Breaking: City of Oakland wastes money! Shocker!

I know I already said this, but after waking up this morning to three more stories about it, I really have to wonder about all this fuss over a report that basically says we should have firmer guidelines for off-cycle payroll. It just isn’t that sexy.

Allowing people to buy-back vacation is a fairly normal business practice, and Edgerly’s correct when she says that it’s cheaper to let employees do it sooner rather than later (the cost of vacation increases over time due to pre-negotiated annual salary raises). So yeah, fix the guidelines so they make more sense, make sure that Administrative Instructions gel better with our various MOU’s, and maintain better documentation. It’s not rocket science. But while everyone is busy getting all worked up about giving city employees a total of less than $400,000 in performance bonuses over three years, remember that the Council is about to approve an expenditure of $575,000, $375,000 of it being Measure Y money, over the concerns of the Measure Y Oversight Committee, for the world’s vaguest RFP. I mean, come on.

I wrote already about how the Oversight Committee asked the Mayor’s office to return with more details about their proposal. After their meeting, Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums sent a letter to the Council asking them to ignore the Committee’s concerns:

The November 19 meeting ended with a motion that we wait and come back next month to discuss the matter further. However, the majority of questions asked by committee members centered on details of what the RFP will look like, the methodology of the street outreach workers strategy, etc. – questions that will be answered in the development of the RFP itself and in the responses received by service providers to an RFP once issued.

Given the intensity of street violence in Oakland, I feel strongly that we cannot afford to wait. As such, I respectfully request that the Council take up this matter as planned at tonight’s Public Safety Committee meeting, and bring it before the full Council as soon as possible.

Okay, first, if the need is so urgent, one has to wonder why Dellums couldn’t, you know, get a proposal together more quickly. He announced the plan in September, but a month later, when the allocation was originally supposed to be heard by the Measure Y Oversight Committee, the office hadn’t managed to formulate a plan. They still haven’t done so.

And seriously, look at what Dellums is saying in the letter. The Oversight Committee was asked to approve issuance of an RFP to allocate $375,000 of Measure Y money, but before they did so, they wanted to know what the RFP would ask for. But the Council should just approve the RFP anyway, because we’ll tell you what we’re asking for after we write it! Nice.

The plan here, in order to expedite the process, is that the Mayor’s office, once they get the Council’s approval, will issue a Letter of Intent about the RFP immediately. Then interested parties will respond to the Letter of Intent explaining what they would do with the money. Then the Mayor’s office will write an RFP based on the responses they already got. I’m sorry, but this seems so…I don’t know…whack. They’re basically saying they want to pick out who they’re going to give the money to, then write an RFP designed specifically for whoever they’ve already chosen. Talk about a mockery of the competitive bid process.

Of course, the Oversight Committee will get another chance to endorse the allocation on Monday, when they will have an emergency meeting called by the City Council, at which the sole topic will be Dellums request for the RFP. I completely fail to see how this makes things any better. To vote to approve the RFP over the Oversight Committee’s objections (and remember that the majority of committee members support the plan in theory – they just felt it wasn’t responsible to approve without a minimal level of detail) and THEN to call an emergency meeting of the committee on 6 days notice for the express purpose of having them rubber stamp a proposal that you’ve already said you’re going to approve no matter what they think shows as much respect for their input as when I was a little girl wanting to help my dad make gumbo and he’d tell me that I could be a super big help by fixing him a gin and tonic. I was so proud of myself! The first rule of cooking is that the chef need a drink! Otherwise, everything will be ruined! What an important job! How special that Daddy trusts me to handle it! Also, if I hang around long enough, he might let me taste a piece of andouille and confirm that it tastes good enough to add to the pot!

But the Oversight Committee isn’t made up of six year olds. They’re adults who care enough about the community to give up their time to try to make sure the violence prevention act actually, you know, prevents some violence. Their concerns were well-reasoned, earnest, and legitimate. Contrast this with the attitude of Nancy Nadel and Jean Quan at Tuesday’s Public Safety Committee meeting, when they both said they had wanted for some time to see street outreach to more at-risk populations, so go for it. If the need is so urgent, shouldn’t we take some steps to ensure that we’re giving this money to something that will actually work? Shouldn’t we think about what we’re actually going to use it for? Street outreach to high-need individuals in high-stressor areas is great, but it also isn’t a plan.

And the reason I keep harping on this isn’t because I hate street outreach or I want to pick on every last thing Dellums does or even because I care so much about Measure Y in particular. It’s because when you pull shit like this, it pisses people off and then they won’t give you more money when you ask for it. At this point, does anyone think Measure Y has a shot in hell of getting renewed? Same goes for every other bond and tax increase the Council decides we so desperately need.

