Ignacio open to charter reform!

So Oakland City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente held a press conference in front of City Hall this morning, which I’m sure you guys will all read about in the newspaper soon, and which I hope to find time to write more about tomorrow.

Anyway, he presented six things he wants to happen:

  • The Mayor needs to hire a City Administrator “with a national reputation for excellence”
  • He wants to introduce the “toughest anti-nepotism ordinance in the State of California”
  • Complete an audit of the City’s hiring practice and all city hires for the last 24 months
  • Complete citywide financial performance audits “that will identify cost savings and reallocate funds to increase our police force without raising taxes”
  • Install GPS in all city vehicles and get CompStat (or something like it, he didn’t call it by name)

It isn’t like Ignacio hasn’t suggested any of this before, so obviously there’s legitimate reason to be skeptical as to whether or not any of it will actually happen. Ignacio was pretty upfront about this, and repeatedly said in his speech that if anything is going to happen, he will need support and pressure from the citizens of Oakland to get the ball rolling:

I am really not presenting these proposals to be debated inside City Hall. I have done that, I’ve been trying that for 16 years.

and

I can tell you these things will not happen, if you, the citizens, do not stand up and demand them.

Anyway, that’s all well and good, but that’s not what excited me the most about his comments. This wasn’t part of the agenda he passed out, and it obviously won’t be his highest priority, but he’s open to charter changes! He said:

[We need] charter changes that would allow the citizens to be the ones who dictate what we do.

and

…really to make sure that we make the charter changes that need to be made.

So I’m working on a series of posts about charter changes I’d like to see, which will probably go up in the next couple of weeks. And it doesn’t sound like Ignacio has anything specific he wants to see done. Or, at least, isn’t saying what it is yet. But if we’re serious about charter changes, what we need to do is initiate a Charter Review Commission, because it’s going to take some serious work and some serious time to do it. I was so thrilled to hear him acknowledge that we need reform.

22 thoughts on “Ignacio open to charter reform!

  1. Joanna/OnTheGoJo

    V – do you know what the rationale is for adding gps to all city vehicles? I have to tell you that Public Works has them on the trucks that pick up trash and it’s a joke. When the trucks are full, they still stop at the trash can, but don’t empty it. When I ask why, they say that they’ll get in trouble for skipping stops. Uh, but the truck is full and no trash is being picked up. Not only is time being wasted, but so are man hours.

    Maybe gps units are cheap enough that it would be worth it?

    I’m not hearing from enough people that they even care about the DE situation, so I can’t see that the smoke is going to rise to get the Mayor to agree that something needs to be done. On the other hand, he did finally fire her… and the media really piped up. We need more of that! We need Kelly Rayburn at the Tribune to do a series. We need Chip to do a series. We need KTVU to do a series. Etc. It’s only if we can get people to care that we’ll get them motivated to actually do something.

  2. MJH

    “I’m not hearing from enough people that they even care about the DE situation, so I can’t see that the smoke is going to rise to get the Mayor to agree that something needs to be done. On the other hand, he did finally fire her… and the media really piped up. We need more of that!”

    What do you mean by “that” ? Are you referring to a series about DE or GPS?

    Just checking, Thanks.

  3. Chris Kidd

    If there’s an anti-nepotism measure, make sure it includes not only city staff, but contracts given out by the city. I’ve heard far too many whispers of money being awarded to companies staffed by family members and former staffers. And not just through the council, but also through OUSD and other groups. These whispers, of course, are all hearsay. Still, including a measure for such situations would make me feel a lot better about the effecacy of city funds being spent.

  4. Max Allstadt

    Chris Kidd –

    You’ve got a point. But how many degrees of separation do you need?

    Joanna -

    GPS units are getting very very cheap. In order to perform the functions needed by the city, they don’t even need to have touch screens and built in map software. They just need to know where they’ve been. By the time the city authorized purchase, and then actually buys these units, they’ll be even cheaper.

    •••••

    Charter Reform:

    I think it needs to include mandatory open-books for any organization that gets city grants or loans above a certain amount. Retroactive if possible. I want to know what Mandela Foods did with that 300k.

    It should also include a hot-seat provision that makes the Mayor come before the people quarterly for questions and answers. In Council Chambers. On a schedule that allows for primetime news coverage. Council should have to do the same annually. Elected officials answer to the public, so let’s make them answer to the public.

    The administrator should be stripped of the ability to obstruct the orders of elected officials. Perhaps it should be an elected office itself. If council votes to do something and the administrator prevents it – out the door.

    Lastly: If we are going to reform the charter we need to examine the new version and see how unscrupulous officials and electeds will try to cheat it’s intent. We look at the rules and we see if we can get around them. If we can, we fix the leak before the new charter goes to the ballot.

