Jean Quan on waste in City spending

In Councilmember Jean Quan’s most recent newsletter (and by the way, no matter how many negative things I have to say about Jean Quan, that woman deserves major props for putting out an incredible weekly newsletter), she has a section where she discusses the parcel tax for police the Council just voted to place on the ballot, including a helpful little Q&A section, in which she addresses the issue of waste in the City budget:

Why can’t you just cut the waste/corruption?

Following from above, while I believe we can be more efficient and we may find some inappropriate and unapproved expenditures, the worst case scenario numbers we are looking at are probably not near a million at this point. There is not $40-60 million in waste or misspending. $1 million would fund about 4 officers. (emphasis added)

In the same newsletter, she discusses her proposed Kids First 2 compromise ballot measure (PDF), which the Council will consider at a special meeting (PDF) Tuesday morning. Quan’s proposal would gradually increase the amount of unrestricted General Fund revenue that gets set-aside for the Oakland Fund for Children and Youth, from 2.5% currently to 5% starting seven years from now, an increase from $10 million this year to $12.7 million next year to $23 million in the seventh year. On this subject, she says:

While I am still generally opposed to measures that tie the hands of the Council basically forever; this proposal is significantly better. It is less and would be phased in over much longer period of time. Most significantly, it requires that at least 25% of the funds be done in collaboration with City agencies and that partnership should be positive. If done well, it might not mean cuts in other city programs and in the short term could increase funding if city proposals are competitive.

So…am I the only one who’s seeing something of a disconnect here? There’s less than a million dollars in waste in the entire city, but we can somehow double the amount of funding we’re providing to the Oakland Fund for Children and Youth without cutting any other City programs? How does that work?

Read more about Kids First 2 on the Oakbook.

14 thoughts on “Jean Quan on waste in City spending

  1. Joanna/OnTheGoJo

    It’s special Jean Quan math. We’re not smart enough to get it.

    Or, as many of us have said, she’s totally out to lunch and doesn’t understand even basic math herself. Hmmm, I know which theory I’m leaning towards.

  2. len raphael

    Aside from Quan’s unique calculus (didn’t she exit the OU School Board and get elected to the city council, just before the OUSD went belly up?. Tempting to make a bad joke apart her learning how to do math from our excellent school system).

    But the elephant in the living room is that Dellums, Quan, Brunner, Kerrighan, Nadel, et al are getting away with defining waste to exclude massive featherbedding. No Ruby nepotism audit is going to detect featherbedding. So of course, by their definition, maybe a million here or there is the total amount of waste.

  3. oakie

    We have about 5,400 employees in our city government. Do you think they are all performing their jobs well? How about ranking them and firing the bottom 10% for poor performance? How much money would that save (including benefits and pension contributions)? Do you think you would notice an impact on services we receive? The city government mission ought not to be to deliver jobs to these people, it should be to efficiently deliver services to the residents. You ever read the mission statement put on the back of city employee business cards? It’s all about the employees. That’s NOT the mission (of a well run city). Of course employees must be treated fairly, but it’s not the mission of city government. And I think there is a correlation to the mess we currently have.

    Notice how she did the math on $1 Million = 4 cops? I don’t think so……

    The perfect storm of shortage of funding, nepotism, incompetence and other misbehaviors, political feebleness, etc. means we have a teachable moment. If people are ready. The primary business of city government should be public safety, fixing potholes and libraries. All the rest is lower priority, and if these 3 fundamental services are lacking, then funding needs to be cut from everything else until these 3 services are performed satisfactorily. If people here would listen to that, and offer the political will to force the powers to be to stand by that, we could actually turn this city around. There IS avaialble funding to do these things right. And if we did, can you imagine? A safe city, with libraries wide open so anyone, no matter how poor would have access to learning and an internet connection? Good people would flock here, support an ever growing business base, find jobs available, etc. All would follow if the city government function were limited to what it is obligated do for us. Forget spending $50,000 on a Food Policy Council. Forget spending $400,000 to reinvent private enterprise grocery stores. Forget running a nanny state. All these are failures and will continue to be a process of dumping our involuntary tax money into a sewer.

    Make no mistake about it: it’s a huge amount of money. Only when we are ignorant of how things are actually operating in our city government do we feel it is capable of being responsible for all these other services. So we forget, and then we allow the political prcess to give them more money to do these lower priority tasks.

    But once the awful truth is revealed we are confronted with the facts: our city government is incapable of efficiently taking our money and delivering a useful service. How many times must we be shown this before we accept it? Limit them to what is absolutely necessary that must be done by government, and no more. It will be a better city if we do.

  4. Surfways

    Ah, Quangebra. I’m not going to take her word (or Nadel’s) that there is not 40-60 million in wasteful or corrupt spending. I’d like an auditor to make the conclusion.

    I’m trying to find the source where I read that Jean Quan thought it was perfectly ok to accept money offered from the pot that she hands over to organizations (this is a kickback, right?).

  5. Max Allstadt

    50 millionish? What is that, five percent?

    Five percent of MY personal budget is wasteful or corrupt spending! Probably the same for most of us. There is no way that the government is doing any better.

