Thank you, readers! Also, Deborah Edgerly.

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.

21 thoughts on “Thank you, readers! Also, Deborah Edgerly.

  1. Charles Pine

    Councilmembers certainly affect public opinion. See some of their dismal remarks about Edgerly at http://www.orpn.org/Edgerly1.htm#retire

    And to mention just one policy implication, until the City cleans up the corruption emanating from years of misdeeds involving Edgerly (also listed in the above item), it would take a lot of nerve for Brunner and other councilmembers to proceed with putting their Son of Measure Y tax measure on the November ballot.

  2. Colin

    Congratulations – definitely earned.

    As far as the Deborah Edgerly being a distraction, I think that’s a bit of a strawman argument to say it’s a distraction. Yes, there are other things that people should be concerned with, and no getting rid of her won’t just make everything okay, but by the same token ignoring it won’t address the issues. And there are a lot of troubling issues involved. If you want to argue that people are making this too much about her, then now’s the time to broaden that. Nobody else in power is so well positioned to get away with it. What she’s done is tied to to her position. The way the charter is set up enables this kind of abuse.

    How we structure a city charter that takes this kind of power out of a single person’s hands and makes it answerable to the voters of Oakland is a lot more complicated. But I think Edgerly as a person is tied to the reason why we need to make that change.

  3. V Smoothe Post author

    Colin -

    I didn’t mean to suggest that people should ignore the problems with Edgerly – just that it’s really important to remember that she isn’t the be all and end all of Oakland’s issues, nor is the “corruption” that people are so upset about. As you point out, the government is in need of serious structural change, and I’d rather people take that home as the lesson of all this. I worry that by focusing too much on her as an individual, people will forget all about it once she’s gone.

  4. Joanna/OnTheGoJo

    V – Congrats! You’re a great writer and the award is right on target.

    As for DE, here’s what I wrote on the SFGate comments this morning:

    “The phone records will solve this one easily. If she called her nephew to warn him, and he in turned called someone else to warn them – then it will all be in the time stamps of those calls. I don’t care if she was just calling him to tell him to stay away from “bad guys” – that is clearly interferring in a police action. If he was innocent, there was nothing to warn him of, right? Or she would have made that call long before this happened. I agree that this is being tried in the court of public opinion, but if this were a public company, the person in question (DE) would be put on administrative leave pending an investigation. Instead, she gets to keep doing her job that has loads of financial responsibility. Bizarre.”

    And I agree – this is not City Council’s problem. This is Mayor Dellum’s problem.

  5. Deckin

    I’m of the ‘it’s a really big deal’ camp. I think policies are no stronger than the people charged to implement them, and in this town, that’s a sorry story indeed. I think she serves as the most visible recent indicator of all that’s wrong with policy adoption and implementation in Oakland. You could have a group of Solons (readers of this blog?) coming up with and debating policies, but in the end, it’s the Edgerly’s of this city who’ll put it in to place and, well, check the results.

    As for Dellums, the charitable reading of his maladroit backpedalling is that he got wind of Edgerly’s plans with her attorneys and decided that the safest route, the one that avoided any expensive litigation, would be to just let her run out the clock. The truly worrisome explanation is what Matier and Ross refer to in their column today: That Dellums now sees Edgerly as a victim and an underdog (victim of what/who?–the evil press? the man? the power?). This would definitely be of a piece with his historical Panther attitude.

  6. avis

    First of all, Congratulations!

    Secondly, I don’t believe for a moment that getting rid of Edgerly will be the answer to all Oakland’s problems, but I do belive retaining her at City Hall when she is under investigation by the FBI and local authorities sends the wrong message. Certainly, she should be placed on administrative leave until the investigation is over. If she is found to be innocent she should be reinstated with full salary. If she is found to be guilty, I hope this will be a wake up call for everyone in Oakland–we need to be much more involved in our local government. During the last election I was amazed at how many folks who complain constantly did absolutely nothing to affect the outcome of the coucil races. Perhaps, the FBI investigation and what it uncovers will light a fire under city residents, I hope so.

  7. V Smoothe Post author

    I hope my post didn’t give the impression that I don’t think it’s a big deal. I was just saying that I didn’t really want to write about it because this just isn’t the sort of thing I write about, and I don’t think I have anything to add to the conversation. And there are broader issues at play.