    Oh yeah: I’m in favor of short jail sentences (a week or less) for officials who step out of line in bad enough ways. Let them come back to office afterwards. Having that option available should improve behavior all over city hall the first time it’s used.

  5. Rebecca Kaplan

    A real charter reform conversation is a good idea. Also, when looking at “cronyism”, it should be a broad consideration, and not just focus on the recent time period. It can be helpful to use the recent attention to spark a needed evaluation of reforms, as long as we don’t make the mistake of focusing only on the people who are in the press at this moment, but rather, have a fair evaluation of hiring and contracting processes in general.

    In terms of the City Charter, since this blog tends to include people who enjoy getting into the nuts and bolts, here is the link for the Oakland City Charter, for people who want to read it to make suggestions:

    http://bpc.iserver.net/codes/oakland/_DATA/CHARTER/index.html

    In terms of the discussion about the City Administrator, the Charter states:

    Section 500. Appointment. The Mayor shall appoint a City Administrator, subject to the confirmation by the City Council, who shall be the chief administrative officer of the City. He shall be a person of demonstrated administrative ability with experience in a responsible, important executive capacity and shall be chosen by the Mayor solely on the basis of his executive and administrative qualifications. No member of the Council shall, during the term for which he is elected or appointed, or for one year thereafter, be chosen as City Administrator. (Amended by: Stats. November 1988, November 1998 and March 2004.)

    Section 501. Compensation and Tenure.
    The City Administrator shall receive the salary fixed by the Council. He shall be appointed for an indefinite term and shall serve at the pleasure of the Mayor. (Amended by: Stats. November 1988 and March 2004.)

  6. Chris Kidd

    Max,

    Really, I’d just settle for the councilmember/boardmember/whathaveyou recuse themselves from any decision that involves funding to a company with a known family member/former staffer/business associate involved. Just some simple conflict-of-interest stuff.

    I could be down with some of your charter reforms except for making city administrator an elected position. I don’t want them campaigning, I don’t want them fundraising, I just want them running my city.

  7. Max Allstadt

    Rebecca -

    You’re absolutely right that this needs to be a broad consideration. The recent mess should only be leverage. For instance, there is no reason that the Administrator position should be the focus of whatever changes get made. Keep talking about it in your campaign. Election reform too.

    When the US Constitution was drafted, there was talk of revisiting it every 20 years. Perhaps charter reform and election reform in Oakland could be scheduled and regular events.

  8. Joanna/OnTheGoJo

    MJH -

    By “that”, I meant a lot of things. More noise, more input from the public, more INVOLVEMENT from the public. More awareness! No more turning our heads and saying, “oh well, that’s just how it is here in Oakland.”

    We need to see our Mayor hands on MORE, MORE, MORE, MORE and no more of this seemingly, “oh, I’m sorry you’re in trouble – let’s try to work it out.” It took way too long for DE to get the axe. Who was calling the shots? SHE WAS! I’d like to see the Mayor BE a Mayor. Here in Oakland. Not in DC. Hire a lobbyist for that. We need some serious morale boosting and cheerleading from the Mayor. We need the mayor on tv and giving interviews – not handing the ball to David Chai, or even you (as much as I do appreciate that you’re reading).

    I’m tired of hearing how bad Oakland has it. We’ve got some good stuff going on and the Mayor’s office needs to be here. Not helping Hillary. Not promoting a state education issue. Not avoiding the media (Michael Krasny). We need the Mayor right here in Oakland. Doing his job and showing Staff who’s the boss.

  9. Max Allstadt

    Chris -
    I put a “perhaps” in that sentence for a reason. I’m unsure of it. It would be enough to create a short and simple process to sanction an administrator for obstructing the Mayor OR the Council. Perhaps if the administrator refuses to act on direction from Council or Mayor for X days, then (and only then) the Council or Mayor could be empowered to direct other staff or make hires.

    For instance: Cheryl Thompson refuses to hire Victor Martinez. Those who wanted him hired could ask the Mayor or the Council to hire him.

    Checks and balances people. Checks and balances.

  10. Senor

    Fiscal accountability will only be as good as budget disclosures, with detailed audits done by outside CPA firms, and a citizen oversight group outside the city administration and council to review the audit process. This group should have full access to budget details and should report at least annually to the citizenry at large on their findings.
    Formulation of this budget oversight group should be part of any charter proposals. Audit details and oversight group findings should be conspicuous on the city website.

    While we’re at it, I’d suggest same for OUSD budget process as well.

