Meaningless gestures in the name of government reform

So I’ve said plenty of times before that I think we need to start talking seriously about charter reform here in Oakland, and I had hoped that over recess, I’d be able to put up a series of posts about the types of changes I’d like to see. Sadly, I lost about 50 pages of notes on the issue when my computer died (back up your hard drives people!) and I haven’t been able to find the time to start putting it all together again.

But when I talk about the need for charter reform, I’m talking about changes that will allow government to operate more efficiently, things like eliminating the prohibition on outsourcing, or measures that would create a better system of checks and balances, so as to improve government accountability. I am not talking about meaningless and condescending gestures like this:

In Oakland, a well-known developer is pushing an unusual proposal. He wants to make certain that Mayor Ron Dellums is earning his almost $200,000 annual salary and working a full eight-hour day by requiring that the mayor to fill out a weekly timesheet.

This is dumb. And pointless. Running a City is about the results you deliver, not the time you clock behind a desk. If this is, as the Mayor himself claims, a 24/7 job, what does it matter what he’s doing from 9 to 5? I mean, if we had a piece of paper saying Mayor sat in his office for 40 hours every week, would that mean that we should then be satisfied with his performance? I should hope not.

Also, people lie on timecards all the time.

13 thoughts on “Meaningless gestures in the name of government reform

  1. Max Allstadt

    Whoa! Way to take the gloves off and slap a friend of this site!

    V, I think that the good part of Tagami’s suggestion is that the Mayor would be forced to lie or tell the truth about his work habits on a traceable document. A mayor fudging a time card would be a rather easy ethics violation to turn into an enormous political liability, if not a legal one. I also don’t think he really works 40 hours a week. I’m sure you have sources that could confirm this. I also doubt that Phil would have made the suggestion if he didn’t have a pretty good hunch that Ron has been playing hookey. Phil? Thoughts?

    As for Charter Reform. It’s such a huge topic. There should be a wiki or a suggestion-box type of site. I’d like to see suggestions from all sorts of people in a giant on-line pile, sorted by topic. Transparency, Electoral, Power Structure, Budget, etc. It would be a rather easy thing to set up for somebody who knew how. tells me that many appropriate domain names are available for this.

    I stand by my biggest priority for charter reform: Mandatory press conferences. Mandatory town halls. Mandatory question and answer sessions between the Mayor and the Council, and perhaps the City Attorney, City Administrator, and City Auditor too. If we want to make it difficult for our electeds to evade blame, we need to put them in the hotseat regularly. Fumble and fudge on the hot seat too often, and you’ll have a fun time getting re-elected.

    We also need electoral reform. No off-peak elections. Consecutive term limits (two in a row and then you have to sit one election out.)

    Hmmm… what else? Records, as John Russo suggested. Emails should be kept forever. Confidentiality of most public records, including emails, should be drastically reduced. The average citizen should be able to look under the hood of government often. If the City Auditor requests a document, can she be denied by any member of government? I don’t know the answer to this, but it simply shouldn’t be possible. There may be a need prevent her from disclosing what she sees in some circumstances, but we should have at least one elected official with absolute authority to review absolutely anything at any time.

    And how about city employee pay? We should have some sort of regulation that curbs increases automatically in tough times. We should introduce performance based raises and eliminate or curb seniority based raises…

    I dunno. There’s a lot. There really oughta be a dedicated site, run in an open and non-partisan manner. If NIMBYs want to put a city wide height limit in the charter, let them suggest it on the site, and be debated. If developers want unrestricted growth, let them be debated too. If I want to mandate that everyone in this town gets two free cookies a week, there should be room for that kind of silliness too.

    The city needs a single, independent and objectively managed forum on this. Now.

  2. dan schulman

    While I hate to speak for other people, I am guessing that Tagami was purposely making an extreme statement so it would get noticed. I believe he was merely trying to publicize the facts that our mayor gets paid pretty well and he isn’t exactly a Kaplan-esque dynamo.

  3. Max Allstadt

    Just read the Politicker thing. Seems like more than anything the talking point of the day is that our Electeds are running a city that’s in trouble, so we are entitled to know just how hard (or not) they’re working.

    And yeah, a charter commission. Now.

