The City Council cannot be trusted.

So the Council last night approved the Mayor’s funding request for $7.7 million in Measure Y money to pay for a new police recruitment package. It’s always disturbing when the Council makes bad decisions, although rarely surprising. Last night was especially disappointing for me because they spent like two hours hashing out just what an irresponsible move this is, to the point where it was pretty crystal clear to everyone in the room that this is going to cause a lot of pain down the road.

Desley Brooks characterized the city’s use of Measure Y funds to date as an abuse of the public trust, and she’s absolutely right:

As I pointed out yesterday, this isn’t the first time we’ve raided Measure Y money to fund recruitment efforts, and there were promises last time around that the money would be paid back as well. City Administrator Deborah Edgerly explains the situation:

Okay, so here’s what’s going on. The Council approved a funding package last night that has been modified from the Mayor’s original plan. In the modified version, all the money initially will come from Measure Y funds, but theoretically, every officer that doesn’t get staffed to a Measure Y position will later have their recruitment and training costs paid back to Measure Y out of the General Fund. The idea that we’re going to split the money between Measure Y and the General Fund is, frankly, preposterous. As you saw above, the City made that promise two years ago and broke it. And with the General Fund facing a hefty deficit this year, there is certainly no reason to assume they’ll keep it this time. Jane Brunner seemed to get that:

The discussion from Dellums’s Public Safety Director Lenore Anderson and Police Chief Wayne Tucker made it pretty clear that they have no intention of paying back a penny. Instead, what they’re going to do is just claim that every new officer they hire is a Measure Y officer. Seriously:

So, when Measure Y was sold to the voters, we were told that it would pay for 63 new police officers. These positions would allow every beat in Oakland to have its own problem solving officer, and add 6 new members to a special crime reduction team. 27 of those positions have not yet been filled. The department is short 75 officers total. But now, in an attempt to get Measure Y to pay for the entire recruitment and training package, Chief Tucker has declared that all 75 new officers will be called Measure Y officers. The Council is on board.

I realize that this wasn’t an easy choice for anyone on the Council. People are clamoring for more police, and all the headlines have told them that this is a vote on whether or not to hire more police. The local press has derided them for their desire to even vet the proposal at all. Anyone who voted against the proposal would surely be in for a stream of invective from both the media and their constituents. I can see the headlines now “So and so opposes hiring more police!”. Making good choices in this environment is tough.

But our elected officials have a responsibility to do what’s best for Oakland in the long term, whether or not that makes people angry at them today. This was clearly not what the voters were promised with Measure Y, and clearly not what those of us who took the time to study the legislation before heading to the polls thought we were voting for. The Council has put us in a position where we will be obligated to cough up literally millions extra of dollars annually in a few years to cover the basic costs of public safety, and in doing so, has failed the citizens of Oakland.

More than one person has told me recently, during discussions about both Measure Y and Measure DD, “I will never vote for another bond measure in this city again.” I’m not quite ready to make that commitment, but I am certainly sympathetic to the sentiment. I can say that I will not vote for another bond measure or tax increase without some major changes to the City Council. These members have betrayed the public trust and failed to keep their promises to Oakland one too many times.

And an administrative note: I’m way behind on responses to e-mails and comments, but I’m doing my best to catch up. I apologize to those who have written and not heard back. And I know that my heavy use of video lately is problematic for the hearing impaired, as well as those who don’t have speakers or can’t watch streaming media from the computers they read the blog from. I will put together transcripts of the video clips I’ve posted on the blog as soon as I get a chance.

12 thoughts on “The City Council cannot be trusted.

  1. apc

    What is most ridiculous about the plan coming down is that they *cannot* staff FTOs for the “expected” number of recruits, so they will have to disband all specialized units (such as the crime reduction team), send them back to patrol, train them and force them to be FTOs. During that time? No crime-prevention units.

  2. V Smoothe Post author

    There’s been so much to say on this topic that I never even got around to addressing this issue, but apc is correct. We do not have enough field training officers to train the new recruits that are expected to finish the academy in November. What this means is that when those officers graduate, we will have to remove officers from investigative positions and crime reduction teams for a period of 8 months to serve as trainers. This was discussed at length during the Council meeting last night, and the Council was well aware of this complication when they approved the plan.

  3. Max

    One of the best comments I heard at that meeting was from the cop who’s on guard duty for the council chambers. He said something like this: (I’m totally paraphrasing)

    Problem solving officers, along with a lot of other administrative positions, do not need to be sworn officers. There is no need for them to have badges and guns. Want more cops on the street? Put civilians in those roles and save thousands on benefits. They don’t need the benefits that sworn officers need because they don’t have the same risk.

  4. Onthegojo

    I admittedly was against approval of spending this money and even with the changes last night I’m still not for it. My dear friend/neighbor and I argued about it over dinner a few nights ago. His feeling was that Council should approve spending the money and let Dellums further hang himself when it doesn’t work. He also feels that by not voting on it that first time was just another way of not doing anything about the problem and at this point even doing the wrong thing would at least be doing something because he doesn’t think they’ll ever figure out exactly what the right thing is. They’ll just get lucky at some point – or the City will just continue with the criminals running wild.

