KTVU investigates flowers while meaningful local political coverage wilts

So I’m looking through my archives and I realized that it’s been kind of a while since I ripped on local media. Isn’t that what blogs are for? I’ve been negligent! But now the time has come. Look, I think everyone who reads this blog realizes that I’m no fan of Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums. And after watching last night’s “special report,” I think it’s pretty clear that the KTVU news staff isn’t either. I often complain that local newsmedia doesn’t place sufficient scrutiny on elected officials. So some might expect me to welcome the expose. But I can’t even remember the last time a news story made me so angry. Wait, I can – it was that horrible East Bay Express Van Hool story. That may have been worse. It’s a tough call. In any case, “Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums Living the High Life Despite City Budget Shortfalls” is damn close to some of the most offensive and insulting reporting I can recall watching ever, and that’s saying a lot.

You can watch the video here and read the text version of the report here. I cannot say this strongly enough – everyone involved with this story should be ashamed of themselves. If you don’t want to click through to watch or read, which, frankly, I don’t recommend bothering with because that’s just three minutes of your life that you’ll never get back, the idea of the story is this: Ron Dellums is ruining Oakland because he stays in expensive hotels and flies first class, even though the City is in a budget crisis. Dellums has spent $50,000 on his city credit card since taking office, eating in fancy restaurants and staying in fancy hotels and flying first class. Also, he buys a lot of bouquets. I don’t even know where to start. Every single thing that could have been wrong with it is wrong with it.

First – all the stuff about the expenses is completely pointless. This just does not matter at all. The amount of money they’re talking about in expenses is like one half of a thousandth of one percent of the City’s budget. This is just pure sensationalism. Are we supposed to gasp in horror as sober narration informs us that “Dellums has used hundreds of taxpayer dollars to buy flowers!”? O.M.F.G. The amount of money Ron Dellums spends on floral arrangements falls at roughly #465095459 on my list of things that are wrong with Oakland. The hyperbole continues with absurd assertions like “Frequents elite restaurants such as Bistro Francais”. Give me a break. That’s just making shit up. Every local review I can find of this place classifies its prices as “moderate,” and, well, I don’t want to sound like, I don’t know, some kind of, like, elitist food snob or something, but seriously. It’s not like the man’s eating at Citronelle. I’m looking at the menu of Bistro Francais…I’m sorry, this is just not a fancy restaurant at all. In fact, after reviewing the account statement, I have to say that it appears the Mayor has incredibly pedestrian taste in food.

If you accept that Oakland’s Mayor should be attending events like the US Conference of Mayors meeting or the National League of Cities conference, these expenditures are, frankly, not unreasonable at all. Honestly, the only thing about Ron Dellums’s Personal Expense report (PDF!) that really disturbs me is the large amount of what I can only figure must be travel agent fees – 18 FTE Mayor’s Support staff and not a single one of them knows how to use Expedia? Anyway, here’s where the money went as best as I can break it down:

  • Conference Fees: $2990
  • Airfare: $8738.32
  • Transportation: $939.36
  • Flowers: $157 (The KTVU segment said $384.19, but I can’t for the life of me figure out where that number came from based on the expense report they provide. Maybe he ordered flowers through one of the hotels once or something? Who knows.)
  • Hotels: $33,079.37
  • Meals: $3089.09
  • Travel Agent: $539
  • Other (either I couldn’t figure out what these were or didn’t know how to categorize them): $544.67

Okay, there is one other thing besides the travel agent that bothers me. While most of the charges seem defendable, no matter how much I think, I can’t come up with any justification for Dellums to be charging his dinners in South Africa to Oakland’s taxpayers – that trip was not City business.

Even when an opportunity to explore a real question appears, KTVU ignores it in favor of the cheap shot. Take this excerpt:

David Chai: If you want to have a conversation about the Mayor’s travel, you gotta ask: what did it get you?
News: Dellums’s staff says by traveling, the Mayor has brought back millions of dollars in grants from Washington. But certainly, flying coach or staying at a Hyatt or Marriott rather than the Ritz wouldn’t have jeopardized those grants.

First, the expense report shows stays at the Hilton and Hyatt and Sheraton as well as at the Ritz. But what really upset me about this part was the way they just accept, then dismiss the claim about grants. Cause when I heard that, my first thought was “really“? We got millions of dollars in grants from Washington? Where is all this money? Are they secret grants? Instead of taking the opportunity to weigh the value or lack thereof of the Mayor’s travel, the story simply glosses over the claim and returns to its petty obsession with fancy hotels. Pathetic.

