Carlos Plazola: Oakland Deserves Excellent Management

On January 22, I filed a complaint against the mayor’s (PDF) office for Cronyism, based on his having placed his long-time friend and ally Dan Lindheim as both Interim City Administrator (In June 08) and Interim Director of the Community and Economic Development Agency (CEDA) (in late 2007) even though Mr. Lindheim had no prior experience in managing a city, or even a department of a city.

Mr. Lindheim served as Mr. Dellums’ legislative aide in Congress for over 20 years, as a policy person at the World Bank, and has also run a small business. But he does not have anywhere close to “12 to 15 years of senior level executive management experience preferably in a large sophisticated diverse urban governmental organization” (a primary qualification excerpted from the Mayor’s own job description (PDF) for the City Administrator position).

While serving as a council aide for almost seven years, I observed that the most important job a mayor can do is hire great administrators and department heads. One of the reasons that Jerry Brown was so successful at achieving his goals of attracting downtown housing, building two pioneering charter schools (School for the Arts and the Oakland Military Institute), reducing crime, and growing Oakland’s budget was because he was surrounded by national leaders in municipal management; people like Robert Bobb, known as a top leader in his field of government administration and management; Claudia Cappio, a top administrator in economic development; and Raul Godinez, Oakland’s current Public Works Director who is winning awards for his innovative management efforts.
In turn, Robert Bobb surrounded himself with highly competent staff assistants, with advanced degrees in public administration, who were highly motivated and ambitious; people like Edward Reiskin (then his deputy administrator) who is now Director of Public Works in San Francisco, and Rosie Rios (then Director of Economic Development) who now works for the MacFarlane Partners, an investment group that manages over 11 billion dollars in assets.

People often forget that Oakland had relatively low crime rates in 2003, 2004, 2005, even though our police department was severely understaffed at the time. In 2004, for example Oakland had 82 homicides and less than 730 officers. This success was based on the fact that we had excellent management that demanded results from Oakland’s workforce.
Much of this success began to deteriorate after Robert Bobb left, and then Mrs. Rios, and then Mr. Reiskin, and finally Mrs. Cappio. As a result, the management of our city is in shambles, and no restructuring plan will save us. The only thing that will save us is decisive leadership, which Mayor Dellums is incapable of; and effective management, which Mr. Lindheim has no experience in.

Oakland has an opportunity to neutralize the ineffective leadership of the Mayor by filling the key positions of the city–City Administrator, Director of CEDA, Fire Chief, Police Chief–with proven leaders in their respective fields.

The appointment of Dan Lindheim as Interim City Administrator and interim Director of CEDA was a slap-in-the-face to Oaklanders in that it exemplifies the worst kind of crony-based governing, where it is more important to reward your friends, then it is to deliver excellent services to residents. Making Mr. Lindheim the permanent City Administrator, particularly at a time when Oakland is in crisis, would be unconscionable.
Oakland residents must demand excellent management of its city, or else we get what we deserve.

Carlos Plazola, former aide to Council President De La Fuente, now runs a small company in Oakland, and resides in the Fruitvale.

33 thoughts on “Carlos Plazola: Oakland Deserves Excellent Management

  1. dto510

    What happened to Dellums’ nationwide search for a new administrator? I believe he received and spent over $100k on it – what are the results?

  2. Joanna/ShopGirl

    DTO – you expect results? How dare you?!

    I am just afraid that the $100K is going to Robert Bobb’s big pockets and personally I’d like to see a new face that has no history with Oakland and what can and cannot be done.

    The same for the Police Chief position. Tucker has always been in tandem with the Alameda County Sherrif and, imho, at Oakland’s expense.

    We’re filling the city with new people who have no idea what the history is. Now let’s fill city government with the same. No more repeating of history, please.

    Cheers,
    Joanna

  3. Ken Ott

    I am nearly unconscionably glad that Chief Tucker resigned today.

    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2009/01/27/BAF615HUNQ.DTL

    He needed to go – he had no experience running an urban police department and everyone knew it. He demoralized OPD with 12-hour shifts and other nonsense. Now OPD can find a leader within (or out) of its ranks to properly lead.

    It is high time for Dellums and his friend Lindheim to go as well, and for us to have real leadership.

  4. Mike Spencer

    People often forget that Oakland had relatively low crime rates in 2003, 2004, 2005, even though our police department was severely understaffed at the time. In 2004, for example Oakland had 82 homicides and less than 730 officers. This success was based on the fact that we had excellent management that demanded results from Oakland’s workforce.”—

    Uh, you think it might also have been related to a much better economy too? Like coaches, politicians often get too much credit or too much blame. Jobs are a pretty good check on crime. Just bringing it up as a possible factor.

