Okay, this is amazing.
Yesterday, I wrote about a proposal to issue an RFP for a new street outreach program funded with Measure Y reserve money for Novometro. Although the Measure Y Oversight Committee had previously rejected the proposal as written, and asked the Mayor’s office to return in December with a more well thought-out plan, the matter had already been scheduled to be heard by the Public Safety Committee on Tuesday.
I was hoping that the Mayor’s office would respect the concerns of the Oversight Committee and tell the Public Safety Committee that they would be returning in a month with a more detailed proposal. Barring that, I was hoping that the Councilmembers would show some respect for the concept of citizen oversight and accountability when it comes to spending the taxes they’ve collected. I was disappointed on both counts. The Public Safety Committee dismissed the concerns of the Oversight Committee members and moved forward a half-baked plan to issue a RFP to spend $375,000 of Measure Y funds based on a 211 word program description. The whole affair is shocking. Details (and some video) below.
On September 15, Mayor Ron Dellums made an announcement at a block party in West Oakland that he was proposing an initiative to hire 25 street outreach workers. At the time, Dellums said that he would hire 25 native East and West Oakland youth to provide street-based conflict resolution.
Dellums said he expects the council to support the program enthusiastically and that the outreach workers could hit the streets in the next few weeks.
The proposal didn’t come before the Public Safety Committee in September, as Dellums claimed at the block party. Instead, the issue was scheduled to be heard at the October meeting of the Measure Y Oversight Committee. The proposal to allocate the funding for a street outreach program was listed on the agenda, but the Mayor’s office failed to submit a written report on the item in time for the meeting. At the meeting, Dellums’s new public safety director, Lenore Anderson, approached the committee and informed them that the Mayor’s office was in the process of formulating a strategy for the street outreach program, but had not yet decided what they want. Ms. Anderson said that she was speaking to the committee that night to inform them that in November, she would be returning with a formal written proposal.
Ms. Anderson told the Committee that the Mayor’s office recognized that there are a number of existing programs providing street outreach services and funded by Measure Y, and that in consideration of that, the Mayor’s proposal would be designed to “expand and enhance existing street outreach efforts and connect these efforts to law enforcement and other service providers.”
When asked about their goals for the program by the Committee members, Ms. Anderson was short on specifics. No, that’s wrong. Completely absent of specifics. Dierdre Strickland-Meads asked what type of people the Mayor’s office was looking to hire as outreach workers – trained social workers, people with personal experience on the streets, people from the community, people from outside the community, part-time, full-time, or what? Ms. Anderson’s response was “We have not delved that far in our discussions, but we would probably employ a combination.” Her responses to other queries were equally informative.
For the November meeting, the Mayor’s office did submit a written report (PDF!), but it fell far short of the level of detail the Committee was expecting. The proposal submitted has little relationship with the program Ms. Anderson described at the October meeting. Gone is any mention of using the money to enhance existing efforts. The new proposal is to have the Department of Human Services to issue an Request for Proposals for organizations able to create a program that will direct street outreach specifically in the highest stressor areas and work with highest risk individuals, and who provide their own matching resources. The program description in the report is 211 words long.
Oversight Committee members had a lot of issues with what they were being asked to recommend. Committee Chair Maya Dillard-Smith wondered if an RFP for new programs was the most efficient way to use the money:
Dierdre Strickland-Meads wondered why the proposal before her was so different that what was described last month:
Marcus Johnson complained about the vaugeness of the presentation:
Oversight Committee Chair Maya-Dillard Smith complained that the report was light on specifics, but Ron Owens said he didn’t care:
When asked for details about the program, Ms. Anderson said that they hadn’t really thought about it:
In the end, Eli Naor really said it best:
In the end, the Oversight Committee asked the Mayor’s office to return in one month, at the next meeting, with a report detailing how many workers would be hired, how long the program would last, and what expected outcomes were. Of course, Ms. Anderson had left the room by the time they got to this.
At last night’s Public Safety Committee meeting, the Councilmembers present rejected the concerns of the Oversight Committee, and went ahead forwarding the recommendation to the full Council.
Ms. Anderson gave the Public Safety Committee a broad overview of street outreach programs in general, then explained that the program would be different from existing street outreach funded by Measure Y because it would target older individuals, and would target individuals that were already . Three members of the Oversight Committee spoke, explaining to the Council why they asked for the plan to come back with more information, and also corrected Ms. Anderson about the populations served by existing outreach efforts. During the discussion, Councilmembers kept repeating Anderson’s assertion that this would serve different groups, even after they had been informed otherwise.
Jean Quan was particularly condescending (in a very clear reminder of why she shouldn’t run for Mayor – this is exactly why people don’t like her), lecturing the Oversight Committee Members on their duties, telling them that they shouldn’t expect to hear specifics about the RFP, and concluding “Your role, I think is like ours, is a much more general policy role. Is this a good thing to spend money on?” Quan is, of course, wrong. The Oversight Committee is not a policy making body. The text of Measure Y makes the Oversight Committee’s mandate very clear:
To ensure proper administration of the revenue collection and spending, and the implementation of the programs mandated by this ordinance, the Mayor shall appoint three members of a “Violence Prevention and Public Safety Oversight Committee” and each council member shall appoint one member. The committee shall review the annual audit, evaluate, inquire and review the administration, coordination and evaluations of the programs and make recommendations to the Mayor and the City Council for any new regulations, resolutions or ordinances for the administration of the programs to comply with the requirements and intent of this Ordinance.
The fact that the Mayor’s office ignored the concerns of the Oversight Committee reveals a shocking lack of respect for transparency and citizen engagement in government. The Councilmembers who voted last night to move the proposal forward in spite of the Oversight Committee’s objections showed a remarkable lack of concern for spending money responsibly.
I, like most of the Oversight Committee members, am all for using resources for targeted violence prevention, and endorse the concept of street outreach targeted at the highest need individuals. But nothing will be achieved by simply throwing money around without any consideration of what exactly we want to do with it, or even what outcomes we want to achieve. The total disregard for the actual impact of legislation or resource allocation on the part of this Council is nothing new, but it was very disheartening to watch them insist that it didn’t matter over the objections of a body specifically charged with ensuring that the taxpayers’ money is spent in the most effective way possible.