Records, ROAR!

So, I’m assuming everyone’s already read all about the package of administrative reforms (PDF!) proposed by City Attorney John Russo and City Auditor Courtney Ruby in the newspaper, so I don’t really need to get into it that much.

Their reform package, like De La Fuente’s, might be seen by some, as Nancy Nadel suggested in her inane statement (PDF!) on the Edgerly matter, as “opportunistic power grabbing.” I wouldn’t characterize it that way – I mean, both packages are certainly opportunistic. But when you, like De La Fuente and Russo, have been trying for years to get anyone to listen to you and nobody will, then you’d be a fool not to seize a scandal like this as maybe your one and only chance to get people to take reform seriously. As Russo said last week:

There is nothing in this package that we have not, either together or separately, brought forward over the past several years. In fact, some of the changes we’re proposing on personnel were the administrative policy of this city earlier in this decade and were changed several years ago, in my estimation to the detriment of the public interest.

Anyway, for those who managed to miss it, Russo and Ruby held a press conference last week, in which they announced a package they’re calling “Real Oakland Administrative Reform” (ROAR). It includes:

  • The whistleblower protection ordinance (PDF!), first introduced (PDF!) by Ignacio De La Fuente in February, and sponsored by Councilmembers De La Fuente and Kernighan, which will be passed by the City Council on Tuesday.
  • An anti-nepotism ordinance (PDF!), to be sponsored by De La Fuente, which would broaden the anti-nepotism provisions found in the City Charter (PDF!) by covering a larger number of supervisors and wider spectrum of relationships. It would prohibit relatives from working in the same chain of command and from influencing the hiring of their relatives, as well as require certain disclosures at the time of hiring.
  • Reform of flawed personnel department procedures to reduce taxpayer liability. See draft proposals here (PDF!), here (PDF!), and here (PDF!).
  • An employee ethics program (PDF!) that includes mandatory ethics training for all supervisors. Much like the mandatory sexual harrassment training that I used to find myself having to sit through every year before I started working from home, I don’t really imagine that this will have any impact on anyone’s behavior. But you can’t blame them for trying.

And then one more, the one most interesting to me, personally, which is the reason I decided to write about this in the first place, reforming the City’s records management practice and policies. OMG, our records retention policy is so horrible. Russo agrees, saying at the press conference:

They way records are maintained in this City is not acceptable in a modern organization. There are all kinds of excuses about why it can’t be done, and I think they’re largely bogus and an excuse to preserve the current regime of non-accountability. Because when you don’t have the e-mails, no one ever actually does something. Things just magically happen and no one is responsible. It’s about transparency and it’s about accountability and the public’s right to know.

So part of this records reform is the creation of a Records Reform Group (PDF!) and a Records Management Review Task Force, which will consist of seven community members, including representatives supplied by the League of Women Voters, Society of Professional Journalists, Public Ethics Commission, Chamber of Commerce, and the Central Labor Council, and two members appointed by Councilmembers, one by Council President Ignacio De La Fuente and one appointed by Councilmember Jean Quan.

Okay, so this is great. Really, it is. But I have some concerns as well. I really hope that the records management policy review goes further than drawing self-evident conclusions about how records should be maintained longer and made more easily accessible to the public. My big concern about the task force is that the brief description in the document linked above makes no mention of the use of experts in the field of records management. It is entirely appropriate for the task force to feature citizens with a vested interest in better public information and public records, but it is hard to imagine that without records management professionals among their membership, they will come up with the best possible recommendations. Records management is a complicated field, and you need people who have worked in it to keep the group grounded as far as best practices, standard practices, what’s possible, what’s realistic and what’s not.

In my ideal world, I would like to see the Task Force expanded to include the community representatives mentioned above, and then also at least two other community members who are certified records managers whose expertise can guide the group to make better decisions. I don’t care who gets to appoint them. I also hope that whatever ends up coming to the Council and passing (Russo claims he wants the new records policy passed by the end of the calendar year) includes a recommendation to adopt a real integrated document management system for use by the entire City, like Interwoven.

10 thoughts on “Records, ROAR!

  1. Andy

    Could not get the link to NN comments to work. Would love to see what she has to say. I need a laugh.