  5. V Smoothe

    Actually, Oakland’s unemployment rate in 2003 and 2004 was quite high, and it is only in the past few months that the current unemployment rate has eclipsed it. Crime started really skyrocketing in Oakland during 2006, when we had our lowest unemployment rate in years.

  6. len raphael

    there was one accurate section of his bitter resignation statement “I don’t want to be here with this council. I don’t have any faith in this council,” Tucker said as several members of his command staff and acting City Administrator Dan Lindheim looked on. “I doubt their sincerity in seeing that reforms are done.”

    I think he’s right about the council which swings wildly between shutting down the police academy several years ago, allowing the misappropriation of measure Y monies, to approving unaffordable compensation levels for cops.

    -len raphael
    temescal

  7. Erin Battlefield

    That is hilarious that the Council was briefed on the Poulsen investigation in 2003 and 2005 but didn’t demand that anyone resign back then.

  8. Patrick

    The Matier & Ross column in the SF Chronicle reported tonight that Dellums plans on appointing Lindheim as the City Administrator.

  9. Brooklyn Avenue

    len raphael-

    “For all their hand-wringing over the Oakland Police Department’s latest embarrassment – an FBI probe into the alleged April 2000 beating of a suspect by Capt. Ed Poulson, who now heads the department’s internal affairs division – City Council members shouldn’t have been entirely surprised.

    “In January 2005, they received a confidential memo from City Attorney John Russo describing some of the problems surrounding the internal investigation of Poulson and others. But Tuesday, none of the council members who were on the board at the time – and who supported Tuesday’s resignation of Police Chief Wayne Tucker – recalled getting the five-page document.

    “None of us can recall being briefed,” said Councilman Larry Reid.”

    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2009/01/27/BASV15IFC3.DTL

  10. OaklanderbyBirth

    Let’s get something straight. Although certain criticism may be warranted, Carlos Plazola’s diatribe against Dan Lindheim has nothing to do with whether he was appropriate for the job or is performing adequately. Mr. Plazola does not like Mr. Lindheim because of the vocal opposition Mr. Lindheim has expressed on the unsustainable projects that Mr. Plazola has promoted for himself and his clients.

    Moreover, Carlos Plazola’s comments reek of hypocrisy. Many who have witnessed Oakland’s cronyism deal making from the side lines can point to the following:

    While Mr. Plazola was an aide to Ignacio de la Fuente, he re-drew city maps to benefit property he owned in the Tidewater area of the Fruitvale along with de la Fuente’s longtime supporters Ana Cretian of ABC Security, Tony Batarse our non-Oakland-resident Port Commissioner and Lily Hu, currently under investigation by the FBI.

    Examples abound of how cronyism involving Mr. Plazola working in conjunction with Mr. de la Fuente has affected the Fruitvale area; such as their maneuvering to secure a $1 million, low-interest CITY LOAN for Emilia Otero and her “Placita project”.

    Clearly Mr. Plazola’s version of recent Oakland history differs from many of us who continue to critically question the impact that Jerry Brown had on Oakland. Time has proven what some of us predicted – we now have serious problems with overbuilding and Oakland’s redevelopment coffers have been depleted due to the corporate welfare bestowed by Mr. Brown to his friends for projects like Foster City. By draining scarce public education dollars, Jerry Brown’s charter schools were established to the detriment of our other city schools; moving valuable resources from lower performing schools to showcase his magnet schools.

    The suggestion that 82 murders in 2003, 2004 and 2005 is a more desired number troubles me. Oakland should not settle for this type of argument. Plus, to be fair we should examine Oakland’s crime statistics when Mr. Brown first took over to see from that baseline whether the numbers rose during his tenure.

    Politics may continue to be a lucrative game for some in Oakland as they so far have been for Mr. Plazola. However, I hold out hope that one day soon those of us who have businesses here and are committed to participating in and truly improving our communities will prevail in turning Oakland around.

    Beware of people protesting too loudly. If Oakland is to prosper we must question motives, explore relationships, examine history and most importantly, reject hypocrisy.

    Good night!

  11. V Smoothe

    Oaklanderbybirth, you seem to be misinformed on a number of counts. Among them:

    Redrew what maps? The Tidewater area remains zoned just as it has been for ages. The Council only made a decision on rezoning the area this spring, long after Mr. Plazola left City Hall. The change will not be implemented for a few years, once the EIR for the Estuary Specifc Plan is complete.

    Also, the redevelopment coffers have been depleted not by “corporate welfare,” but by the State, which took all our (pretty substantial) unencumbered redevelopment funds to help fill its own budget deficit.

