2009 which it is either “reviewing” or “investigating.” To me, this is the crux and cause of the loss of public trust. I say that, even with less than optimal staffing, it is possible to do something.

    On the other hand, the PEC has done something in that time: issued reports, made recommendations, wrote a few letters and generally made ‘happy talk’ about transparency. This does little or nothing to build trust with the public and such things are fairly transparent, ie, phony, if the PEC isn’t actually enforcing law.

    For example, I filed a garden-variety ethics complaint with the PEC in July, 2013. To date, my complaint is still listed as “staff is investigating.’ There were 17 complaints on file before mine and none of those have been resolved, either. Moreover, ten additional complaints have been filed subsequent to mine.

    Of those ten subsequent complaints, five have been resolved. Hurray? No….of those five, all were filed by the PEC itself regarding campaign issues.

    Further, during the time my complaint has been pending (which, btw, under PEC rules, should have been resolved within 45 days of filing), the PEC has not communicated with me in any form or fashion other than I receive its monthly email blast with notice of its calendar and agenda.

    So, the PEC and its supporters can happy talk all they want about transparency, staffing, charter amendments, council ordinances and expanded enforcement, etc. I say the PEC deserves none of this until it shows to some inclination, ability, and willingness to use what it now has. In days past, the PEC operated quite more robustly than now with the same enabling provisions. I ask: what’s changed the current PEC for the weaker and the slower?

    I, too, attended the September 30, 2013, meeting of the Working Group. I recall a speaker making the point that often people come to the PEC with an axe to grind. The speaker’s comment was intended to point out that the public at times makes bogus ethics complaints simply because they don’t like a particular official. However, I say that the PEC needs to function in a much more timely and efficient way otherwise it gives the public a reason to grind an axe with them.

  27. r2d2ii

    “D1 Voters did not want a Len Raphel “Shake-up City Hall” or a Don Macleay Green party who shared the belief that City Hall had to be overhauled.”

    Mindreading has always been difficult for me.

    I see a city hall establishment culture in which truth-telling, taking responsibility, having a clear vision, setting tangible goals and meeting them is as-yet uncharted territory.

    I also have seen candidates who may (again I don’t read minds) think they are change-agents who don’t come across as competent change-agents.

  28. r2d2ii

    “The PEC currently has complaints dating back to 2009 which it is either “reviewing” or “investigating.” To me, this is the crux and cause of the loss of public trust.”

    I think you make the case for Kalb’s proposals very well. The very reason for the lack of efficacy of the PEC is that it has been under-funded/under-resourced by the City Council.

  29. Oakie

    “…who don’t come across as competent change-agents.”


  30. r2d2ii


    Politics, in Oakland as elsewhere, really is not a game for children.

    It’s a “game” where 100 citizens are murdered every year, several hundred are shot, thousands are traumatized by violence and about half of our Black kids don’t graduate from high school.

    That kind of game. Not for children.

  31. Oakie

    You’re right, of course. There is a great deal of human suffering that is a direct result of the failure of our city government to function competently. [We collect every bit as much tax money as our neighbors but we can’t seem to get our act together] It is very hard to maintain that fact in my head all the time, particularly when confronted by the foibles, to put it delicately, of the players running our asylum. Ergo my frequent diversion into some humor. My blog (FixOakland.tumblr.com) is heavy on it. But your admonishment is quite right, especially when we consider that it is –not— us or those closest to us who are paying the most significant share of the suffering from our collective inability to decently govern ourselves.

  32. Len Raphael

    The minimum requirement for running for any office is a thick skin. Nothing to do with competence any more than any form of competence is required for owning a dog or raising children.

    Of course voters consider political skill at reaching consensus as one of the competencies they want in elected officials. They should.

    My point was that in the D1 election the top three candidates correctly read the voters and messaged them that they were great at getting things done by working with the other council members. The person with the best grasp of public safety policy was Don Link, I had the best understanding of fiscal matters, and Don Macleay strongest progressive credentials.

    Vast majority of D1 voters were convinced the reason Oakland government underperformed was the City Council “bickering” and “personality conflicts” they heard, read, saw on TV .

    All this stuff about leadership, risk taking, long term thinking was not high on their list of traits they wanted to see in council member.

  33. OaklandNative

    I have a question for you guys. Who or what is your criteria of an ideal Oakland city official (mayor, city council, auditor, etc.)?

    Please, be specific. No generic statements like “good leadership qualities,” etc.

    I will start by saying that he or she needs to know and enforce the City Charter.

    They have to be visible and have history in their communities (contrary to what some assume to be my racial politics, for this reason, I am skeptical of Dana King, but I digress).

  34. Len Raphael

    I’ll pull a Jean Quan on you, and answer a question you didn’t ask.

    To get elected in a local Oakland election is more a matter of name recognition than anything else. Next comes RCV effects.

    It’s not being cynical to say that at most there are 2,000 voters here, other than employees of the City or of nonprofits and businesses that depend on City contracts/approvals, who spend more than 5 minutes/year thinking about whom they’re going to vote for any city position or what local proposition/measure they’ll vote yes on.

    Can’t blame them for thinking globably and acting nationally.

    it’s not apathy but overload and Bay Area rat race.

    We do have many many residents who will spend hours thinking and discussing national and state ballot measures and candidates.

    But they just don’t have the available bandwith for local ballot issues and candidates unless it directly affects them, say parents with kids in OUSD or maybe libraries.

