First, I’d like to thank everyone who voted for me in the East Bay Express poll! I’m thrilled to be named Readers’ Choice for best local topic blogger. In your face, Mayor of Claycord! Take that, Lauren Do! Anyway, I just wanted to say how happy and flattered I was for the recognition. (And a special thanks to Becks for pimping ABO!) You guys rock. As a thank you, I’m going to write about something that I wasn’t planning on writing about, but based on the e-mails and comments I’m getting, you guys clearly want me to.
I haven’t said anything about this Deborah Edgerly mess partly because I’ve been out of town, but also because I don’t care. Okay, that’s not true. I care deeply in the sense that I think the whole thing is just horrible. The situation makes Oakland look totally bush league, and it makes me want to cry. But I don’t really care to write about it because, well, this just isn’t my thing. Obviously corruption in City Hall is terrible, and should be investigated and uprooted. The nepotism that goes on in City hiring is a damn travesty. And if the allegations the Edgerly tipped off her nephew about the upcoming bust are true, she should go to prison. But I have no way of knowing if that’s what happened or not (that’s for the FBI, not me, to figure out), so I don’t really feel like I’m in any position to comment on it. In any case, policy is my thing. Land use, transit, boring city reports – I know what I’m talking about and have lots of opinions developed over long periods of time and significant study. Scandal? Not so much. So I feel like I’m in kind of unfamiliar territory posting about this. But you guys asked, so here you go.
I think that Dellums made a huge, huge mistake in letting her stay on until the end of July. Again, I’m certainly not in a position to know enough about the situation to say whether or not she should be fired, but regardless of whether the allegations are true, they have crippled the public’s already shaky faith in our City government, and that is reason enough for her to be removed from her post. If Dellums doesn’t want to fire her, he should at the very least put her on paid administrative leave until her retirement date and appoint an interim replacement to run things in the meantime. I know people are worked up about her still getting paid and still getting her pension and all that, and I’m not going to say that those concerns are unreasonable (although I’ll again point out that we really aren’t in any position to know whether that’s justified), but I’m willing to take what I can get, and personally, all I want right now is her out of City Hall. I don’t understand how anyone is supposed to work with her at this point. The reasoning behind Dellums’s decision to let her stay active through July completely eludes me – seriously, I spent the better part of my flight last night from Salt Lake City puzzling over it, and I just cannot see any rhyme or reason there. Willingly forfeiting the public trust is never okay.
And I have never felt so bad for the City Council as I do right now. Their constituents are completely up in arms about this situation, and with good reason. Yet they are not empowered to do a damn thing about it! The City Charter gives them no authority whatsoever here, and even worse, they’re totally beholden to her if they want to accomplish anything. Some commenters have suggested that they should be all over the media about this, but I just don’t see how that would be productive. The Mayor is apparently not interested in responding to citizen or media pressure, and the City Administrator has all the power, and things have to get done before recess, so I can’t see how anything would be accomplished by making what is likely an already strained working relationship even worse.
The other thing that bothers me about all the uproar is that I think too much focus is being placed on Edgerly as an individual. People are crying for her dismissal and screaming about her corruption, and I think that in doing so, they may be losing sight of the larger problem. Singling Edgerly out as the source of all that is wrong with Oakland makes it easy to forget about the serious structural problems with our government. Intense focus on a lone individual can lead to a situation where people start internalizing the idea that if we just got rid of this one person, things would all of a sudden be just fine. And that isn’t true. First, there’s the issue of who will replace her. We deserve a superstar from some far away place who knows nothing about Oakland, but knows all about a well-run city. Who knows what we’ll get, but something tells me it won’t be that. Second, the City Administrator just has too much power. The way resources are allocated in Oakland doesn’t give Councilmembers sufficient opportunity to make real progress. We need charter reform, and the one good thing that may come out of this whole disaster is that it will hopefully be the push the Council to start thinking seriously about that. I can’t say right now exactly what all the reforms should be – there are some things I’ve wanted to see for a long time, but talking in detail about all the changes I think we need, well, that’s going to me some time and quite a bit of research, so I’m just not ready to put anything out there quite yet.
And that’s pretty much all I have to say about that.
UPDATE: Okay, so based on feedback on this post, both in comments and in person, I think I failed to communicate that I do think this situation with Edgerly is a serious problem. Rest assured, it upsets me, it frustrates me, at times, it has made me want to throw my hands in the air and give up on the City and just return to putting all the energy I spend on this blog into non-political community improvement efforts. I hate everything about it. All I was trying to say, and I guess I didn’t make it very clear in the original post, is that I love, and want to write about, policy, and I hate politics, and I don’t know if that’s a distinction that makes sense to anyone besides me, but that’s what I want this blog to be about, and that’s why I haven’t been writing about the Edgerly debacle. It just isn’t what I do. And I really am worried about people ignoring larger structural problems that this issue should highlight in favor of focusing all their ire on one person.