  12. Max Allstadt

    Oaklanderbybirth,

    In some ways, this is a clear tit-for-tat. But some times the only way you can get people to stop getting all high and mighty in your face is to feed them some of their own medicine.

    It’s also unfair to characterize Carlos’ ethics complaint as motivated by his interest in a particular development project. Unlike John Klein’s beef with Carlos at the ethics commission, Carlos’ complaint is about a multitude of problems that multiple people have with the way Mr. Lindheim has been performing.

    I’m sure Vsmoothe, if she felt like it, could put together a video compilation of councilmembers and planning commissioners sighing in dismay in response to Mr. Lindheim’s frequent non-answers during meetings.

    Council President Brunner has had her share of moments like this. So have a lot of other people. The cronyism complaint makes sense both because of problems like this, and because what Carlos points out is true. Lindheim has a long working relationship with the mayor, but lacks many of the qualifications listed as important to the job he’s doing. That’s exactly what Councilmember Nadel’s anti-cronyism law is written to prevent.

    Furthermore, we have a mayoralty wrapped in layers of secrecy and silence. We have a mayor who was recently forced to fire a crooked city administrator, and who was so reluctant to do so that he had to be bullied by the press for weeks before he actually grew the stones to fire her.

    This is hardly the right time to hire a city administrator who learned everything he knows about transparency and accountability from his previous job… at the World Bank.

  13. John

    A couple of not so obvious points. First, laws, such as those prohibiting cronyism and those requiring lobbyists to register and disclose their lobbying activities, don’t include pre-conditions about the complainant’s motivation – a “smell test” as it were, which would judge whether a complainant’s motivation is proper and altruistic enough to underpin a legitimate complaint. In such a scenario, if a complaint were judged to be too selfish, too self serving, or too politically motivated, etc., then the complaint might no or should not be taken seriously. Fortunately for all sides, a complaint rises and falls on its facts, not on the motivation of the complainant.

    Second, these laws rely on adversarial perspectives and relationships in order for them to work. That is to say, people certainly aren’t going to file cronyism or public ethics complaints against close friends, close business associates, or fellow cronies. The system relies on adversaries to make it work.

    The task beyond this is to “keep it civil,” I believe.

  14. Max Allstadt

    That is totally accurate, John.

    I still think you and Carlos are combative to a degree which is beginning to achieve self-parody.

    You are correct about the merits being more important than the motives. Oaklander by Birth was on a tangent, impugning Carlos’ motives instead of his complaint. It also distracted me onto a tangent about your beef with Carlos.

    What Carlos raises in this article is a much bigger complaint about two much bigger fish: Dellums and Lindheim. So what of the merits? Mr. Lindheim has two years of experience as a municipal executive and he is about to be hired for a job which asks that applicants have 12 years of such experience. The man hiring him has known and worked with him for 20+years. I think it’s a valid complaint as far as the new law goes. Anybody see any faults in it, legally speaking?

  15. Erin Battlefield

    This puzzle was on my mind today as I drove to work: if everyone in the clusterfuck that is Oakland city government who has a beef with someone files an ethics complaint today, (and assuming that most of them are warranted, see “clusterfuck” above), how long will it take before the entire structure collapses?

  16. Carlos Plazola

    When John Klein filed a public ethics complaint against me, I did not attack John Klien’s character or seek to impugn him. My attorney showed the commission that Mr. Klein, on behalf of CALM, has engaged in the very same activities as I have. It’s important for the case to be heard on its own merits, and for things to NOT become personal.

    John, I’m sure you’re a wonderful guy. And I’m sure Dan Lindheim is a wonderful guy. None of this is personal, and none of it should be. It’s about a city, and the future of this city. And what each of us will do to help make it better. Each of us must then live with their actions, or inaction, every day. I sleep very well at night.

    We are residents of this city, impacted by decisions made by those we elect, and those they appoint. And we retain the right, as those affected, to express our concerns, and question the decisions our leaders make on our behalf.

    When I step out and voice my opinion publicly, I accept that there will be people like OaklanderbyBirth or Robert Gammon who try to distract people from the message by impugning the messenger. I’m OK with that.

    But I think it’s more helpful, if we are to fix our city, that we evaluate the merit in each others arguments rather than engaging in personal attacks. Like I said, I’m sure Mr.Lindheim is a wonderful guy. But this is about a city, and its management, not about people’s characters, in my opinion.

    As for the allegations against me, it’s all been printed an re-printed, and I’ve even told my side of the story on this blog, so besides being old news, it’s not relevant to the merits of my allegations of cronyism. But I welcome any of you to have a field day dissecting me or my life, especially if I ever get appointed to a position that affects your life.