Last fall, I spent hours and hours and hours campaigning for Measure N, the library bond. Every single day after work, I would take the bus to some real estate office in like, Montclair or something, and spend my evening cold calling voters to ask for their support. Now, I’m not a particularly outgoing person, and talking to strangers and talking on the phone are both pretty near the top of the list of things I hate and fear. But I struggled through it every damn day (and even passed up tickets to ACLS games!) because I thought this was important. And every day, I would talk to a whole lot of people who told me they really wanted to support the library, and it was hard for them to say no, but that they simply couldn’t trust the City to spend their money the way they promised. “But there will be an Oversight Committee!,” I’d tell them. And they’d say things like, “Yeah, how’s that working out for Measure Y? Let’s talk about Measure DD!” And really, how am I supposed to argue with them?

Oh, and don’t even get me started on the freaking District Attorney, who, according to the Trib, is eager to study a report that doesn’t even allege deliberate malfeasance:

Ruby said at this time, her office does not plan to move the audit forward with the Alameda County’s District Attorney’s office. But Alameda County District Attorney Tom Orloff Thursday said he does plan to review a copy of the audit.

This is coming from the boss of our local ADA, Tom “We try not to put people in jail” Rogers, who flat-out refused to provide the Council any information about the outcomes of the cases our police force passes on to them, when asked to do so for a report on solved crimes (PDF!) the City Council’s Public Safety Committee received on Tuesday. Donnez-moi un break, Orloff, and start doing your actual job.

2 thoughts on “Breaking: City of Oakland wastes money! Shocker!

  1. Jim

    V Smooth writes~
    Allowing people to buy-back vacation is a fairly normal business practice, and Edgerly’s correct when she says that it’s cheaper to let employees do it sooner rather than later (the cost of vacation increases over time due to pre-negotiated annual salary raises).
    This is absolutely not true in todays work environment. I dont know of a single company that allows an unlimited number of vacation days or weeks to be carried over. The company i work for is in the business of tracking compensation and benefits for a variety of industries so I challenge you on what you write as fact. The Chron reported that Edgerly approved and defended all of them, including one to an employee owed 12,000 hours. That works out to 30 weeks of vacation at a 40 hour work week-which i dont believe city employees work. Most companies allow a very limited carry over because of the financial liability it presents to keep it on the books. It is in no way cheaper for a company to let vacation time accrue. The arguement about pre negotiated salary raises make it cheaper to buy back is absolute nonsense. In the modern workplace its ‘use it or lose it’. Its also proven that worker effiency and health is improved with days off and vacation taken-it should be mandatory they take it, or they lose it. So this may not be an issue of corruption but it certainly is imcompetent. And i would have to question the case of the employee with 30 weeks accured, something fishy there.

  2. V Smoothe Post author

    Of the three private sector businesses I have most recently worked for as my primary source of income, one was an international commercial real estate brokerage, one was a local lawfirm, and one was a national hotel company. All permitted accrual and buy-back of unlimited vacation time. Perhaps these were not representative of most employers (clearly someone who does this for a living would know more about it than me), but I have a hard time imagining that they are completely unique in this sense.

    Nonetheless, allowing vacation time to accrue is an issue determined by the City’s contracts with unions. It is not at the discretion of the City Administrator. Perhaps the contracts should be less generous. Personally, I think they are overly so in a variety of respects. Recently, the City has taken steps to limit the amount of accurable time, which is, to my mind, a good thing. But in the case of hours accrued while previous agreements were in place, the city is obligated to honor them.

    For the record, here is Edgerly’s response to the issue of leave buy back:

    The audit criticizes the City for having inadequate limitations on buyback of earned leave. Leave buy-backs are a cash-out of what the City already owes an employee as earned vacation, management leave, etc. Cashing out these leave balances can have a positive fiscal impact to the City, since it reduces future fiscal liability of the employee cashing out at a potentially higher salary. The audit overstates leave buy-back amounts by improperly including amounts paid outside the scope of the audit period, incorrectly considering several employees’ final checks as buy-backs and failing to take into consideration the impact of the City Jail closure (the affected employees, who were being redeployed into lower paying jobs, were allowed to sell back their vacation at their former, higher rates, as required by law). That said, payroll staff continues to enhance its operations and procedures and has set new and stricter buy-back limits, which are currently enforced.

    Here is the response from the Finance and Management Agency:

    Historically, the City has been liberal in processing “buybacks” for its employees given that “buybacks” are technically no more than cashing out what is already is owed to the employee-be it vacation, sick, or management leave. However, in recent years, there has been an increasing movement, not only within this City, but also in other local governments and corporations, to limit vacation, sick or other accruals, and thereby limit the overall financial liability resulting from these accruals. The current MOUs for civilian employees, for example, now provide for caps in accrued vacation. Currently staff adheres to MOU, AI and other payroll standards as part of the re-organization goals and objectives.

    However, the City Auditor’s portrayal of the extent of the buy-backs is inaccurate. Primarily, the above fails to take into account the agreement with those employees impacted by the closure of the City Jail who were allowed to sell back their vacation leave at their current rates as many of those employees were redeployed into lower paying positions. In addition, when the caps for accrued vacation went into affect, this spurned many employees to sell back their leave in order to prevent losing more accruals. Also, in some cases,although the “Vacation Buyback” element was used, the transaction was actually “Vacation Cash-in-Lieu”, which is technically an employee’s final payout at termination or resignation.