  11. danny

    I hope we/they/whomever can use this negative publicity for some needed change.

    but I have a feeling city govt based inertia and real leadership will prevent anything from getting done. I will talk about this with everyone I know in Oakland to try and raise support for something better to occur. but I don’t trust this city to do the right thing.

  12. Robert

    We have the ability to keep the administrator from blocking/undermining the city council. It is the mayor’s ability to fire the administrator. A pretty blunt tool, but it is all most of us in the ‘real’ world have to work with. Although changes to the charter might be helpful, unless the people – i.e. the mayor – are willing to do something, we will end up in the same fix regardless of the charter.

    We already have an internal auditor, who I think reports to the council. If not, that is one change that really should happen in the charter. I don’t know that an outside auditor would do any better, and we certainly don’t need redundant activities.

    Looking at the present charter, it is not clear to me that the council could not restructure city government to have them report to the mayor, which would probably be the most effective change that could be made – at least if we had a mayor that was willing to be involved. The administrators ability to hire and fire does not mean that the department heads could not report to, and take direction from, the mayor.

    Personally, I think it would be very helpful if the department heads were political appointees (with the mayor having the ability to hire and fire at will) because it woudl help ensure that they were accountable to what the citizens of Oakland (as represented by teh mayor) actually want.

    The biggest problems are not structual, that are personal.

  13. len raphael

    robert’s comment rings true. charter reforms would help, but mostly to the extent they bring transparency and market discipline to city staffing: making it easier for voters to decide whom to blame for bad inefficient services and easier to vote those officials out of office.

    because of years and years of featherbedding or porkbarreling, with council members wedded at election time to the same unions whose contracts they approve, i fear we’d need a NYC/Vallejo financial meltdown to give us the legal and political cover for elected leaders to break onerous labor contracts and work patterns. supposedly Newark NJ mayor was able to achieve some of that without going thru bankruptcy. and without good leadership, all that financial problems would do for oakland is make life worse for the residents.

    but all of that is part of an argument to support the 1000 cop charter proposition, while fighting hard against dellums/brunner’s parcel tax increases, and dellums/council’s service cuts.

    (btw, when the council made hourly paid staff take days off at christmas time without pay, did they cut management annual salaries proportionately?)

  14. tagami

    A constitutional convention…ah thats the ticket! I needed a reason to break out my powdered wig…

    Providing the participants are not electeds nor career staff you might have reform.

    As much respect as I have for those who serve the public, there is an inherent conflict when the electeds are in charge of setting up a process to modify an antiquated system that is intended to make is so no one individual (or group of individuals) can game the system that is actively being gamed by electeds and career staff.

    For years I had issues with the city attorney being an eleceted post and not an at-will. I am starting to shift my beliefs, I saw how important it was to have the office(s) exercise seperate powers from the Mayor and council

    It’ s late…SO more later

    Tagami

  15. Max Allstadt

    One thing that could definitely be tweaked is the Mayor’s ability to put the Administrator on leave and select her temporary replacement himself. Apparently he can’t do that, or it’s unclear. Making it clear would strip the Administrator of obstruction power pretty handily. Put her on leave for five minutes, hire the mayor’s assistant as her replacement, sign the papers, take her off leave. Done.

    The Auditor, if she doesn’t already, should have subpoena-free access to everything. If she wants to read people’s emails, tap their phones and bug their offices, that oughta be OK. Refusing to give her documents should be grounds for termination. Somebody ought to have unfettered access to everything in city government. As long as that access is well documented, what’s to fear?

    Tagami, run for mayor and I’ll start a PAC to buy you a powdered wig of your choice under $1200.

  16. justin

    I agree that the unwillingness of City staff to respond to requests made by City Council is a major problem, but I’m not exactly sure how the Charter is supposed to fix that. The first episode of this kind of neglect I became aware of us was with Jerry Brown, when he directed staff not to complete a study of Inclusionary Zoning approved, and funded, by Council. The big question at the time was “OK, so what is the Council going to do about it?” They did nothing, realizing that their only route would be to somehow sue the Mayor for violation of the Charter. Given Brown’s popularity, that’s a non-starter. Given the City’s current budget problems, I think it’s a non-starter now, too. And, then, really, what’s the penalty? Under strong Mayor, “we the people” are the ultimate judges of his administrative acumen. Absurd.

    Without the will on the Council to do something legal, the only thing I could see would be to create a citizens’ commission somewhat along the lines of the Public Ethics Commission that would monitor staff compliance with Council direction and then somehow be empowered to impose some sanction. That, I can tell you, is a mess: who appoints to such a Commission, how would their authority comport with Civil Service and MOUs, the list goes on.