    Best

    Carlos Plazola

  17. Oh Pleeze

    To Joanna/ShopGirl

    Point of debate re “…Now let’s fill city government with the same. No more repeating of history, please.”

    Hypothesis:
    Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. [George Santayana; Reason in Common Sense, 1905]

    Observations of Oakland Mayoral patterns supporting Santayana’s hypothesis: [i.e., mayoral cluelessness re. the history of the city they govern].

    1. Ron Dellums. Mayor of Oakland 2007 to present
    Previous Job: US Congressman, Dist 9 1971 – 1998
    Putative residence: Washington DC , @ 26 years
    2. Jerry Brown. Mayor of Oakland 1998-2006.
    Previous Jobs: Chair Democratic Party of CA 1989-1991,
    California Secretary of State 1971-1975,
    Governor of California 1975-1983;
    Putative residence = Sacramento @ 20 yrs.
    3. Elihu Harris. Mayor of Oakland 1991-1998.
    Previous Job: 12 years in California State Assembly,
    Putative residence = Sacramento @ 12 years

    Joanna, With all respect,

    1. We *have* filled Oakland with new people in our city government who have no idea Oakland’s history. Oakland’s had almost 20 years of mayors who’ve lived in Oakland barely enough to establish legal residency, and thus have only minimal first hand experience with the City’s history.

    2. We *have* repeated history. Oakland has a sadly set a pattern of electing mayors who’ve lived ‘somewhere else’ for 12 years to their entire lifetime; of letting ourselves be governed by men with no municipal experience and no day to day hands-on feel for Oakland’s history or diversity or infrastructure or problems or neighborhoods or opportunities.

    It’s not working.

  18. Carlos Plazola

    Oh, and Max, I don’t have a beef with John, nor with you, so I don’t understand the self-parody comment. John and I are on opposite sides of an issue. He filed a complaint against me. I am defending against the complaint, and the appropriate body of the city will hear it. Simple as that.

    I don’t think I have ever aired any personal grievance with John. As far as I’m concerned, he is doing what he thinks is right. Good for him. That’s democracy.

    Back to the topic at hand?
    C

  19. Frankie D

    We can sit on our butts and complain and post comments till were blue in the face. But at the end of the day we have to ask ourselves what have I done to make my community better? As a lifelong resident of Oakland I have a whole plethora of ideas to discuss that could make this city become the efficient center of commerce and culture it should be. (Council term limits, less district and more at large council seats, returning back to a full time mayor rather than a strong mayor, etc.). And there is plenty of blame to go around, remember Mayor Brown hired Edgerly and Chief Tucker, while firing Chief Samuels and forcing out Bob Bobb. But first things first, lets put our money and efforts where our mouths currently are and start taking action we still live in a democracy, why have so few people signed up at this post?

    http://www.petitiononline.com/mod_perl/signed.cgi?510911&1

    Or we can hope the Obama Administration appoints Mayor Dellums Ambassador to Zimbabwe.

  20. Max Allstadt

    Not particularly personal. Just very heated. I understand that the heat is directed at the official positions of everybody involved rather than the people taking those positions. The tone of some of the rhetoric used by everybody involved with Emerald Views gets out of hand some time.

    There’s a difference, also, between getting close to self-parody, and actual self-parody. My last encounter with actual self parody in Oakland was when I watched the whackjob radical mouthpiece of Uhuru Solidarity standing in line in a yuppie coffee shop staffed exclusively by white college students.

    Anyway… the topic is Lindheim and Dellums. My answer is YES, IT’S CRONYISM. And SO FAR, I’m hearing zero dissent to your complaint Carlos. Maybe you’ve got a shot at this! Especially when Mr. Lindheim has managed on various occasions to offend and frustrate powerful elected officials from multiple factions.

    The vagueness of the new lobbying, nepotism and cronyism statutes may actually be good for us, especially after the growing pains of implementation are over. If the long term effect is that everybody is walking on eggshells trying to be transparent, the only person who’ll lose is Sanjiv Handa, who’d be out of a job.

  21. len raphael

    why would lindheim want a job that’s going to eat up his life if he puts in the required hours; and for which he’ll probably fail because he has insufficient experience? is the money much better than what he has now? can’t believe he wants to become a professional city manager or run for mayor here.

    EB and Bklyn, that will become a classic oakland political moment: city council members “do not recall” getting briefed in 2005 about Poulson’s controversy. Reminds me of the council members “forgetting” they closed down the police academy back then also. Maybe we need to have an age limit on council members…

    -len raphael
    temescal

  22. das88

    I’ll second Max on getting back to the topic at hand. Just because Carlos wrote the post doesn’t mean he should be the topic of discussion.

