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Mayor Quan as secretive as Mayor Dellums?

Oakland is two months into the administration of Mayor Jean Quan. In one mayoral campaign mailer from 2010, Ms. Quan compared her approach to governance to an open door, in contrast with the closed, secretive decision-making of former Mayor Dellums or rival candidate Don Perata. Unfortunately, because of steps the Mayor and some Council Members are taking to limit public review of important decisions, the new Mayoral administration is falling short of being the model of transparency many Oaklanders thought they were promised.

Monday night, Mayor Quan urged the City Council to make a controversial public policy decision based on a secret document - a private poll purporting to show 66% support for an $80 parcel tax (she also claims it shows her with a 71% approval rating). Under pressure from public speakers to disclose its funders, the Mayor allowed that it came from different labor groups in addition to her own campaign funds, including the Police Officers’ Association, and added that taxes are needed to prevent layoffs. Oddly for a labor group funding polling on taxes, the Police Officers’ Association was not among the city workers’ representatives speaking in support of raising taxes, even though POA members were out in force for a later item.

This poll, which was not provided to the public, played a key role in the Mayor’s argument for conducting a special election for a tax, because it’s not worth the expense of an election if the taxes are doomed to fail. Councilmember Libby Schaaf pointed out that a special election could cost as much as a million dollars, and is essentially a gamble for $11m. Without seeing the wording of the question or the demographics of respondents, the secret document was not enough to persuade Ms. Shaaf to support an election. The City Council voted 5-2, a two-thirds majority, to place the taxes on the ballot, and at least one Council Member said the poll neither they nor the public had seen was a reason for their vote. Hiding important documents from the public, as Mayor Quan chose to do despite criticism from speakers during the meeting, is the exact opposite of conducting government transparently.

In April, the Council will grapple directly with the issue of providing public disclosure of information intended to inform Councilmembers’ decision-making. The Council will decide whether Oakland’s Lobbyist Registration Act will be updated to provide transparency to the public, or gutted to provide political cover for certain advocates. Due to problems with the act that made it overly broad, the Public Ethics Committee drafted a new act that more clearly defined a lobbyist. At Rules Committee last Thursday, Council Member Jane Brunner said she wants to change the Act because professional policy advocates from nonprofit organizations would have to register as lobbyists. (I once brought a complaint against a professional lobbyist for a national nonprofit and it was successful.) Ms. Brunner also said that the Rockridge Business Improvement District is in daily contact with her office, and said they shouldn’t register. But if a business association that is regularly asking for public assistance isn’t a lobbyist, then what is a lobbyist? If Ms. Brunner’s version passes, the Lobbyist Registration Act will be eliminated and there will be no way to know if, say, a former Councilmember urging the City to raise taxes on homeowners is being paid to lobby to reduce taxes on yacht owners.

Perhaps more important to people’s lives than small tax hikes or insider-y sunshine legislation is the search for a new City Administrator. Mayor Quan has conducted her quest for the most powerful City post in total secrecy. She said she hired a recruiter but only outlined the barest qualifications (including being “progressive”), has been purposefully vague about everything but the timing of her announcement, hasn’t allowed even senior City staff any input, and will present the nominee sometime this week as a fait accompli. This is very similar to Ron Dellums’ approach, where he claimed to have hired a national search firm (and, indeed, spent $500,000 on the search process), and then appointed his totally unqualified longtime aide, current City Administrator Dan Lindheim, to the position.

So perhaps that’s par for the course in Oakland, but it’s certainly not any more transparent or accountable to the public than Ron Dellums’ administration. Contrast Oakland’s search for a City Administrator to Alameda’s for their City Manager, where the public knows the names of all three final candidates, and the City Council has appointed committees of citizens to interview and provide recommendations on their picks. You’d think that this kind of citizen involvement would be a feature of a Mayor who was elected with a promise to be more accessible and transparent than her predecessor, but instead we get a City Administrator search as opaque and removed from public view as Ron Dellums’. We’ll find out within days if a similar process yields a similar result – cronyism.

Posted in california, citycouncil, dellums, janebrunner, jeanquan, libbyschaaf, oakland.