    Another way is for the Council to check the Administrator through its budget authority. “Fail to respond to our requests, and we zero-out the City Administrator’s budget next year.” I’ve thought that would be the only way to get improvements out of, say, Chief Tucker. There’s really no other way for Council to influence staff. Such a move takes political courage, however, so that’s DOA.

    The simplest way was the way we had it: when the Council can fire the City Administrator, there is a clear incentive for the Administrator to perform to the satisfaction of at least 5 members of the Council. That’s about 5 better than we have now, and, as someone wisely observed above, the way anyone gets work out of anyone else in the working world.

    So, anyone signing up for a return to Weak Mayor?

  17. Oh Pleeze

    Agreed with Justin. Let’s go back to Council/Manager. Day to day running of a city belongs to a trained, educated and experienced professional city manager. At least potholes get fixed, streetlights get replaced, trash gets picked up, public works & public safety crews get dispatched and contracts get scrutinized slightly more objectively.

    There’s a simple description of why the City Council (under SM) is hamstrung from San Diego, another city that in a moment of folly adopted Strong Mayor, that eloquently speaks to some reasons nothing gets done in Oakland.

    http://www.sandiego.gov/citycouncil/cd6/pdf/fryelights/fryelightssept06.pdf

    I’m horrified at how Strong Mayor has hurt Oakland. Bad enough that it was passed as a thinly veiled bribe to ensure Mr Brown graciously assume the cloak of power. Now an angry, dispossessed and possibly criminally involved Administrator has grabbed it by the blade and is wielding its hilt to bludgeon a timid, absentee mayor and a council eviscerated of any power save to
    a. pass laws (thus making the outlawing of plastic bags a measurable achievement) and
    b. asking the mayor to ask his/her staff do their jobs (which of course doesn’t happen because the mayor isn’t in residence, has no municipal experience and he doesn’t have, among his staff of 20, ‘somebody to do things like this for him’ )

    The ‘City Administrator and her Kinfolk’ and ‘City contracts awarded to companies which hire relatives of highly placed city officials’ are not new controversies. They underscore why Oakland’s former City Manager Robert Bobb’s controversial project (requiring a written job description for every position paid by the city, and ensuring people in those jobs were hired, assessed, promoted and compensated according to those written, measurable criteria, rather than kinship or political favoritism) was needed. It’s sad that the results of Mr Bobb’s project have been squandered in just a few years.

    In closing, SD Councilmember Frye’s org chart (see URL above) makes one wonder about what our City Attorney, at his separate but equal level, and a mandate to defend the City, is doing in the middle of this personnel crisis. Instead of trotting out lawful suggestions supporting the Mayor, the Council and yes, us, the citizens of Oakland, there has been a remarkable silence.

  18. hedera

    Put me in the corner with Oh Pleeze. Strong mayor was a bad idea from the get-go, it was Jerry Brown’s way to get rid of Robert Bobb since he had no factual basis for firing him. Which was an appalling reason for the change.

    We need to be back at Council/Manager government, and the mayor should be nothing more than the rotating president of the city council. And when we get the charter changed, can somebody ask Mr. Bobb if he’d like to come back??

  19. Moschops

    +1 for weak mayor – that was the one thing missing from De La Fuente’s charter reforms, but oh let me guess – he still wants to be Mayor – a strong mayor.

    I’ve seen other videos of other Bay Area City council meetings where the Mayor is at the council meetings and it just makes sense. I say make the Mayor the same as President of the council and hire professionals for all the other activities that require professionals.

    Abolishing the special powers of the Mayor might get everyone’s focus back on the real jokers in the pack – City Council Members.

  20. Oh Pleeze

    RE: Mr De la Fuente vs Weak mayor. If Oakland were to return to M/C government, as president of the Council Mr De la Fuente would get to be the mayor, albeit on a rotating basis. It’s a role he’s assumed several times over the past years, he’s comfortable with it and he’s learned how to work it. It may not be strong mayor, but its the mayor.

    One reason Mr Brown wanted strong mayor was so that he wouldn’t have to attend City Council meetings. IMHO, that level of disdain for the day to day workings of the City you’re supposed to run is inexcusable. At least with M/C government, the mayor would have show up and (one hopes) stay awake for the proceedings.

    RE: Charter Reform:
    Step 1: Write your councilmember, -today-, and insist he/she support charter reform. [use a letter and a stamp, so your forty two cents worth won't be deleted by Oakland's notorious anti spam filters]
    Step 2: Remind your counclimember that you vote.
    Step 3: Next time there’s a City election, VOTE! There’s no excuse for 2/3 of Oakland’s registered voters to sit on their hands, even if it is an off-cycle election.