So there’s this great, great book that I’ve talked about many times before on this blog, Implementation: How Great Expectations in Washington are dashed in Oakland. Everyone should read it, but since I know that few people ever will, I’d like to share an excerpt from it, one I find myself thinking about whenever I get particularly frustrated with the City, and that seems particularly relevant in light of recent news.
This was published in 1973. Obviously, some of the details have changed in the meantime, but overall, the passage remains a strikingly honest assessment of the serious structural problem in Oakland’s government today. When I’m in my more pessimistic moods, I sometimes find myself thinking that the only thing that will ever get Oakland back on the right track is a completely new charter. Anyway, enjoy:
In dealing with the problems posed by poverty, unemployment, and racial tension, Oakland’s elected officials have faced a number of obstacles. One is the fragmentation of governmental authority: the Redevelopment Agency, Housing Authority, School Board, and Port Commission are all outside the control of City Hall. (In 1967 the poverty program’s community action agency, the Oakland Economic Development Council, declared its independence from local government, though the city took over again in 1971.)
City government itself is based on the council-manager form, under which the City Council is supposed to formulate policy and the city manager is supposed to administer that policy. The mayor, who is elected separately, is one of nine councilmen. Although the council-manger model assumes that “policy” will direct “administration,” the relationship between policy and administration in Oakland has been strongly affected by the resources available to the politicians on one hand and the administrators on the other. The advantages of the administrators are considerable.
First of all, the mayor and councilmen are not intended to serve full time at their jobs; the city manager, in contrast, is enjoined by the charter “to devote his entire time to the duties and interests of the City.” Salary levels underscore this difference: the mayor earns only $7,500 and each councilman earns $3,600 per year, but the city manager’s annual salary is $38,940. It would be a rare councilman or mayor who could afford to spend full time on his job.
This imbalance between the political and administrative sides of Oakland city government is further increased by a disparity in the staff and informational resources available to the council and manager. For the entire city council is served by just one secretary, who answers the phone, arranges appointments, types letters, and administers the Christmas program of the Municipal Employees’ Choir. The mayor is not much better off, with one administrative assistant and three secretaries.
The city manager, in sharp contrast, may utilize the manpower and information resources of all city departments under his control – police, fire, public works, and so forth. Furthermore, the manager has three full-time staff assistants in his own office who help him keep abreast of departmental communications. The finance and budget directors, who serve under the city manager, provide him with information regarding department allocations and utilization of city funds. As a result, the city manager tends to know more than anyone else about city government structure, processes, and substantive policy. For an elected public official in Oakland who wishes to exercise leadership, the built-in obstacles are enormous.
And with that, I’m off to Big Sky country. Have a good weekend, folks!