In May 2006, I had an opportunity to speak with then-Mayoral candidate Ron Dellums. It was pretty informal – I standing outside a downtown bar, enjoying a cigarette, when he and his entourage were walking passed, and I just stopped him and asked a question. I don’t remember my exact inquiry, but it had something to do with his schedule, whether he was going to be at some debate or something, which was listed on the website schedules for the other candidates, but not on his.
To my surprise, he stopped and chatted with me for kind of a while, maybe ten minutes or so. Well, chatted probably isn’t the right word. Lectured, maybe? Basically, he didn’t answer the question, but told me that I shouldn’t go to debates because they’re worthless. It pretty much went like this.
Dellums: I don’t believe in debates. That’s not the kind of government I want to create. A debate is all about asking politicians to tell you want they’re going to do, and I don’t believe in that kind of passive government. You need to have your own ideas, that’s why I’m running. You tell me what you want, and then I can do it. That’s what democracy is all about.
V: Um…okay. Well, I’m actually really concerned about -
Dellums: You see, this is the problem with you young people today. You treat government like a television. You don’t get involved. You can’t just sit back and ask people what their ideas are, you need to have your own ideas!
V: Well, what I’d really like to see Oakland do -
Dellums: You need to get involved! You need to participate! You need to tell your leaders what you want. That’s what I’m here for. To be a vehicle for you. I can’t do it all myself, I need you to tell me what you want to see.
V: There’s this one thing I’m particularly worried about, maybe -
Dellums: See, when I was your age, we weren’t like that. We didn’t sit and wait for elected officials to do things. We told them what we wanted. We were the leaders.
V: Well, what I think –
Dellums: I’m running to empower you. I’m doing all this for you. So you can have a voice. But it’s up to you to use that voice. I’m just a tool to make what you want happen. But you need ideas! You need a vision!
V: Okay, well something I’ve been working on –
Dellums: You can’t just sit around waiting for your Mayor to do what you want. You have to get involved. I don’t know what you want if you don’t tell me. I can’t do what you want if you don’t have any ideas. You need to get active, get engaged! I want to be your vessel, but if you don’t give me anything to work with, then I’m an empty vessel.
V: I really want -
Dellums: If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. I didn’t come out of retirement to talk down to you, to tell you what I’m here to do. No, I came out of retirement to give you a voice. But it’s up to you to exercise that voice. Don’t sit around and watch debates. Pick up the remote control! Create a vision!
V: I’d really like to see -
Dellums: Look, I can only be as effective as you let me be. I have to go now, but think about what I said. Think about what you want me to do, don’t ask me what I’m going to do. Have a vision.
V: Okay, just one thing I think is really important –
Dellums: Okay, I’m late. But it was a pleasure to talk to you and I hope you will take my words to heart. I came back here to listen to you. That’s what I’m about. But you need to have something to say if this is going to work. [continues walking down the street, entourage follows]
V: Um…thank you?
So…yeah. I couldn’t help but recall this insistence that it isn’t his job to generate ideas yesterday as I was reading the update on the Mayor’s Public Safety Plan (PDF) that the Public Safety Committee will receive tomorrow. It’s, um, pretty much the same as the completely absurd draft he offered back in September, except longer. It’s really, really depressing to read and makes you feel pretty much totally hopeless about the prospect of ever getting anything done in this City. Allow me to share with you a portion of the section on “Communication and Public Information.”
As a first step we must build credibility and trust. The community must understand that Oakland recognizes its various public safety challenges and that a comprehensive public safety strategy is underway to address those challenges. Second, the public must understand what individuals and families can do to prevent crime, how to respond if it happens, and participate in efforts to prevent violence.
Before any specific communications plan or public education campaign can be developed, a Public Safety Communications Team must be established as a subset of the Citywide Public Safety Council. It will include representatives from the Mayor’s Communications Office and Public Safety Team, the Oakland Police Department, the Neighborhood Services Division, Measure Y program staff, street outreach workers and other public safety stakeholders. This group will meet at least twice per month to identify communications challenges and opportunities that each participant faces, identify communications strategies to address the challenges and coordinate the various communications efforts.
Once this Public Safety Communications Team is established, it would develop a strategic communications plan. The plan will outline specific communications goals, identify target audiences, develop specific public safety messages and select communications tools to deliver those messages.
Then we’re going to either create a new staff position or hire a consultant to be in charge of the information campaign that comes at the end of all this, which is estimated to cost $200,000.
Ugh. Creating endless numbers of teams and task forces and committees and subcommittees who strategize together for endless periods of time is not leadership. This does not move Oakland forward. You want to improve public information and communication efforts about public safety? This is what you do. You pick someone and tell them “We need to improve public information and communication about public safety. I particularly want you to address x, y, and z. Figure out how we’re going to do it, and come back to me with the finished plan in a month.” Then, when they come back, if it’s good, you say “Great. Now go do it.” And if it isn’t, you say “I’m sorry, this isn’t acceptable. Do it again and come back in two weeks.” That’s how it’s worked in every job I’ve ever had. That’s how you get things done.
In contrast, this is what you end up with when the person in charge cares more about talking and sitting around waiting to hear from every damn person under the sun about every last thing than actually accomplishing anything, ever.
Don’t even get me started on the MySpace for Oakland public safety they want to build.