Their other big problem is staff. KTVU complains that Dellums has too much staff and that his staff spends too much money. Two things wrong with this. First, this isn’t news – Dellums’s massive staff increases should have been a story a year ago, when the City Council approved a budget (huge PDF!) that increased funding for Mayor’s Support staff from $1,888,484 in FY 2006-07 to $3,137,484 in FY 2007-08, and from 10 Full Time Equivalent positions to 18! The time to bitch about that was before we approved it, and if people want to complain about it now, well, that’s on the Council’s shoulders just as much as the Mayor’s.

There is, of course, no meaningful analysis of what all this new staff is doing. They complain about Dellums having a driver, which I suppose might sound ridiculous until you remember that he’s like 130 years old and being the Mayor, has to go lots of places, and that we want to encourage people of a certain age to stay away from the wheel of a motor vehicle for the safety of everyone else on the road. But there’s no mention of the multiple Intergovernmental Affairs positions added to the Mayor’s office. (I have never seen any rational explanation of why the Mayor needs his own personal staff for this in addition to the ones the City already pays.)

On top of that, the reporting on staff and expenditures is downright sloppy. KTVU lumps together expenses and staff costs for the Oaklanders Assistance Center with Mayor’s Support, which is just completely inappropriate. It’s a careless error, and if you want to offer a real comparison of differences in staff between administrations, then you need to limit your query to the relevant data. Doing it this way just makes no sense. And one can’t help but wonder about the level of thoroughness of their examination when Brown staffers like Gil Duran and Jean Rubsamen appear on the report of Ron Dellums’s staff expenses (PDF!). In some cases, the numbers in the video and the numbers in the reference documents they provide don’t even match. The video claims Mayor Brown had $120 in personal expenses, but the document on their website of Jerry Brown’s Personal Expense Report (PDF!) only shows $60.00 in expenses. Nice work, guys!

The report concludes by condemning Dellums for not working enough, explaining that according to their analysis of the Mayor’s calendar, he worked less than four hours a day on a third of the days they examined. Again – WTF? We don’t pay the Mayor by the hour. He’s not a child that needs to be supervised while doing his homework. I just do not understand the fixation people have with scrutinizing the schedules of elected officials. Look. This is how you can tell if your representatives are working hard enough – whether they get anything done for you or not. In 18 months in office, Dellums has brought practically nothing to the Council, and when he has, as in the case of his street outreach plan or accelerated police hiring plan or affordable housing “proposal” or late budget or whack Army Base fantasy, it’s half-baked and poorly presented and often counterproductive. That’s the problem with the Mayor – it doesn’t have a damn thing to do with how many hours he marks on his calendar. This product wouldn’t be acceptable if he was putting in 16 hour days.

Back to the interview:

David Chai: You’re missing the point when you’re talking about the expenditures rather than looking at what we’re getting out of these trips.
Interviewer: We’re talking about budget problems, we’re talking about schools that need money, we’re talking about a police department that needs more people, that needs more money. And we’re talking about a Mayor who spends some of the city’s money on the Ritz-Carlton, the Four Seasons, limosines, flowers, $200 meals, and you’re saying it’s justified.
David Chai: Those dollar amounts of what he’s spending isn’t going to close the $20 million budget gap. The dollars that you’re talking about are so small…”
Interviewer: Every little bit helps.”

No. Just…no. Look, I really want to be sympathetic to the idea a lot of people around town seem to have that every penny of taxpayer money needs to be scrutinized to the nth degree. But try as I might, I just can’t. A couple of nights in a fancy hotel or a night in a limo or a first class plane ticket just.don’t.matter. At all. These things have nothing whatsoever to do with the budget shortfall and make no impact on the City’s finances. And they certainly have nothing to do with OUSD’s budget issues, as the reporter seems to suggest.

Please, take a look at just some of the ways your Council will be voting to spend your money on Tuesday. $100,000 (PDF!) to track people on probation using GPS. $40,000 (PDF!) for a new trail which will be built by volunteers. $333,216.00 (PDF!) for copy machines. $295,000 (PDF!) to a number of non-profits to provide services for senior citizens. $989,590 (PDF!) to pay for summer programs for kids. $645,005 (PDF!) to buy tasers for police officers. $249,000 (PDF!) to hire kids to beautify the city. $5,000 (PDF!) on plant containers for MacArthur Boulevard. $970,000.00 (PDF!) to rehabilitate several blocks of storm drains. $1,550,000 (PDF!) to buy a vacant lot and empty building. $153,000 (PDF!) to train kids (PDF!) to clean up (PDF!) graffiti. $191,288 (PDF!) for insurance premiums on some affordable rental property. $34,142.00 (PDF!) in a settlement to a woman who tripped on Piedmont Avenue.

