So, to recap.
The general political climate in Oakland at the beginning of the summer was best summed up by the Trib in their Council race endorsements, which they introduced by saying “If there were ever a city crying out for leadership, it’s Oakland,” then proceeded to endorse the re-election of every single incumbent. Oakland voters followed suit at the polls in early June, and sent Nancy Nadel, Jane Brunner, Ignacio De La Fuente, and Larry Reid back for four more years.
Mid-June news of a large-scale gang bust by the Oakland Police Department was almost immediately eclipsed by allegations that Oakland City Administrator Deborah Edgerly had interfered with the 2-month investigation by tipping off her nephew, a member of the Acorn gang and City of Oakland employee, that his phone was tapped.
Faced with widespread citizen outrage, Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums took the opportunity to demonstrate his unique ability to find the absolute worst possible way to handle a municipal crisis, first giving her until Monday, June 23rd to either resign or be fired, then pre-empting his own deadline by sending out an e-mail on Friday, June 20th directing all department heads to report directly to him. Nevertheless, Edgerly remained at the helm at the beginning of the following week.
Then on Tuesday, June 24th, Dellums held a press conference announcing that Edgerly would retire from her post, at the end of July (although she would continue to work for the city for as long as six months while selecting her own replacement) but claimed that the announcement was unrelated to the brewing scandal, saying her retirement plans had been in place since January. When pressed for details on the search for Edgerly’s replacement by Chip Johnson on KQED Forum, Dellums Chief of Staff David Chai remained insistent that the plan had been in place since January, but refused (or was unable) to answer follow-up questions about when the search for a replacement had begun.
By Friday, June 27th, Councilmembers Ignacio De La Fuente and Pat Kernighan were calling publicly for her to be placed on administrative leave until her retirement date, and Dellums finally did so that night, naming his interim CEDA director Dan Lindheim acting City Administrator. Edgerly fired back the next Monday, claiming that Dellums didn’t have the authority to appoint her replacement, in response to which, the Mayor finally fired her on July 1st, then told reporters the following day that claims he had behaved indecisively were “absurd.” Ultimate fallout of the Edgerly scandal is yet to be determined, awaiting the results of an FBI investigation, for which subpoenas were issued in late August.
Reaction to the Edgerly mess from the rest of City Hall varied widely. Oakland City Attorney John Russo, Oakland City Auditor Courtney Ruby, and Oakland City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente stepped in with government reform packages, offering proposals ranging from a new anti-nepotism law to an audit of hiring practices to records reform, while District 3 City Councilmember Nancy Nadel called such actions “opportunistic power grabbing (PDF)” and warned that we should wait for all the facts before “rushing to judgement.” Calls to eliminate waste in Oakland’s government were met with derision by District 4 Councilmember and wanna-be Mayor Jean Quan, who announced in a newsletter that she believes the worst case scenario is that the City has less than a million dollars in waste that could be cut.
The administrative crisis was compounded by a financial one. The Council passed a mid-cycle budget with $15 million in cuts in June, but got two bits of unpleasant news the next month. First, in response to findings of vote counting irregularities with LLAD from activist David Mix and ORPN founder Charles Pine, the Council admitted defeat and agreed not to collect the tax, putting them another $12 million in the hole. Then Dellums acknowledged that the revenue estimates he had presented in his (late) budget proposal were inaccurate by millions of dollars and announced he was bringing in former City Manager Robert Bobb to sort out the mess and find a replacement for Edgerly. Bobb announced two weeks ago that the actual deficit was somewhere between forty and sixty million dollars. Matier and Ross later reported that Oakland’s fund reserve dropped from over $60 million last year to $22 million currently. Although the City is unable to account for where the money went, Finance and Management Committee Chair Jean Quan tried to put a rest to concerns, saying “It’s not like the money was stolen.”
Things just got worse in August, when the City experienced a spree of local business robberies that appeared to have no rhyme or reason, with targets ranging from a pizzeria on Skyline to a nail salon in Temescal to a monument to mediocre cuisine in Rockridge. Dellums responded by blaming the economy, informing the citizens that the apparent crime rise is perception, not reality, and calling in the volunteer Guardian Angels to patrol our streets. The spate of high profile crime wasn’t limited to restaurant robberies – Oakland residents also got to deal with arsons in West Oakland, a four year old boy getting hit by a stray bullet, and this weekend, the second murder this year of a pregnant teenager. A Labor Day shooting in East Oakland brought the year’s homicide tally to 95, up from 88 this time last year.
In response to rising concerns about crime, the Council agreed to place a parcel tax on the November ballot that would hire 105 additional police officers and 75 additional police service technicians over the next three years, at a cost of $275/year for Oakland homeowners. Dellums named former County Health Department director Arnold Perkins as his temporary Public Safety Director. Although the public will have to wait until September 11th to see the Mayor’s full public safety program, residents got a preview of Perkins’s answers for the Oakland crime problem in a Trib editorial this weekend, where Perkins suggests to Martin Reynolds that citizens combat the crime problem on their own by bringing fried chicken to the groups of young men loitering on their streetcorners.
You know, following this stuff day to day, you’re always angry, of course, but as with anything, after a while you just sort of get used to it. There’s outrage, sure, but somehow it just gets dulled over time. I had a wake-up call this weekend, watching the way people not from Oakland reacted to my telling them, in this kind of jaded, matter-of-fact way, about the restaurant robberies and the statements in response from Dellums and Tucker. Their response, which was just complete disbelief that anyone would tolerate living in such a place, made me realize just how totally, totally fucked-up the situation is in this town. (I am sorry for the language. Although I may have a few sailor-like tendencies in person, I do try to restrain myself on the blog, but sometimes there are no other words.) The people of Oakland deserve better, and there is absolutely no reason we should tolerate the status quo even a day longer. Immediate action is needed from City Hall. As for what that action should be, well, you’ll have to wait for tomorrow on my thoughts there. Today is just about reveling in completely justifiable outrage.