  4. Surfways

    In regards to the time accountability idea, Dellums brought it upon himself. Being a mayor is supposed to be a 24/7 responsibility but Dellums asked for a raise, and delivered very very little — what other way is there to quantify / qualify his efforts for the city of Oakland?

  5. tagami

    Well, let the fun begin…
    Over several weeks I have been e-mailing with several individuals about charter change. after alot of back and forth like you all discuss on this blog I wrote the following:

    “There needs to be serious and immediate reform of our city government. Faith in our local government is at an all-time low, yet we are being asked to do more with less.

    We can accept the challenge but in return ask that a formal, independent process be initiated to reform the city charter, or we must take it on ourselves to make changes by voter initiative.

    As a start, I am asking that the City Council consider the following two simple reforms:

    1) A requirement for either all full-time council members with commensurate pay, or a part-time council with clarity over the range of authority. This way the council members and staff will have the time and money to do the work that needs to get done; or it will be clear they are solely for setting policy and need to get out of the way of those who are going to get the work done.

    2) A requirement that city staff, council and constitutional officers; auditor, city attorney (including the mayor) have time sheets. An organization reflects its leaders, they say; “well we want everyone putting in their time with accountability”.

    On the issue of the Mayor, as the head of government, He/she needs to set an example for all city employees. The Mayor needs to be as accountable and accessible as anyone else working for the city as is expected in all communities.”

    I think the lesson is that in todays world anything you write may be farmed or shared on line or with the media.

    Peace Tagami

  6. tagami


    Personally I like the intellectual honesty of your comments and they do not offend me in the least.

    First the notion that we would change from a strong manager form of government to a strong mayor without any mechanism for checks and balances, over-ride, or impeachment, second that the CEO of the city can be full time and not show up at the office where the people he/she directs and manages reside is difficult to digest considering a tough enterprise and I think we qualify for that.

    I have had a lot of e-mail in the past few days … here was one from a former city staffer…

    “In “normal” businesses, you fill you a timesheet after you work your week and you get paid for that week the following payroll period. Not in the City of
    Oakland! In Oakland, you fill out your timesheet for the week Monday –
    Friday and turn it in on Wednesday, before you’ve even worked a couple
    of the days you’ve filled in hours for. This is so you get paid on
    Friday for the work you did on Friday. So, basically, everyone just
    assumes that they are going to work their full 7.5 hour day on
    Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. If you happen to be sick one of those
    days, you are supposed to amend your timesheet. Right. Like anyone does
    that. Total scam.”

    I agree that the subject of charter change is much broader than time cards and full or part time council members, there is no question about that, but the broader issues require specifics and an understanding of the mechanics that have yet to be discussed and will not be propperly ventilated in a two minute speech to the city council. I assert that the debate over our city’s constitution be vigorous amongst it residents (like Adams and Jefferson would have wanted it to be) and then made resolute by a vote of the people.

    Thanks V lets keep talkin’


  7. tagami

    One more… before story time for the kids…

    Ignorant does not know but can,

    Stupid knows but refuses to do it,

    Dumb just cannot know!

    I feel that the use of the word “dumb” should be substituted for ignorant.

    And seeing how my comments were taken from a much larger thread and quite frankly I feel that neither should apply, but that, is in itself, the fun!

    Opinion, degustibus est non disputandum , or in matters of taste there is no dispute.

    And on wanting media attention, yeah all of the developers wanting to pursue the army base are lining up to offend the mayor! please, I guess you can not engage in a peacful excercise of debate the city charter on line without running the risk of
    being public. (stupid, see above)

    There is never a fig leaf around when you need one!

  8. Max Allstadt

    I’m glad V called you out Phil. Maybe it will convince certain council members that she’s not a partisan.

    I’m also glad to get some clarification. These ideas of yours are a good start because they’re almost impossible to argue against. The only counterargument is that they’re not enough. But a good start. In this political environment, a councilmember would be am idiot to demand that we keep their role and time commitment vague. The mayor, likewise, would be foolish to pull out “executive priviledge” at a time when his position is so weak. So you start the game with a strong hand. This makes momentum easier to build. Not bad. But let’s keep going.

  9. tagami

    Max I agree with everything you wrote, everything!

    Like V, I have several pages of content and a very marked up copy of the existing charter.

    Sounds like it is time to start meeting and drafting and debating the new constitution. We have a seat at the table for you…and Vsmooth, too!