    Facts are a) there is a job description for City Administrator; b) Dan Lindheim has a resume; c) there is a huge mismatch between points a and b.

  23. John

    Max,
    I’d make the same general comment about the size of the “fish.” The laws don’t make a distinction in this regard. This would include whether the fish is the City Administrator responsible for implementing all areas of policy in the City of Oakland, a lobbyist and former city official working on a more limited range of policy issues, or a lobbyist with a single issue, the Smoking Ordinance, for example.

    The regulations apply equally and don’t distinguish amongst the relative positions of the parties or the pecking order of the fish in the pond. One could quite easily make the case that lobbying council members is a much more critical activity because it is the City Council which makes law in Oakland; neither the Mayor nor the City Administrator do this. The ability to influence legislation could be seen by some as a much more critical concern to a functioning democracy than the fact that one City employee doesn’t have the work history some believe he/she should.

  24. Max Allstadt

    Hey man, I was just trying to get us back to the original subject. Although you do remind me of something: if Erin’s nightmare scenario of massive complaint filings came true, the ethics commission would have a huge amount of power ‘cuz they’d get to prioritize stuff.

    And as far as lobbying goes, it bothers me no end that the burden is on the civilian instead of the official. Really dumb.

    And also given the mess Edgerly made, I have to disagree with you on priorities. Carlos’ complaint is the single most important one in a while. We’re seeing a civilian exercise a check on the Mayor’s power, and not very long after the check was created.

  25. homebase

    Look folks, Oakland is in crisis – our budget is screwed, angry people are marching in the streets on a near-weekly basis and key positions are empty. This reality is the result of lots of factors, not just the Mayor.

    We’ve all called for the Mayor to move forward, to take action. He has done just that with these appointments. Mr Lindheim is a smart, accountable person and with the right team in a permanent position will do fine.

    This call to oppose to Mr Lindheim smells like political posturing for 2010.

    Its time to stop playing politics and get back to work. I hope the Council approves the appointment and we can all move forward to deal with these serious challenges the city faces.

  26. V Smoothe

    I agree 100% that we need to stop playing politics and get to work. This is why it is imperative that the City select a permanent administrator who is qualified for the position and possess the administrative experience clearly delineated in the City Charter as a prerequisite for the job.

    I can’t quite figure out what the choice of City Administrator would have to do with 2010, though.

  27. Max Allstadt

    If Mr. Lindheim was smart and accountable, and in touch with the city…

    Why the HELL didn’t he stop the Mayor from sacking Claudia Albano?

    The mayor makes community policing a huge part of his vision of the “Model City” But when he has an employee who has taken us from 100 neighborhood block-watch groups to over 400 in under a year… he fires her. Guess why he fired her? Not because she screwed up. Not because she was disloyal. Ron Dellums didn’t know she was alive.

    And from the looks of it, after 7 months as acting administrator, Lindheim didn’t know about Claudia Albano’s stunning success either. If he did, from a purely political perspective he would have said “Ron, this woman has 400 well organized groups of friends. Firing her would be an incredibly horribly bad idea.” Lindheim did nothing of the sort. So besides lacking the qualifications on paper to meet the City’s stated requirements, he’s proven over 7 months that he’s proven he won’t be good at the job… by being bad at the job.

    What does this have to do with 2010? EVERYBODY running in 2010 is going to spend about a third of their campaign time talking about how Dellum’s “Model City” vision turned out to be Dellums trashing our Model City like a drunken fumbling Godzilla.

    What’s more, I don’t get why the council is being unanimously soft on Dellums. They could maintain the status quo by keeping Lindheim as “Acting”, and this would simultaneously emasculate Ron Dellums, who totally deserves it. If we can’t recall Godzilla anymore, I say neutering him might make him a little more docile.

  28. Chris Kidd

    The Terrible Ron-zilla! Emits ear-splitting rhetoric and bland platitudes! Smashes cities with his frightening inaction and opaque administration!

    Where’s Mothra when we really need her?

  29. Max Allstadt

    And watch out for Mecha-Lindheim, who repeats the same rhetoric, with the dubious sincerity of a giant robot.

  30. Chris Kidd

    It’s said that Mecha-Lindheim’s mustache knows no accountability and can shoot green fire 300 feet and bend around corners. His haunting call rings throughout the corridors of city hall: “The report will be forthcoming in 3 months time. Or maybe later. Or maybe never…”

  31. Max Allstadt

    Chris, we better quit while we’re ahead or we’re gonna end up in the principal’s office.