  8. RDC

    V – In my “frequent reader” view, this blog has always been about policy and concrete facts to base opinions off of. Things that are on the books as laws, zoning requirements, NN’s IQ score, etc, etc is what I enjoy reading from you. I believe that no one believes this isn’t a big deal but just like most upstanding journalists, you won’t comment without verifying with at least 3 sources. I respect that.

    But where there is smoke there is fire and if half the stuff about her are true she has been abusing her power beyond reproach. A very expensive, public, and lenghty trial in the courts(county and public) would probably drag Dellums down with her so he stages a press conference PRAISING this gang air raid siren and who she is leaving on her own terms.

    Dellums didn’t see her as the underdog, he say her for what she has always been. Someone who is going to hold onto her name and power by any means necessary. Her very expensive lawyer probably threatened to expose heaps and heaps of dirt and cloud this mess till the cows come home.

    Again, this blog has always been based in reality and not unfounded conspiracy theories and people’s imaginations of what might have happened. Of course this isn’t the only problem in Oakland and won’t fix anything in the long run but cmon let us get furious about this! None of this, “this won’t affect anything, Oakland is still broken”. You all sound like Red Sox fans and that no account Curse of the Bambino junk. Edgerly is a joke and is emblematic of all that is wrong with Oakland. Throw her under the bus and keep running her over.

    V-think you could add a rumormongering thread? j/k

  9. Max Allstadt

    Lauren Do? – Alameda is nice, but boring.

    Mayor of Claycord? – Byotch crashed my firefox!

    V, I voted for you the first day the poll was up. I’m willing to be that you got at least 4504 votes.

  10. V Smoothe

    Alameda and Concord/Clayton might not be as exciting as our beloved Oakland, but Do and the Mayor are both serious metrobloggers filling a very real coverage void in their respective communities. They deserve props.

    Also, aww. Thank you, Max!

  11. m30

    Alameda, where a lot of people seem to sort of hate and/or fear Oakland, has a lot to offer, but its ‘small town’ mistique can be a little suffocating. Oakland on the other hand, has a ‘live and let live’ attitude that can be very appealing, though it often seems to cross the line into lawlessness and incompetence.

  12. oakie

    The Edgerly fiasco is just so over the top. Not just the long long list of alleged crimes and misbehaviors, as delineated by Chip Johnson and now Matier and Ross. It’s also the examples of sycophantic defense of her by Brooks, Reid, Zennie Abraham, et. al. Not just those examples, but the room full of department heads gathered Friday, AT OUR EXPENSE, to defend the indefensible. I am not convicting her based on the published charges. She is entitled to normal due process. But she is not entitled to any extra benefits of the doubt beyond that. She should not be entitled to any more money or retirement/pension benefits than the minimum allowed under the circumstance. [Just now I heard she is negotiating for a severance package: what audacity! And maybe she'll get it!]

    But fairness is not going to happen. We have such a dysfunctional city government, starting with Mayor Sleepy, that I have zero confidence that the public’s best interest will be served. And serving the public’s best interest is their obligation, something I see absolutely no evidence of. Zip.

    And the good citizens are not blameless, either. They keep re-electing the most irresponsible and incompetent leadership I could ever imagine. It is what Alexander Hamilton called “government ill executed.” And that goes especially for the election of the OUSD School Board, which managed to run the district into virtual bankruptcy and continues to graduate less than half it’s students.

    The Oakland city government is the best poster child for bad government, and what it does to a city with incredible fundamental assets as a city, from it’s weather, natural environment, proximity to SF, quality of the residents, etc..

    V. Smoothe may be most interested in policy, but that would have to presume that the city is capable of governing competently. Every single program adopted in this city presumes that the city is actually capable of operational competency. I do not believe the evidence supports that trust. To me, the only path to competency in Oakland is to radically reduce the scope of responsibility of city government. Public safety (and I don’t mean all those squishy programs), libraries and fixing potholes. Excluding those areas, we could drastically reduce the city government and size of the payroll. Later, if the city can prove it is capable of doing those things, then maybe they deserve our trust and added funds. The way it is now, we pay the highest tax rates and fees of any place in California (and California is among the most highly taxed places in the US) and in exchange, we get the most incompetently run city, wasting a great deal of money-a billion dollars per year, and it’s the most dangerous city in America west of the Mississippi. If it looks like I’m discouraged enough to pack in my bags, yeah. As soon as the real estate market turns a bit, after 28 years in this city, I need to find a place with a future where my daughter could prosper. I am sure it is not here.