    I can see why he’s saying that, and I’m guessing that the majority of Oaklander’s don’t understand the complexity of our City government… but talking about it with quick fixes like recalling Dellums or complaining all day with no solutions is NOT the answer! And with the further unfortunate situation of having a print paper that can’t make the story understandable to save their soul, who in Oakland really, really is aware of all the intricies?

    In the mean time, my thoughts towards Dellums and City Council spending all this money on recruiting – “Good luck with that.” They’ll need it.

  5. dto510

    V, thanks for this cogent summary and the informative video clips, which paint a more accurate picture of how city business is conducted than one reads in the media. But I think you’re being to harsh by blaming the Council.

    Yes, the City Council is ultimately in charge of the city, but they did not propose this terribly short-sighted and costly measure. As you pointed out, the media’s simplistic portrayal of this proposal left the Council with little choice. They, and the Measure Y Committee, tried and failed to explain to the general public what was really going on. This is an election year, it’s a democracy, and I don’t think they really had a choice.

    Onthegojo – unfortunately, the funding shortfall in Measure Y is mostly several budget cycles in the future, so Dellums isn’t going to be stuck with the tab. Though as community policing officers are taken off their duties to train new patrol officers within the year, the cost of the proposal will become clear. I know that many of my neighbors meet regularly with our PSO and are excited to tackle chronic problems with him; they’ll be quicky disappointed when the Dellums – Tucker plan puts a stop to their work.

  6. masb

    It’s not just the print media. It is even worse on the local TV media.I am a 63 year old Oakland resident and I hate to say it but most folks I know in this town are either reading the newspaper or watching the TV – how many are reading blogs? Almost none. How do you educate everyone? I”m serious – I know that a certain demographic is in touch with the blogosphere but I think more need to be involved. I tell people to check it out but many just aren’t that interested. Don’t you think we need a multi-ethnic, multi-generational approach to reach some sort of a consensus about all this?

  7. Californio

    What I’m wondering is why it was so easy to fund the “Violence Reduction Programs,” as I think they were called, and so easy to hand money to the OFD, yet so difficult to recruit new police officers and train them. The implication to is that someone doesn’t like the idea of more cops and tried to thwart the main impact of Measure Y. Am I getting this right? (Now that there’s been a public outcry for two years, the ideologues may have shut up or changed their tune.) Suggestion: Why not take some of the money from the violence prevention programs and use it to hire cops? I’m sounding like a conservative here, which I’m not, but could we at least examine these programs for their efficacy and redirect funding from those which are not? And last, does the Fire Department have to have its automatic $4M each year, or could some of that money be redirected? If you’re going to take the shortfall from the general fund anyway, who’s to say you can’t skim off a million or two from the Fire Department or the Violence Prevention Programs?

  8. Joe K

    Take it one further with the fire department –

    Some options:
    pass a ballot measure or what have you that would dramatically scale back the resources to the fire dept and reallocate to police officers. The risks of increased fire damage both personal and property may be worth it when you consider the number of homicides in Oakland.

    —Or —
    With the fire dept employees as an underutilized resource, train them to do some of the duties for the non-patrol police officers. Let them do it in the fire stations if possible or have them be on stand-by at the police stations nearby. Granted it may delay services, and likely more people will be harmed in fires/emergency services, but if the police force could make a dramatic reduction in homicides by being out there on the streets, it may be worth the risk.

    Some crazy thoughts for you…

    And as far as violence prevention measures – what is their measure of success? Teen violence statistics? Adult violence stats, lagged for time? I’m sure it’s a “good thing” but the current measures of success as reported in the budget are all about training hours and such – nothing about what they are trying to solve. It would be as if teachers were measured on # of hours in the classroom not on their students performance on standardized tests (yes I’m a fan of that).

    You cannot manage what you do not or cannot measure!

  9. len raphael

    i love blaming “the media” for lots of things, but not for the stampede of dellums and the council to spend measure Y funds in clear violation of the intent of measure Y. Plus like other stampede financial decisions made by our councils and mayors over the past 20 years (think Raiders, Hotel, Ice Rink) it’s a dumb decision.

    Dellums and the council belately realized that the balance of Oakland electorate had made a dramatic change since Dellum’s election and won’t accept the high levels of violence, car thefts, and muggings of many parts of Oakland. The members seem shell shocked as to why the same electorate that just a year ago voted for a mayor who consistently said cops were not the answer, the same voters who were silent when a police hiring freeze was approved by council members several years ago, now demand immediate security. So when the mayor offered them a life raft to climb onto in the form of his measure Y raid, they climbed, with Jane Brunner first in line. -len raphael

  10. len raphael

    Full Disclosure: Have decided to do less posting and try to do something concrete, so I volunteered to be Patrick McCullough’s treasurer. However, any posts I make are strictly my opinions and do not reflect those of Pat. (this is gonna be tricky posting while participating in an election campaign, but i’ll try not to be entirely partisan :)