I picked these figures more or less at random from Tuesday’s agenda. I am offering no editorial comment on these particular expenditures as a whole – some I think are good, some I think are bad, most I don’t know enough about to have an opinion. My point is that this is the way the City spends money all the time. Dinner at Yankee Pier isn’t even a drop in this bucket, and a night at the Four Seasons instead of the Marriott going to change anything. When we get the big stuff under control, then I’ll worry about the Mayor getting a club sandwich at Max’s on my dime, and until then, I just don’t give a damn.

By the way, the only thing I found even remotely interesting in this entire segment was David Chai using a figure for the budget shortfall $5.5 million higher than everyone else has been using. What’s with that?

I’m just fuming. Readers might wonder why I care at all. After all, nobody’s forcing me to watch the TV news. Let me tell you about my weekend. Saturday morning I did work for one my real jobs. Then I went and bought some tea and sat by Lake Merritt for a while and drank it. Then I came home and did more work, for another one of my real jobs. Then I went and met some people for cocktails and dinner. Then I went home and read and took notes on this (PDF!). And this (PDF!). And this (PDF!). Then I went to sleep. I usually like to go for a walk and sit outside and have coffee and read the paper on Sunday mornings. And I really wanted to go to the zoo, because I still have not seen the baby giraffe (how long does a baby giraffe stay a baby, anyway?). But I skipped the paper and the coffee and the zoo and instead spent the entire day watching the DVDs I bought last week from KTOP of all the Council budget meetings that I was too busy to pay attention to during the elections so I can write about the budget later this week. I explain all this not to make people feel bad for me – after all, I wouldn’t write this blog if I didn’t enjoy it most of the time. Hopefully, my studying will pay off and I’ll be able to write about the budget discussions with a level of detail that frankly, wouldn’t be interesting to the vast majority of Oaklanders and that there just isn’t room for in traditional media. And I’d like to think that the .5% of the city that takes the time to read this blog will find whatever I come up with valuable, or at least interesting.

But for the people who don’t care about my lengthy ramblings, but bother to read the newspaper or keep the TV news in the background while they do the dishes, there should be some kind of less detailed, but still meaningful, accurate, and clear coverage of what’s going on with their money and what the decisions being made right now will mean for them. And that just seems to be completely absent in the media around here. Instead, KTVU’s news team is apparently spending 2 months “exposing” a bunch of expenditures that just mean nothing.

Shortly after the item went online last night, a friend e-mailed me all atwitter about how “damning” it was (and this is really someone who should know better). In response to my angry ranting about how irresponsible I found it, he told me to “keep in mind that the reason KTVU did this story is because this is what people want to hear.” I just don’t think that’s an excuse. The news is there to inform the public. This isn’t information – it’s pandering to the lowest common denominator, and it’s a complete abdication of the responsibilities of the Fourth Estate. One can’t help but wonder if the decisions that get made in this town – both at City Hall and in the voting booth – might be different if our local media took the time to actually let people know what’s going on.

41 thoughts on “KTVU investigates flowers while meaningful local political coverage wilts

  1. Mike Hardy

    great skewering – agreed on all counts

    Where’s Chip Johnson when you need him? He should be running that newsroom, he seems to have a grip on the fundamental “it’s an issue” / “it’s not an issue” question.

    Since there really are no good stories coming out of the mainstream news outlets that I’m aware of besides his, I’m not sure what a discriminating information consumer can do besides track this blog and a couple others.

    Anyone else have a good list of reporters that *are* worth paying attention to? The blogrolls on the left here don’t seem to have anything mainstream in them, and also don’t have any editorial control (whether they are actually thorough or not, etc…)

  2. V Smoothe Post author

    I just click through on every Google Alert that shows up in my e-mail, and only read the ones that look interesting. Pretty much everyone will write something worth reading at least once in a while – the frequency with which different local reporters do so varies widely.

  3. Andy

    This is why I don’t watch TV for news, or very much at all. But I agree with you that most people do get their “news” from TV.

    One problem with this story is that Dellums supports can point to this story and say that the “media” is out to get Dellums for petty things, while he is bringing home millions in grants – grants that as you point out don’t exist.

    The other problem is that Dellums haters will listen to this story and still hate Dellums but for the wrong reasons.

  4. Joanna/OnTheGoJo

    I’ve never been a fan of our local news options. The reason they don’t report on “real” news is that it’s too hard. It’s much easier to say “Dellums is wasting money” and whether he could better spend his budget is besides the point, because the city has much bigger issues worth worrying about. Things like the $100K for GPS to track people on probation? Uh, does anyone want to explain what they’re going to do with that info? And do they have enough OPD staff to even look at it? Maybe they do, but to me that’s a much bigger story than Dellums spending $200 on flowers. Explain why our city streets are AWFUL… rather than ride a street bike, I ride a mountain bike because of all the potholes I have to traverse.