11 Responses

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  1. V Smoothe says

    I agree that the way Mayor Quan has gone about the process of selecting a City Administrator reflects extremely poorly on her commitment to transparency in her administration. It is very disappointing.

    The League of Women Voters sent a letter urging a transparent process in December:

    Dear Mayor-elect Quan,

    The League of Women Voters of Oakland congratulates you on your election as Mayor of Oakland. We are pleased that you have selected Henry Gardner to head your transition team.

    It is clear that the selection of the new City Administrator is a critical decision for the whole City. We believe that there should be transparency in the process, and that the public and city staff should feel they have been consulted so that the new Administrator can be an effective manager.

    We suggest that you make regular reports about the progress of the search, making as much information public as can possibly be made public. We also suggest that those conducting the search be required to spend time talking with–and listening to–Oakland citizens and city staff. They may not learn significantly more than they would by reading reports, but by doing this kind of public listening, they gain the trust of the public.

    We recognize that the public cannot be a part of the actual process of the selection, but at the same time, citizens need to feel that their concerns have been heard and recognized. People also simply want to know what is going on, and that progress is being made.

    It is extremely disappointing that Mayor Quan did not heed their suggestions.

  2. Joanna says

    After our painful years of the Dellums administration, OF COURSE Jean Quan has a 71% approval rating after such a relatively short time in office! If nothing else, she was definitely seen at the White House and at the Target opening, which is more positive publicity than Dellums got in years. I fear that the money spent on an election over taxes is not going to be successful unless they spend millions more in trying to spin it positively. Perhaps a net gain is worth it, but that’s a lot of money to be gambling away…

  3. dto510 says

    Joanna, I am dubious that her approval rate is so high considering how narrowly she was elected, but there’s no reason to think she’s unpopular with everyone who didn’t vote for her. In any event, we don’t know how the question was phrased or how the responses for weighted, so we can’t tell. It wouldn’t matter except that she’s using the same secret poll as a reason to make a decision that costs the City money.

    I’m glad the LWV encouraged an open process. In addition to Alameda, the OUSD conducted an public process for choosing its new superintendent, who is remarkably popular and well-respected, perhaps partly because of going through a public vetting.

  4. jsmith says

    If you care about Oakland and want an end to this ridiculous violence join the effort to RECALL the incompetent gang pandering Jean Quan and any of the council members that support her.

  5. AC says

    The OPOA did NOT fund this poll in any way. The OPOA has confirmed they did NOT contribute to this poll. Why do people repeat Mayor Quan’s lies?

  6. Ken O says

    This new mayor leaves a bad taste in my mouth already with behind closed door same ole’ just like her previous decades of “service” and predecessors.

    All politicians suck. The ones that don’t are offed like Paul Wellstone, MLK, John F Kennedy, John F Kennedy Jr., etc….

  7. BarryK says

    Libby Schaaf did not support this tax due to the cost of a special election. However, if this were a “general election” then, she would have voted YES to get it on the ballot. Contrast to DeLaFuente who said he was against this tax.

  8. len raphael says

    Now that the CC has committed to an election, it’s a good time to compare the cost of putting on an election in Oakland vs other neighboring cities to see where we can cut election costs.

    A couple of years ago the registrar in one of the CC cities claimed a substantially lower per voter election cost than ours.

    -len raphael, temescal

  9. livegreen says

    I agree with the concerns of secrecy expressed about our new Mayor. The precursor to this is how the non-profits funded by OFCY operate, and how decisions by that POC are made behind closed doors. Though the Mayor has not caused this, she has permitted it and ok’d their decisions without much cross examination. (As have other members of the Life Enrichment Committee).

    It seems the primary difference between this Mayor and her predecessors or opponents is who has the secretive influence.

  10. livegreen says

    One question for Becks and V about the Business Improcement Districts: What happens when they or their individual members have issues pertaining to City services, or lack thereof? Is getting assistance from an agency (on a specific issue, as opposed to broader policy issues) or their City Councilmember considered lobbying?

    What about individuals who do the same? Where is the line drawn?

  11. Recall Jean Quan says

    Recall Jean Quan!