    For everything else, voters might glance at the election booklet, glance at some mailers to see who endorsed someone, might remember a candidate who knocked on their door and listened to complaints.

    But back to your question. What we want to see in our elected officials doesn’t matter. But thank you for asking.

  35. r2d2ii

    LR is essentially right. But being right about things isn’t the same thing as being able to do something about them. If getting elected in Oakland is all about name recognition, and that no doubt is much of it, and why we keep electing the same old, same old mediocrities, LR’s own campaign was exactly the wrong way to go–a very late start, unfunded, no grassroots organization.

    Here, in this medium, we like to pretend that electoral politics is a matter of the marketplace of ideas. It simply ain’t so.

    Joe Tuman, who has written books about practical politics and has taught this kind of stuff for years, talks in private about “realpolitik” and even uses the correct German pronunciation. He should know very well but his first campaign was much like LR’s. His current campaign, advised by one of the usual local political firms, is run-of-the-mill at best. He’s doing the name recognition grind and the results won’t show up until very late in the campaign.

    Three observations about how this situation might, MIGHT, be changed.

    First, really creative, mind-bending, campaigning, full-of-outrage about the decades of failure of the Oakland political establishment. Oakland sits at the center of one of the world’s most vibrant economies, and the air is full of the latest and greatest self-styled progressive notions. Yet too much of Oakland remains year-after-year dominated by crime and poverty. That should get people’s attention, but it almost never gets put out there.

    Second, Oakland lacks any sort of competent, progressive, locally-focused media devoted to the practical elements of change. A crusading TV station, newspaper, lifestyle/shopper rag (e.g. East Bay Express) could make a big difference. San Francisco had for many years a constant articulate critical voice in the Bay Guardian. Oakland has nothing like that. Nothing. KPFA, certainly a progressive voice in most ways, largely ignores Oakland realpolitik.

    Third, Oakland needs real partisan politics. Here it’s all about some useless and very false notions about consensus and the like. Years ago I had a conversation with an in-law who had been a state legislator in Illinois and was a longtime political operative there. Her first observation about Oakland was that change requires organized opposition that partisan politics provides. Here the pretension is that campaigns are about candidate’s achievements and, supposedly, competence. There are no real political platforms, visions, goals or real challenges.

    We might have a real battle between the establishment Progressive Reactionary Party (which claims affiliation with progressive ideas but makes sure nothing ever changes and certain monied, corporate interests dominate including the state Democratic Party) and an old-fashioned Conservative Party (nothing to do with current corporate Republicanism or Tea Partyism) which embraces modest, achievable reform and actually does it.

  36. Oakie

    “Oakland lacks any sort of competent, progressive…”

    I’m losing you on the concept of ‘competent progressive.’

    I haven’t seen any articulation of progressives that has anything to offer Oakland. Maybe you can point out some progressive ideas that would actually improve our city rather than shackle us.

    “establishment Progressive Reactionary Party”

    This seems precisely right about what goes for progressive here. Dan Siegel is the epitome of this: he got his entire world view in 1965 and absolutely nothing has been learned about all the flaws and warts of that world view through almost 50 years of experience and the dystopia they have created here with them in charge.

    “old-fashioned Conservative Party (nothing to do with current corporate Republicanism or Tea Partyism) which embraces modest, achievable reform and actually does it.”

    That would be a great contribution for the city but they/we could all fit in a phone booth (if such a thing existed anymore).

  37. r2d2ii

    “Competent” regarding media meaning having basic journalistic skills: research (beyond surfing the net); ability to write simple, clear prose; some useful knowledge of politics and history and so on. “Progressive” regarding media meaning able to go well beyond simple placing of political ideas on some imagined left to right continuum with people like Oakland City Council members and the Mayor somewhere on the left.

    There is a history of progressive journalism in the U.S. Arguably the Oakland Tribune under Bob Maynard was progressive. Now we’ve pretty much got a progressive media desert. I think the dominance of the corporate-dominated hyper-consumerist culture in the Bay Area is controlling.

    There are a couple of writers who appear in minor Bay Area media with some real interests and competence as journalists. Darwin BondGraham comes to mind for one.

  38. OaklandNative

    Just the phrase “progressive journalism” turns me off. It sounds like brainwashing and mind control. I want the facts and I decide for myself.

    I will skim “East Bay Express,” but I read it critically. It is not my source of news.

    Similarly, I don’t want city officials to be “progressive.” I want them to run the city. Activism is for activists.

  39. r2d2ii

    Similarly, I don’t want city officials to be “progressive.”

    “Progressive” simply means, for a lot of people, to work to solve the problems many people have in this society.

    Sometimes too much anger and hatred keeps one from seeing things clearly.

  40. OaklandNative

    I’ve seen self-identified “progressives” hurl hatred and anger at Republicans and conservatives (and anyone else who doesn’t agree with them).

    I’ve seen Republicans and conservatives work (or at least claim) to improve their communities. After all, Rush Limbaugh believes he is defending America against (fill in the blank).

    So can one person agree with some “progressive” issues while agreeing with other conservatives issues?

    So can a city official who identies herself as “progressive” make a decision that is “conservative” if the “conservative” decision is the best one? Or does she have to only make “progressive” decisions?

    Look at the debate on gentrification. Supporters of gentrification use conservatives capitalistic values to defend gentrification.

  41. OaklandNative

    By the way,the same problem I have with “progessive” media, I have with African American media.

  42. Leslie L

    Govern from above, doing nothing from below….

    Feel good legislation, execution…dealing with conflict… someone else’s job.


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