    Will I ever agree with all of the Mayor’s expenses? Nope, and it wouldn’t matter who was Mayor. I’m a beancounter at heart. I question every little expense. That’s why I keep saying that I want to contact Courtney Ruby and figure out what she’s doing, figure out where the money is going, and understand whether proper checks and balances are in place. Unfortunately, I don’t have the time that V somehow manages to find to answer my own questions.

    I feel for the reporters that do attempt to cover the news of Oakland… some of them are just not interested in Oakland and got thrown here as either part of their learning curve or for punishment maybe. Others are just taking a paycheck and not part of reporting on the big picture. And to be fair, the big picture is pretty darn hard to grasp here in Oakland. Or maybe I’m just too blonde to figure it all out. Just when I think I understand something, I get another viewpoint. Trees at Lake Merritt are a favorite in that category. OPD is another.

    My trick has been to get news from every source that I can, but then I weigh in on what’s being said as a whole in order to figure out for myself what my perception is. I give V a whole lot more credibility than I give the average Joe at KTVU or SF Chron. The Tribune barely ranks, if at all.

  5. V Smoothe Post author

    Andy –

    To be fair, Dellums should be lauded for his achievement in bringing money to town for the middle school health clinics. But one of the donors for that is local and therefore should require no travel. Which leaves us with only one grant that I’m aware of (I’m happy to be corrected on this), the money from Atlantic Philanthropies. (I’m aware of no major, atypical Federal grants to Oakland for other purposes.) If we got that $15 million because Dellums flies to Washington and stays at the Four Seasons, then that makes me happy (although, being only one grant, Dellums’s staff should not have used the plural) and perhaps does justify the expense. Or perhaps conference trips had nothing to do with it. These are things the news station might have done the public a service by looking into.

  6. V Smoothe Post author

    Joanna –

    See, that’s what frustrates me. It just isn’t that hard. Of course Oakland’s political turmoils are too much for your average resident to follow on their own. They have all sorts of other things to do with their lives. But when you’re getting paid full-time to write about it, there shouldn’t be all that much to it. You watch the meetings, you read the reports, you call people – it’s not rocket science. I think part of the problem is that media outlets don’t give the public enough credit – the people of Oakland are not the drooling simpletons many editors seem to think they are.

    Another problem is, as you point out, we have a lot of reporters who aren’t really all that interested in what they’re writing about. I’m reminded of one reporter who covered, among a number of other things, Oakland City Hall, and this guy, who I feel kind of guilty criticizing, because he’s my friend, (so I do say this with love) unbelievably, after years of writing about this stuff, never could seem to remember that Oakland has 8 Councilmembers, not 9. Incredible! But he didn’t live in Oakland, he wasn’t that interested in it, and his reporting really reflected that (especially compared to work he did on topics he liked more). A counterexample is the Trib’s education writer, Katy Murphy. I admit that I’m not super up on school stuff, so I suppose it’s possible I miss glaring errors in her work, but from where I sit she seems just great. You can tell from her work that she’s genuinely interested in her subject (either that, or she’s really good at faking it). Her articles are a pleasure to read, they’re clear, they’re thorough, she supplements her newspaper coverage on her blog…

  7. Charles Pine

    The mayor’s cavalier elitism about his salary and “expenses” does indeed matter, no matter what percentage of the City budget. The attitude of the mayor encourages the managers who circled the wagons against the city auditor’s report that brought to light a number of their dubious perks. His attitude encourages the addition of high-level jobs that are not needed, like a public safety director, more political staff for councilmembers, and an assistant police chief (a top-notch guy, but the job was created because chief Tucker is incompetent yet Dellums won’t get rid of him).

    And then the mayor, instead of taking the budget shortfall as an occasion to do some hard work and shake up City operations, tells rank and file City workers to take a dribbled-out cut in hours and pay.

    It’s about leadership.

  8. V Smoothe Post author

    Charles Pine –

    Actually, the Mayor wants to give the “rank and file” City workers a 3% raise, while making the people of Oakland suffer through further reductions of already paltry service. The problem with City Hall is not too much political staff – in fact, I think a lot of our problems stem from not having enough political staff. What’s causing our budget crisis is too many bureaucrats.

  9. Jim Ratliff

    V, thanks for bringing a grown-up perspective to this. This perspective isn’t just needed here in Oakland; the same critique applies to national issues and the national MSM.

    Politicians are rarely held accountable for the “legal” but devastating consequences of their actions, but they’re often brought down for failing to dot some i, cross some t, or for small-dollar transgression.

    Some of your critique probably also applies to people who complain loudly about the number of City employees earning over $100K. Competence really does matter, and the City needs some pretty specialized skill sets. Competent specialists have many options and we need to pay the going rate or be willing to suffer some very expensive consequences of incompetence.