  10. Carlos Plazola

    First, I want to applaud Phil for doing what few other large developers are willing to do: step out, show courage, and challenge the power currently in control, while he is bidding on a major project. Phil, right on! To me, your love of this city is evident.

    Next, I want to applaud V Smoothe for staying critical and objective regardless of who is delivering the message–”friend of the blog” or foe, VSmoothe tells it like she sees it. This is why I’m a fan of V.

    That said, from where I sit, and from where I’ve sat, the path to fixing Oakland, I’ve concluded, is not in charter reform, or passing particular pieces of legislation (though good legislation like the whistleblower ordinance or the anti-nepotism can help keep things honest) but rather in balancing power and creating an arena for honest debate and deliberation.

    Phil, you yourself pointed this out in early August on this blog. About the only charter reform that I can see making a difference is term limits because it hones-in directly on one of our biggest challenges of our leadership: arrogance of power. Though this, in and of itself, will not fix Oakland.

    Oakland is a place where the concentrated poverty that emerged from de-industrialization has fostered the hottest hot-bed of non-profit and union advocacy and “progressive” activism in northern California, if not the west coast, with only San Francisco even in the running on a per-capita level. While these groups (unions, non-profits, and individual activists) are well-meaning, at the end of the day, Oakland has been out of balance, and the leadership has failed to create the balance necessary for dialogue, deliberation, and compromise to prevail.

    Jerry Brown pushed back hard against the activists community, and barreled projects and policies through that otherwise would have been killed. His “100 cop measure” was one of the few efforts killed, by a coalition of non-profit groups and activists. The activists, for the most part, were locked out.

    Dellums came in and swung the pendulum in the other direction, locking out the moderate voices and opening his door wide to the non-profits and unions that pushed a “progressive” agenda. Arnold Perkins report on crime is but one expression of this.

    Over the last two years, the moderate voices (business community, builders, crime prevention groups, smart growth advocates, etc ) have been organizing to bring the scale back into balance, and force a place for themselves at the table.

    Power never acquiesces without a struggle. And in this case, the moderate voices of Oakland have finally pushed back hard enough (in preventing IZ, blocking Ada Chan, forcing the mayor to put crime reduction at the top of his agenda) and created a current state of balance, thought it feels like stagnation. If we harness this balance as an opportunity to promote dialogue among traditionally “warring” factions, we can reach compromise on reasonable policy and move this city forward.

    From here, now that balanced has been established, at least temporarily, we need leadership that will not choose one side or the other, but force dialogue, develop a clear agenda for Oakland, and then implement. The mayor is not going to do it.

    Imagine if Phil Tagami, Sharon Cornu, Naomi Schiff, Ron Oz, and Kathy Kuhner walked, arm in arm, up to the council in open forum and demanded a set of performance standards, department reforms, and policies and practices of the OPD (or pick your favorite issue and insert here) that they all agreed on. The next day, their recommendations would take on a life of their own, and become reality and change would start.

    When the people lead, the leaders follow.

    Instead, at this moment, we are a still a city divided, but hopefully, not for long


  11. len raphael

    Revisiting charter amendments.

    Formed a new group consisting of a whopping 7 people called Oakland Citizens Union aka OCU as a non partisan good government group in the spirit of the original Citizens Union of New York City formed at the turn of the 19th century by members of the Progressive movement (ironic isn’t how most of our officials call themselves Progressives). In particular this one was formed to kick out Tammany Hall machine and improve government efficiency, campaign finance etc.

  12. len raphael

    possible ones:

    1. term limits. two or three?

    the NY CU settled on three, but don’t think Oakland is as complex as NYC. If a cc member hasn’t figured out most issues and players by end of initial 4 years, it’s a lost cause. Make it 3 terms per lifetime.

    2. min number of cc meetings

    3. mandatory disclosure of all volunteer labor if performed by city employees or contractors. now, that’s probably illegal restriction on freedom of speech.

    4. all city meetings have to obey brown act?

    5. public access to all officials’ calendars within 2 days

    6.budget based on best accounting practices of gasb or gaap, whichever would result in higher current deficit, etc.


    a separate ballot item would be to sunset all cc members immediately. RK and PK would be eligble to reapply for their jobs.