Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums has been taking a lot of flack lately for his hostility to the press. Of course, none of this is really news. Deckin repeatedly covered the problem during last year’s Mayoral campaign, and the East Bay Express ran an article about Dellums’s long-running problems with the media shortly after his election.
An East Bay Express blog post shortly after Dellums’s inauguration in January prompted Novometro co-founder Alex Gronke to opine that whether Dellums was friendly to reporters or not didn’t really matter:
If Mr. Dellums is serious about running an open City Hall, and there is no reason now to suspect that he isn’t, he will allow city employees to speak freely to the press. He will publish his official calendar online, revealing the people he meets with when he is working on our dime. He will post his statements of economic interest online and encourage other city officials to do the same. I would love it if he one-upped the Fair Political Practices Commission and published his statement of economic interest quarterly rather than the annual file the FPPC now requires.
And there are plenty of things we can do as citizens of Oakland to ensure openness in our local government. There is no reason to rely on the media to chase down the story. First, we can share information and expertise as broadly as possible. Very often, as Malcolm Gladwell writes in a recent New Yorker article, “secrets” are often sitting in broad daylight waiting for decoding.
Through collaboration, no reporter will ever have to chase a politician backstage again. Unless he wants to.
When I commented asking if the post was a joke, he responded:
i think the real credulity comes in expecting the mayor’s personal feelings toward the media to have a bearing on how much we learn about city business in coming years.
Clearly, Dellums isn’t warming up to the press. But I’m starting to come around to Gronke’s perspective. Last week, Chip Johnson noted:
Dellums has two choices: He can either find a way other than mainstream media to relay his message to Oakland residents. Or he can find a way to accommodate the Bay Area press and, who knows, even cultivate a few true believers in the process.
I think the first sentence was meant facetiously, but it isn’t a bad idea. If Dellums is interested in exploring alternate methods of communication with the public, why not go for it? The last several years have witnessed an explosion in new ways to share one’s ideas. Dellums doesn’t have to like the media, but he does need to let the public know what he’s doing.
All last week, Dellums’s website stated the the Mayor’s complete public safety agenda would be posted on Friday. Around 4:30 Friday afternoon, the page was changed to say that the agenda would be posted on Monday. Monday afternoon, the promise was removed entirely. As of this writing, the site says nothing whatsoever about when (or if) the agenda will be released.
If Dellums doesn’t like holding press conferences and answering questions, fine. I don’t really care. He can go ahead and post his detailed policy initiatives on his website for everyone to see. Reporters can wade through them just like I do (this might even have the added benefit of forcing them to get things right, rather than just repeating meaningless talking points). But as long as he refuses to do so, it really looks like the issue isn’t simply problems with the media, but a genuine reluctance to give Oakland the transparent government he promised.