  10. Max Allstadt

    I’m wondering why they didn’t throw in a little “oh and by the way, his son’s a murderer” on top of all this horseshit.

    Jim’s right about the going rate. Did you all know that in Europe, politicians are usually paid rates commensurate with top level corporate jobs? The German Chancellor make millions. And should. We want people in these jobs to be hard to bribe, and paid what they’re worth.

    What would be a reasonable salary for an executive who ran a corporation with a budget like Oakland’s?

  11. Julia Cavenovia

    Max: Great. Let’s emulate corporate America, known to hand out golden parachutes to DEAD executives & expensive severance packages to failed CEOs. With all due respect, that’s not a road we should travel down.

    The people in office work for US — they are public servants. They are paid out of our moth- eaten pockets. There should be a spirit that drives/propels a person to do the work of the people, which is basically to make one’s community a better place. The essence of that type of work and good that comes of it should make up for not being a multi-millionaire.

    …And getting paid a bonus after your dead.

    V is right. Where are these supposed grants that he hustled? Lets see the numbers on the books. I wouldn’t mind reduced hours for an aged figurehead and added staff if they produced significant made changes that mattered.

    They haven’t.

    Neither has City Council. They have coasted. So has the Planning Commission. Last week’s Trib says there are “thousands” of finished empty condos downtown and about 2 thousand ready to break ground or have been approved and waiting for investor funding.

    V…how about writing about THAT elephant in the middle of the room? According to the Trib there are 3 large condo developments near the Broadway Corridor that have just stopped, mid project and are shrink wrapped to protect against the elements, and even THAT is flapping in the wind. Our sagging budget was based on (now) imaginary transfer taxes.

    How long do you think Oakland will be able to stay afloat before filing for bankruptcy?

  12. Max Allstadt

    Julia:

    I’m not suggesting golden parachutes. I’m suggesting that if you didn’t have to take a huge pay cut to work in an elected office, people with more talent would do it. Do you remember Danny Wan? Do you remember why he resigned? A city councilman who needed to make more money to take care of his family, so he quit and got another job. I say pay them double and ban them from working for salary outside of their office.

    Bringing the Mayor up to TODAY’s level of corporate level pay might not be appropriate, because CEO pay is out of control. Circa 1990 corporate pay? Sure. I also see no problem with a 73 year old man flying first class across the country. I prefer that to a mayor who misses work because his back has been mangled in a coach seat.

    If congressmen made a million a year, do you think Abramof would have had as much success? Do you think Ted Stevens would be taking free additions on his house? Do you think Randy Cunningham would be in prison right now? If these people were paid enough to live a fairly swanky lifestyle on their salary alone, why would they risk getting caught taking bribes?

    Maybe pay should be performance based? If you win 80% of the vote, you should get paid more than if you win 51%. Just kidding about this: Brunner, Russo, don’t get any ideas…

  13. Deckin

    The real 800 pound elephant in the mayor’s room is, of course, crime and public disorder. The 600 pound elephant is the mayor’s fixation with grants as a way of building a functioning and dealing with the 800 pound one. I agree with Smoothe, it’s really quite simple to judge results, even if one isn’t in a position to know the policy intricacies. Is crime going up? Are office vacancies increasing or decreasing? Is office/retail space becoming more expensive or not? It’s really quite simple, and people are, I think, quite good detectors of this. After all, it’s people who, in their day to day activities, experience the goods and bads of the city and act accordingly, thus generating the results.

    If Dellums were actually delivering on just a fraction of his idiotic ‘model city’ flim-flam, I couldn’t care less how many flowers he bought or where he traveled. But he can’t, and he won’t because he has no idea what makes a city prosper. It’s not grants, it’s small businesses. And small business will continue to flinch before moving here until the 800 pound elephant is removed. And Dellums will do nothing about the 800 pound elephant because he refuses to believe anything other than the doctrinaire neo-Socialist arguments about its cause. We’ve got two more years, I say let the old man have his flowers.

  14. Chris Kidd

    As much as I’d love to lay all the city’s problems at Dellum’s feet, some stuff like office vacancy rates probably has more to do with the current economy than anything Ron’s done. Attributing it all to him is really giving him too much credit. I don’t think he could do that much damange on his own. For argument’s sake, you could have a kick-ass mayor and still have an economic depression take a city under. Not that I think Dellum’s is even close to being in that league.

