Bobb is not Oakland’s only hope.

So I was annoyed by Chip Johnson’s column yesterday, and then even more annoyed by all the fawning comments about how right it was. In case you didn’t read it, the idea is that Dellums should have hired former Emeryville City Manager John Flores to replace Deborah Edgerly, it was a mistake for him to pass up that opportunity and hire Bobb to conduct a search instead, and now Dellums should just hire Bobb as our new City Administrator, because even though he “wasn’t perfect,” he was pretty good.

I don’t have anything against John Flores or Robert Bobb, but I just find the whole premise really insulting to Oakland. It’s a testament to how lost this City is that people think we have to look to our past as the only hope for our future. Do people honestly think we’re that special, that unique that there’s nobody else who can handle things here? Newsflash: other cities, of all different sizes, all over the country, have the exact same challenges as we do, and they all deal with unions and nepotism and budget problems and everything else we face around here, with varying degrees of success. We’ve got 300 million people in this country! It’s preposterous to pretend that the only two of them capable of handling Oakland are one who already has and one who did the city next door. Bobb’s firm was hired to conduct a nationwide search for qualified candidates, and that’s exactly what he should do.

Oh! Speaking of things that annoy me, I tried to go to the library yesterday and this is what I saw where I got there:

WTF is “Admissions Day”, and why do we shut down the City for it?

11 thoughts on “Bobb is not Oakland’s only hope.

  1. David

    I don’t necessarily disagree with you, but your argument would be more persuasive if you didn’t ignore the part of Johnson’s column in which he specifically addressed objections such as yours:

    Separately, there has been no work done, no foundation laid, to find a replacement for Edgerly – and it’s going to be next to impossible to do.

    Consider the job description: “Help Wanted: Top-flight city manager needed to help complete the 4-year term of a mayor who can’t lead. No job guarantee, manage a City Council whose members have their own political goals. Finally, your professional reputation will probably take a hit just for being a known associate of this cabal.”

    Hey, where do I sign up?

    I tend to think you’re right that a city the size of Oakland would (or should) be able to find qualified candidates who are willing to take on the challenge, but frankly, when you ignore the part of the column where Johnson addresses your objection, I think it makes your argument look weaker than it actually is.

  2. Aaron Priven

    Admissions Day is the anniversary of the admission of California to the Union as a state. Schools, libraries, cities, etc. in California traditionally shut down for it. When I was a kid we had one year where the first day of school was followed directly by a holiday.

  3. Joanna/OnTheGoJo

    David, I read Chip’s addressing objections like V’s – and mine – but that Oakland even brought Bobb back sickens me. Hello? We need an outsider to come in and put some people back in line. No, it’s not going to be an easy job. It’s going to be a thankless job. But it doesn’t mean that it would be impossible to fill. I think it’s going to take a sucession of people, because you need someone to be the super bad person to do the major stuff and make lots of enemies. Then you need the clean up person to heal wounds. Then you need a stable person to actually do the job. I think this succession will take years, but it needs to get started. As sure as it is setting someone(s) up for failure, they wouldn’t have a problem getting a job elsewhere afterwards and it might be a breakout manouver for someone.

    This town needs a serious shakedown. This City needs a straight shooter, er talker, that won’t pull any punches and isn’t out to win a popularity contest. I’m not at all qualified and yet there’s a part of me that would LOVE to do it. (Scary, eh?!)

    I must admit that when they reported that Robert Bobb was coming back, I went and buried my head in the sand. Telling myself I was avoiding further depression by considering the increase in takeover robberies and other general ick Oakland politic factors, I’ve been playing Ignorance Is Bliss by ignoring the political and criminal scene. I find myself less depressed. When it’s time for action, I’ll pick myself back up.

    Oh, and I’m going to join Becks at the Obama fundraiser tonight at the Franklin Square Wine Bar. After watching _Blue State_ the other night and not wanting a repeat of 2000 or 2004, I finally realized that I better get off my butt and do something besides donating money… (even if that’s what tonight is about!)


    p.s. – V, the new layout looks great!

  4. V Smoothe Post author

    David, I don’t understand how that addresses my objection. My objection is precisely that those problems are not unique to Oakland. You could, and opinion columnists in newspapers every day all over the country do, say the exact same things about other cities of all different sizes.

    Thanks, Joanna!

  5. David

    V, you represent Johnson’s argument as follows: “Do people honestly think we’re that special, that unique that there’s nobody else who can handle things here?” Similar rhetoric follows.

    That’s not, in my opinion, a fair or accurate characterization of Johnson’s column. He didn’t argue that nobody else in the country could do the job well, or that Flores and Bobb are the only two people out of 300 million Americans who are “capable of handling Oakland.” What he did argue is that people who could handle things here would be “next to impossible” to recruit to a city with Oakland’s problems.

    He may be wrong about that. As I said, I think he probably is wrong about that, but it’s only fair to summarize Johnson’s argument accurately when you are arguing against it, instead of caricaturing his column in a way that makes it appear more “preposterous” than it actually is.

  6. Jennifer

    I got the impression that Bobb must be telling people he’d come back to be City Administrator or else Chip wouldn’t have dedicated an entire column to the possibility.

  7. V Smoothe Post author

    David, I keep trying to read the column the way you’re describing it, and I just can’t see it. Where is there any argument that it would be impossible to recruit somebody who’d want the job? The 85 words you quote in your first comment constitute the entirety of the references in the column to the job being bad, and they’re followed by 350 words about how great Bobb is, and preceded by a section strongly suggesting John Flores wanted the gig. That part just doesn’t read to me as argument, more like a throw-away line. I mean, if Johnson wanted to suggest that nobody was willing to take the job, he should have talked about people who were asked or who would be good candidates who say they don’t want it. But there’s nothing anything close to that in there.

  8. dto510

    Jennifer, Chip is giving that impression that Bobb is letting it be known that he’s interested in the job. I think that’s very unlikely though, considering the man holds a citywide elected position in Washington DC. So, does he want it or not? And is he the head of the search committee or not, as V found? Talk about a lack of transparency at City Hall! It’s very difficult to find out what’s going on with the search for the person who runs the city.

  9. Robert

    The way things stand, Chip Johnson may be right and Bobb is the best we can do. But that is because if you don’t bother to look you don’t find anybody else. Suprise! And I have seen nothing that indicates that Bobb is doing anything to look for a new administrator. So in that way, he is the best we can do. Sad.

  10. Allan

    Johnson’s column is provocative, but let’s not take it literally. Obviously he is no position to know in any systematic way candidates for City Administrator. Note his point “Help Wanted: Top-flight city manager needed to help complete the 4-year term of a mayor who can’t lead. No job guarantee, manage a City Council whose members have their own political goals. Finally, your professional reputation will probably take a hit just for being a known associate of this cabal.”

    To get a top candidate we need to change the terms of the game. We need to offer a contract with a fixed term and real independence, in other words a true city manager, not an administrator.

    We do not want someone with Oakland experience, but rather some who will bring to bear experience from other cities.

    We also need to go through a zero base budgeting exercise. Rather than simply take last year’s budget and expanding or contracting to fit the available funds, the city needs to look at each function in terms of its benefit to the citizens. To simply use last year’s budget as base assumes we currently have the right proportional allocation, highly unlikely.