    Quan talks about “inappropriate or unapproved” spending. She could be right about that. She could be wrong. Wasteful and corrupt are entirely different adjectives, with looser interpretations. Edgerly’s daughter’s police training wasn’t unapproved. It was inappropriate. It was also wasteful and corrupt. All these lawyers in elected office create a problem that might even be worse than corruption: hair-splitting semantics.

  6. maui

    I loved your line “how does that work?”

    It works in the future, exactly the way it works today.

    Need more police? “raise your taxes”.

    Need to pay to mow the lawn? “raise your taxes”. On and on.

    So how it works is that after all the money is allocated to special projects, then the City turns around and says, well, if you want police you have to pay more. If you want the roads fixed you have to pay more. etc.etc.

    That is how it works.

  7. len raphael

    feath·er·bed·ding fits oakland muni non-security staffing darn closely:

    “the practice of requiring an employer to hire unnecessary employees, to assign unnecessary work, or to limit production according to a union rule or safety statute: Featherbedding forced the railroads to employ firemen on diesel locomotives. “

  8. dwhiting

    The 1st paragraph of the city’s mission statement on business cards reads: “The city of Oakland is commited to the delivery of effective, courteous and responsive services. Citizens and employees are treated with fairness, dignity and respect.”

    Oakie, we could debate about whether city depts. and their staff embody the mission in carrying out their work, but the mission it’s “not all about the employees”.

    It concludes with… “Civic and employee pride are accomplished through constant pursuit of excellence and a work force that values and reflects the diversity of the Oakland community.” As a newcomer I think I see a little plagerism from Raider motto, but read carefully it’s not self serving.

  9. Carlos Plazola

    After working in city hall for 6 1/2 years, I can say, beyond a reasonable doubt that there is tremendous waste–the extent of which we cannot know until Auditor Ruby completes performance and payroll fraud audits for every department in the city. Many employees work less than 30 hours per week when they are supposed to work 37.5. Many employees work at an extremely slow pace, at perhaps 25-50% capacity. Many employees don’t actually produce anything of work substance, but rather serve as obstructionists in the bureaucracy. There is significant uneccessary redundancy in certain positions.

    While we have many excellent employees, the old saying that 20% of the people do 80% of the work is probably very close to true in the city of Oakland (and these 20% become everyone’s go-to people and become overwhelmed). After all, we have gone at least a decade, if not two, with very little audit oversight. And before this, I understand we were not a city that placed high value on oversight of government.

    All of this suggests that if our employee work force is collectively working at 50% efficiency right now, and as a result of the performance and fraud audits we are able to increase efficiency to 75%, this means that we will not have to re-hire upon substantial retirements in many departments that are about to happen in the next few years. If we then reallocated these savings to hire more police, then it is likley that City Hall would not have to raise taxes on us.

    Then again, we’ll never know if the above is true unless we do full audits, and by alleviating the motivation of full and comprehensive audits by passing a police parcel tax measure, we may never complete the audits we so desperately need.

    All of this from a fromer City Hall insider. Go Courtney Ruby!! Audit Away! And No on New Parcel Taxes!

    Carlos Plazola

  10. Joanna/OnTheGoJo

    Did Courtney Ruby ever get the additional staff she was looking for? If not, she should definately get it because the only way that the truth can come out is with these audits.

  11. len raphael

    JOTGO: think Ruby’s funding won’t even be discussed till after recess :) My guess is it will be seriously cut in the name of the “understated egerly deficit”.

    CP: just going to city offices and waiting my turn, over the years, i could well believe your estimates of employee inefficiency/wastage. But don’t expect Ruby’s audits to turn up that type of waste unless she’s planning to do time and motion studies on randomly selected employees.

    She requested 300k, which would cover one year’s salaries for three medium experienced financial auditors. Hmm, if she took a sample of say 1/2% of the 5,000 employees, that wb 25 employees to be audited for performance over several months. since they would know they were being watched, probably wouldnt mean much unless auditors somehow measured past performance.

    Waste from employees leaving early would be easy to detect IF most employees are required to punch timeclocks and there’s a way to verify that they didn’t have friends punch them out. Which categories of city employees use timeclocks?

    I’m thinking that mostly the auditors would look at expense reimbursements, car use, time off vs payroll records, hiring procedures vs actual practice. and time cards.

  12. Joanna/OnTheGoJo

    If I sell my store, I might volunteer to help. I used to do fraud audits and I’ve spent my share of time doing accounting. The first thing I’d look at are the policies – because reading the grand jury report on the use of City credit cards alone, it seems that there are some easy policy fixes. Next, I’d look at the consequences. Are people being held accountable?

    And why is it that a fully documented preapproved request for $600 is so much harder to get processed than those credit card bills!?!?!?!??!?

    Go for the low hanging fruit first.

    On the flip side, I have heard that the City – and the same problem plagued OUSD – has a horrible accounting system. Ask on any given day how much money is in the bank and I bet no one can give a solid answer. How many accounts are there and are they reconciled every month? When there are budget discrepancies, is anyone held accountable? I’m just looking at this from a public company perspective, which is how the City should be viewed, imho…