    The lack of initiative on his part is what I’ve found so absolutely shameful. If you’re going to take over a year stocking all those community committees to give input into running the city, that’s fine. Once you get their recommendations, DO SOMETHING. It’s kinda hard to debate whether Ron’s system of governance has been a trainwreck or not because his administration can’t even stick to the plan. Or maybe that’s the verdict in and of itself… (notice I’m not talking about his actual tenure. His tenure = horrendous. Just saying we don’t even know if what he was trying to accomplish would have worked because neither he nor anyone working for him can manage to implement his own plan).

  15. Max Allstadt

    For tonight, I’m laying off Dellums. I just watched him conduct marriages for 18 same gender couples. He played that role very very well, and he was clearly sincere about it.

    It was awesome to watch those ceremonies in Council Chambers. We should also thank Newsom: by attracting all the attention to SF, there weren’t any protesters in Oakland. What I saw was just sweet.

  16. oaklandhappenings

    KTVU seems to have gone downhill since Kevin O’Brian (former president/GM) left, but I don’t know if he was the main reason or not, for it staying high in the ratings(?).
    As for David Chai, usually he seems to do little but make lame excuses for Dellums’ absence/b.s. If KTVU really wanted to do this story, it should have been with Dellums (unlikely) or not at all.
    Getting the info from Chai is not going to give a very good story.

    By the way, V, I want to see the cute little giraffe too, but I keep procrastinating! Shame on me!

  17. Chris Kidd

    Max,

    I was hoping someone had a first-person account of what went on yesterday. So there were no protesters at all? That’s glorious. And good for Dellums. He gets karma points for … 5 days of me not bitching about him.

  18. m30

    Vsmoothe: What was so bad about the van hool story? The investigation into the millions spent on international travel by ac transit employees was pretty eye-opening I thought, even if it didn’t affect the agency’s bottom line.
    As for the Dellums report on KTVU, I also thought it was pretty overblown and sensationalistic, but I’ve already learned not to expect much from tv news.

  19. V Smoothe Post author

    m30 –

    If you click on the links in the post, you can read a lengthy list of the many blatant factual errors in the Van Hool story. What was bad about it is that it was wrong.

  20. Aaron

    A leader is supposed to be, a leader. In times of budget issues, the leader himself should set an example. Suppose the leader spends an extra .01% of the city’s budget than he should. He sets the example. People below him will follow his example, and if every member below (ie, everyone who works for the city) him spends an extra .01%, that will quickly add up.

    Yet if the leader at the top sets the example too save every penny, then those below him will see his example, and follow suit, saving every penny.

    Personally, I think the city needs a huge shakeup. Funny how San Francisco, a city that doesn’t have nearly the budget crisis or inflated spending of Oakland, has laid off over 100 city employees, and actually hired an extra 15 police officers. Perhaps Oakland needs to do the same.

  21. V Smoothe Post author

    Aaron –

    That sounds nice, but actually doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. First of all, the entire sum of all of Dellums’s expenses in his first 16 months in office totals far less than .01% of the City’s annual budget – it’s actually 0.005% If you say that even half of those expenditures were unjustified (a much higher figure than I’d use), then the Mayor would have spent 0.0025% of the City’s budget more than you’d like. In any case, there is no logical process by which the Mayor’s dinner bill translates into any other spending or has anything to do with Oakland’s budget crisis.

    Also, the idea that anyone could call Oakland’s spending inflated and not San Francisco’s is, frankly, laughable.

  22. Max Allstadt

    Aaron –

    I agree with you about setting a good example. Jerry Brown, love him or hate him, set an example of frugality. But he’s also a bit of weirdo as politicians go. He was seen hanging out at Mama Buzz this weekend for pete’s sake. Not Oliveto!

    Still, in terms of numbers, V’s right, this is a tiny mote of additional expense.

    Chris –

    No protesters outside city hall or inside council chambers during the ceremonies. The news said there was one guy at the marriage license desk, spouting predictable rhetoric about how his christian rights were being trampled. At the press conference at 1pm, there was one preacher waving a bible and ranting. He was quickly shouted down by a man with much bigger lungs. Everybody but the media pretty much ignored him.

    A really beautiful event. The most beautiful thing I expect to see in that room for as long as I live, actually. Dellums was stately. The council chambers were absolutely joyous. I was moved to tears repeatedly. Every time Dellums said “I proudly pronounce you married under the laws of the state of California”, there were cheers and tears all through the room.

  23. V Smoothe Post author

    There’s nothing wrong with an elected official wanting to have a decent meal. I enjoy both Mama Buzz and Oliveto, and I’ve seen Jerry Brown at both.

  24. Joanna/OnTheGoJo

    I certainly have no issue with any elected official wanting to eat at OAKLAND establishments!