  13. Moschops

    Would getting rid of the strong mayor act help? I’ve never seen the point of it myself and I’ve seen video of other city councils in session and it was refreshing for the mayor to be right there – on the ball about what is going on and aware of how all the council and top-dogs are behaving (or not as the case may be).

  14. oaklandhappenings

    Congrats, V! Sorry that I was too late to vote, but my hopes and wishes were with you to win! You have taught me so much about how to be a better writer!
    Also, I know how much you hate seeing the words “recall Dellums”, but how many more huge mistakes can he make before others start getting those petitions ready again? I am not one of them, mind you, but I know there are probably many out there boiling mad right now at him–following a weekend of 6 murders and 2 or 3 others wounded. Will the patience–and occasional apathy of Oakland many residents continue? Will the last straw be when
    Oakland–Lord forbid–gets voted “most dangerous in US” by the not-so-accurate-CQ press during one or more of the next few years, on Dellums’ watch?

  15. oaklandhappenings

    sorry, I meant “ranked”, not voted, by CQ– I still loathe their not-considering-demographic-percentage/other-ways. I surely hope that doesn’t sound racist, but the cities which ranked high on their lists had similarities relating to such.
    Anyway, back on topic: Dellums better hope that keeping Edgerly won’t come back to hurt Oakland more than it already has.

  16. Colin

    I don’t think you were unclear in your thoughts on this scandal – that it is a relatively big deal – but I want to point out that the city charter fails in this instance because of the person involved. In other words, the charter could work fine if only the most scrupulous, intelligent, and analytical people were allowed to hold the city administrator position. Having someone who isn’t all of those things in the office has made it a little bit of an issue. Having someone who isn’t any of those things and has willfully abused their position highlights the need for policy change.

    But I completely understand loving policy and hating politics. One is often instrumental in destroying the other, however, so it seems a bit difficult to separate them.

  17. Robert

    The primary problem is not with the organization of the city governemnt, it is with the people involved. If Dellums was willing and/or able to take disciplinary action against the administrator, this wouldn’t really be an issue, but it doesn’t seem that he can. Although he has made some faint noises, he hasn’t really shown any indication that he is willing to take action, either by firing her or reducing her power (leave of absence). If may also be that he is in actual fact not able to discipline her. Although he has the nominal ability to fire her, he may well have been advised by the city attorney that that would lead to an expensive lawsuit.

    If the functional inability to fire the administrator is the problem, then that part of the charter may need work, or the city and mayor just need to suck it up and fight it out in the courts someday. But fundamentally, having a top administrator who reports solely to the mayor can work. While I think it might be better to have the department heads also report to the mayor, do we think that would work much better given the current mayor? He wouldn’t fire them either if they screw up. And having the city administrator report to the council in addition to the mayor is just a receipe for a mess (imho). Multiple reporting structures lead to confusion in any organization.

    Look at business structures for organization models. There is a board of directors (city council), that sets policy (or at least agrees to it). Other than shaping policy, their only realy power is the hire/fire the CEO (the mayor in our strong mayor system). Of course the council can’t really fire the mayor here, that is left up to the voters (shareholders). The CEO (mayor) then has sole authority on the day to day running and implementation of the board’s policies. If only he would. I think in the business world the city administrator would be the CFO, just one of may reports to the mayor, although a very influential one in most companies, since there are responsible for the budget.

    With our system, the mayors only real function in governemnt is to monitor the administrator, and that could work fine as long as the two work together closely as a team.

  18. dconstab

    First of all, congratulations on your award. I have long enjoyed reading your blog.

    Secondly, I want to give my opinion on this recent Dellums/Edgerly situation. When I saw the video of the Dellums/Edgerly news conference yesterday, these two made me sick to my stomach! Dellums with his arms folded in a defensive posture and Edgerly, smiling and rubbing her chin like the cat who was served too much cream. I don’t understand how she was given so much power and is allowed to CONTINUE TO ABUSE IT! She said during that news conference (not word for word but close), “Make no mistake- I continue to have the full power and authority of my position as City Administrator now and when I walk out of this room.” How could this person continue to control this city?? Where are the sane people of Oakland? Why didn’t Dellums’ advisers and legal staff not take him in hand and have him stand up and demand her resignation??! Edgerly DOES NOT deserve to retire with her full pension! She should be fired and investigated by the City of Oakland, the Attorney General, AND the FBI. Anything less is insane and incomprehensible. Dellums should fire her or be recalled.

    To me it’s both a policy and politics issue. Edgerly doesn’t run the city by policy, she has hidden behind city policy for too long.