    I was floored when I read that the City only keeps e-mails for 30 day. WTF! These should be kept close to forever.

    Openness would be great. I deal with OPR on securing fields for youth sports. They are impossible. You can never determine which users have which fields. If this was open, it would be easier for various groups to work together. As it is, we are shooting in the dark. Fields are a very limited resource in this town, and as such they need to be managed with efficiency.

  2. justin

    All of these reforms are needed and welcome. The rub, of course, is that it is City staff itself that will administer all of this. That begs the even greater question of employee review and evaluation. What is counted as an evaluation criteria, what is a person’s “job,” and what consequences are there for failure to comply with x or y policy?

    Records management is a huge problem and your recommendations on Task Force membership are right on. Oakland always tends to ensure that all “stakeholders” are at the table while neglecting the need for any actual content experts. It’s the product of a mushy political culture where compromise is the highest virtue, not effectiveness.

  3. ralph

    Andy,
    NN was more Dellums than Dellums. In her email to us D3 peeps, she basically suggested we need to have a fact finding mission. We should not be so quick to assume the worst. The appearance of impropriety is not nearly as bad as actual bad acts. A more cynical person might say that NN was playing to gender and race and that we would not be so quick to judge if Edge were a beast of a different stripe.

  4. Jonathan C. Breault

    Nancy Nadel is a grotesque, loony-tune fool. How she ever managed to cajole, deceive and hoodwink District 3 voters to return her to the city council will forever be a mystery. I didn’t know that there were that many people completely devoid of even the flimsiest modicum of common sense walking this earth. And to think that the overwhelming majority of these strange creatures all reside in one little corner of the world. It must be particularly gratifying for District 3 residents to know that in no other place on earth could Nadel be elected. This reveals a greatness of mind rarely found these days. Nadels inarticulate prattling about “power grabbing” in the wake of the long overdue revelations about gross, unseemly, crude, clumsy fraud and assorted other mischief on the part of our “leaders” is just plain stupid. This person is peculiar in a not very funny way. But fear not. She is even less relevant than she was last week which is to say Nadel is fast approaching the status of nonentity which is precisely where she belongs.

  5. ralph

    JCB,
    Just guessing, but I bet NN sends pamphlets to the chiefs of neighboring villages, telling them “…send me your tired, poor, huddled masses, wretched refuse, homeless, tempest-tossed, and village idiots. I will lift not a finger to help them but at least they won’t be your problem.”

  6. Oh Pleeze

    Dear V
    There are several things missing from the proposal for a records management policy. You’re absolutely right that first among them is a professional records manager.

    What’s missing from the records manager position is the salary–in most business environments the RM is a salaried position, not a voluntary appointed position. We absolutely need an expert.

    What’s also missing is the RM’s job description (BTW, part of the job IS to develop a RM policy and the procedures that support it). It’s work, and rightly should be paid work. The committee idea is nice, but a committee is stakeholders (the people who authorize allocation of funds on behalf of the funding source, i.e., the taxpayers), rather than decision makers. Further, as you noted, there doesn’t appear to be a skew towards appointing anyone to the committee who has records management experience.

    Another thing that’s missing is a representative or a staff member from the library; especially since Oakland’s library is a federal document repository, and hence already has experience with records management. I think it’s critical to have someone doing RM for the city that already had RM experience as well as experience working with the city, and someone from the library would be a very useful addition, either as a stakeholder or as a consultant.

  7. Andrew

    Nancy Nadel has a master’s degree in geophysics, so yes she has more scientific training than any elected official in the whole Bay area.

    Anyway, I’m here to ask if V can please stop using exclamation points with every PDF she links to! I find it jangling! and unnecessary! after all, nobody has any problem reading PDFs any more! PDFs are no big deal! Thanks!

  8. V Smoothe Post author

    That’s not true. Just off the top of my head, there’s Berkeley City Councilman Gordon Wozniak, who has a Ph.D in Chemistry and worked for decades as a research scientist. I’m sure there are many other elected officials in the Bay Area with advanced science degrees. There’s an awful lot of offices.

    I kind of think the exclamation points are cute, but if people are annoyed by them, I’ll drop it.