    Max, I have to shake my head in wonder. While I loved Jerry Brown on some level – he has a charisma and he is an incredible public speaker – I shiver and cringe when I think of him as Mayor and it kills me that others have this perception that he was so incredible. He had the ability to be incredible, and sometimes signs of incredibility showed, but on the whole? Ick! Especially the last few years when we never saw him. And frugal? That might have been the impression he wanted you to have, but I don’t think that was reality. Mostly, I think Jacques B was one of the biggest expenses he caused this City. How many lawsuits were settled against the guy? How much money did he get paid to do what? The trips both of those guys made on the City’s dime – to celebrate sister cities?

    Let’s stick to worrying about what we’ve got – Dellums – and figuring out why the media refuses to delve into the tougher questions of why he spends the money he spends. I agree – in the big scheme of things, it’s nothing – but if he’s spending it because he’s going to get all these millions for Oakland, then where’s the money? And why didn’t he hire on as a lobbyist for Oakland rather than run for Mayor? The two jobs are sincerely different and this town needs a freaken MAYOR, just as much as it may need the lobbyist. A Mayor/Cheerleader is what we need to be visible EVERY DAY on the ground HERE, in OAKLAND. (sorry to yell – I forget that I’m preachin’ to the choir!)

  25. Max Allstadt

    Joanna -

    I was talking only about his personal expenses.

    V -

    I think we can gather something pretty obvious from having seen Jerry at Mama Buzz and Oliveto and Ben and Nicks, and, and, and….

    My conclusion: OMFG, people have actually SEEN Jerry out in Oakland! A mayor who hangs out all over town, imagine that.

  26. David Tran

    I have started an online petition: http://www.petitiononline.com/dellums/petition.html

    What do you guys think of the wording, and would this be an effective way to show the Mayor’s Office that many residents are concerned?

    While I understand that many people here feel that the KTVU special emphasized the mole hill and not the mountain, as a college student, I had no idea what Dellums and his staff have been up to since they haven’t really been in the news. All I’ve heard is that in Sept. of last year, he said that his job was harder than the presidents, and that he was doing the best he could. He even had the nerve to say recall him and let him get on with his personal life… I was not a fan of Dellums from day one, but I think his extravagant personal spending should be a way to bring attention to all of the inadequacies of his office.

  27. Ryan

    “I’m reminded of one reporter who covered, among a number of other things, Oakland City Hall…”

    Well, maybe that right there is why he couldn’t remember. How many other things did he cover? How often was he even _allowed_ to write about city hall vs many other Oakland issues? How many stories was he expected generate each week for print/web?

    I agree with you about how Oakland is covered, by the way, but to figure out why has to go beyond “well the reporters are just lazy/don’t care enough.” Let one reporter focus on city hall without distractions and you’ll probably get a lot more of the coverage you want. But how do you support that, economically? Hopefully someday a blogger can make a living at it, until then maybe, yes, the best coverage will come from bloggers like you. But that doesn’t have to be an indictment of anyone.

    Disclaimer1: I was a reporter like she’s talking about. Disclaimer2: I might be THE reporter she’s talking about or not.

  28. jif

    I don’t think anyone mentioned it above (I have to admit I only skimmed the comments), but the TASERS for Oakland are not being paid for by the general fund. As I understand it, grant money was obtained (not by the City but by OPD) and the City Council agreed to allow the money to be used for its intended purpose. Very generous, since they could not use it for anything else!

  29. Max Allstadt

    Tasers, no matter where the money came from, are anything but wasteful spending. Tasers save lives, and save money. A non-lethal option for the police is something everyone should be able to get behind.

    The latest model tasers can even have cameras attached to them to ensure responsible use and collect evidence.

  30. V Smoothe Post author

    jif –

    The staff report on the taser item is here (PDF!). They are not being paid for with grants. It’s all City money. The initial cost will be funded through a reduction in the OPD Worker’s Compensation fringe benefit. Continuing deployment costs will be paid for annually from a number of sources, including the General Fund.

  31. FactCheck

    Regarding the Dellums expense story:

    Facts: √ It was more than 5 minutes long, not three. √ Nowhere does the story state or suggest Dellums is ruining the city. √ The $5,000 the port paid for the South Africa trip was left out because something had to be cut for time (five minutes is an eternity in the medium) and since 1. The South African government paid for most of that and 2. The port is not direct taxpayer money that goes to many city services, it was a lower priority. √ Your attention to the flowers is understandable, but some might suggest odd, since in your own arithmetic you came up with some $33k on hotels, yet you made no mention of this in your narrative. Does $8,500 for one stay at the Four Seasons seem normal to you? Especially since his own Georgetown house is a few miles away? Why would you leave all that out of your commentary? Did you total up the bills at the Hyatt? They are well over $7k for just one week. For the average Oakland family (medium income $66,000 a year, mean income $45k annually. Source: ABAG) that may have a different ring. √ Do you know if Dellums or Brown initiated the grants you are referring to? Do you know how much money Brown generated in his last year alone? Yet, you came to some conclusions. √ You state the story “lumped together” the Oakland Assistance Center but you don’t note that’s the way the office budget is written. And Brown’s almost half-size staff has the same positions, so in fact, one could argue the Dellums staff — such as the new $104k a year position to liaison with the meaningless school board, which was stripped of its powers because if ITS inability to manage money — is even bigger than it appears. √ Yes, Dellums calendar is a major issue for Oakland because his absence is an issue, including for council members, who routinely complain they can’t get an appointment with him and that no one knows where he is and consequently a great deal of important business is neglected. √ Yes, Dellums is asking for another $12 million tax hike, to hire more police. You figured it out at some point and posted your discovery on June 19 √ How do you know there wasn’t another $60 Jerry Brown expense beyond the PDF file? You just assumed again? √ Yes, you also failed to note the city’s official Administrative Instructions that restrict travel expenses to midrange hotels, coach travel and dinners under $30. √ One of your readers got it: Where is the city auditor? She refused to answer to the people who elected her and pay her salary.

    Commentary: If one may now depart from pure facts and indulge in some blogging, here are some conclusions: Mr. Dellums appears to many to have little or no respect for working Oaklanders, despite his almost OCD rote requiring people to respect him. The expenses were shown to all manner of people — pro & con Dellums — and received a pretty much uniform response. The symbolism of his lavish expenses as mayor of Oakland — he is not after all, the mayor of Beverly Hills or Monte Carlo — his lack of accountability, his lack of presence, his imperial, sanctimonious pomposity puts him in the same ballpark as the people he scorns: Nixon, Bush, Cheney. And in the company of one he covets: Schwarzenegger. From a pure news standpoint, one must ask if people like you were this worked up regarding stories about the Pentagon spending tens of thousands of dollars on a coffee maker or toilet seat because it represents such a small amount of the DOD budget. The point for working families who pay for all this is 1. If their tax-paid money managers can’t get a handle on the simple stuff, what are they doing with the big money — which by the way, are issues mainstream media news have been covering for decades before you discovered agendas. One can only hope you next discover phones. After that one can discuss accuracy, multiple sourcing, verification and fairness.

    It’s a long way to the top if you wanna rock ‘n’ roll.

  32. V Smoothe Post author

    FactCheck –

    I’m not going to waste my time responding to each specious and irrelevant assertion in your comment, but a few points of clarification. 1. The budget very clearly divides staff funded from the Mayor’s office into Mayor’s support staff and the Oaklanders Assistance Center. 2. You fail to note the distinction between Dr. Epstein’s pay scale and actual compensation, which is not, in fact, $104k per year, but more like $70k, since she is not scheduled full time. 3. I posted the information about the Mayor’s parcel tax request when it was actually requested, not when it was a rumor. The tax, if it passes, is expected to generate not $12 million per year, as you assert, but $15.8 million in the first year, $26.4 million in the second year, and $39.7 million in the third year. 4. I find it eminently reasonable to question KTVU’s numbers based on the information they themselves provide as evidence.

    There’s a big difference between careful, nuanced reporting of local issues and sensationalism. Any dimwit can sit around and fill out public records requests until the cows come home, but I have better things to do with my time, and would rather spend my energy focusing on issues that matter. If the “mainstream media news” are such experts on the way the, as you put it, “big money,” is being spent, I can only cross my fingers and hope that they’ll decide to start covering that sometime soon.

  33. FactCheck

    You are correct. They are dimwits. Sensationalists. They have boogers! Big ugly purple boogers! Now if they only could make up stuff, ignore what doesn’t suit them, call people names, then they would be something really cool, like a super-defensive 13-year-old wannabe.

    Bye-bye, baby.

  34. dto510

    FactCheck – what does that even mean? If you’re trying to defend KTVU by attacking hard-working citizen journalists, it”s not working.

  35. Chris Kidd

    You know what resolves name-calling? *More name-calling*. What’s that, you don’t believe me? Well…. LOOK IT UP, SMARTYPANTS!!11!!!!111!

  36. Joanna/OnTheGoJo

    You guys are funny. ;)

    When I was listening to the Forum with Michael Krasny show, I had a laugh when David Chai mentioned that KTVU would be better off asking the Mayor hard hitting questions rather than about “$40 worth of flowers”, and indeed, on some level I agree. (which was a bigger expenditure than $40)

    Mr. Chai wanted KTVU to report on the money Dellums was getting on these trips. I would like to hear more about that as well.

    But not so much about what Dellums has done for Development or OPD. Because I’m not buying that this is due to Dellums.