Fact Checking The Mayoral Candidates’ Positions, Part Two: Setting Budget Priorities

By Jennifer Inez Ward, Contributing Editor, Oakland Local

Oakland Local and Make Oakland Better Now! have teamed up to take a close look at the accuracy of candidates’ response to an online questionnaire from MOBN!. We want to know if candidates are being truthful and accurate in their responses, or are they veering from facts and offering opinion without any solutions? Each day, Oakland Local and Oaktalk will run a fact checking story on seven important questions.

Tuesday’s Question:
How Will Our Next Mayor Set Budget Priorities?

Oakland’s mayoral candidates provided a wide variety of responses. Some responses were detailed, some were brief. Some responses were ambitious and some focused on the budget problems rather than voicing detailed solutions.

Greg Harland

Harland’s response is that city government is responsible for delivering services and as mayor he will make sure Oakland delivers promised services. “It is not a matter of revenues it is a matter of management and that management has been lacking for many years.”

What We Found: Harland did not write any specific plans for making sure city departments deliver on their promises.

Rebecca Kaplan

Kaplan is looking to bring in fresh blood if elected mayor. “My first task after being elected Mayor will be to launch a genuine, unbiased, nationwide recruitment process for the new City Administrator and other key management posts (e.g. Budget Director), with the goal of hiring the best and brightest to be the next generation of City leadership,” Kaplan writes.

What We Found: The Oakland City Administrator Office carries out a lot of important functions for the city and finding the right person for Oakland will be a critical key component to ensuring Kaplan can carry through on campaign promises.

The Administrator’s office has only recently been able to settle down from the controversy that swirled around the Deborah Edgerly term in 2008. In 2009, Dellums appointed long-time confidant Dan Lindheim.

Kaplan is also looking to “reverse the downward spiral of cuts to park and road maintenance, because performing maintenance early saves costs for the long run.”

What We Found: As the new mayor, Kaplan will have her work cut out for her in the area of parks and road maintenance. According to city documents, since 2008, the park maintenance staff has been cut by 28 percent.

Currently the Public Works Department is struggling heavily in many of its sectors, including street repairs. In a recent report, the department said it’s more than $400 million behind in repairing city streets.

As a result of the city’s sharp decline in revenue, the department’s capital improvement budget this year (2010-2011), is almost half of what it was the previous year.

Kaplan doesn’t name specific funds when she declares that as mayor she will, “restore information technology funding and use that technology to implement systems (such as an online business permit and tax system) to reduce internal delays and help businesses open.

Kaplan is similarly vague when she says, “Oakland is currently subsidizing several buildings which are not being put to productive use, and I will work to shift those assets in ways to make them revenue-generating.”

What We Found: It’s unclear what buildings she’s referring to and how she would go about making them “revenue-generating.”

As part of developing a more public process with the city budget, Kaplan offered solutions like, publishing a draft budget well in advance of the adoption deadline, “in order to gather more ideas to ensure the document reflects Oakland’s priorities and explores all solutions and efficiencies.”

What We Found: This is an issue that many are eager to see tackled, as the budget process has been criticized in the past for being closed off from public participation.

Don Perata

Perata said he will give his highest priority as mayor to public safety, economic development/job creation, and Oakland youth.

Specifically, Perata said as mayor he will staff the police department to levels recommended by Chief Anthony Batts. How to pay for this? Perata said it will be, “funded through directed cost savings (including pension contributions, two tier retirement system, and cuts to non-critical city services), new revenues (including ½ cent sales tax).

What We Found: It’s unclear which employee pension contributions Perata is talking about, and for how much. There was no additional information provided by Perata on developing a two tier retirement system or what “non-critical” city services would be on the chopping block.

As for a new sales tax, Perata would especially need the help of city council in trying to push through another sales tax on a tax weary public.

Perata’s says his final component, Oakland youth, would benefit under a Perata administration because he said he will team up with the Oakland Unified School District to share resources and facilities; create a joint tax measure to pay for program services, like after school programs; and to stregthen Oakland Parks and Recreation by developing “public/private partnership with OPR alumni as leaders.”

What We Found: The city has some partnerships with the school district, including Teach Tomorrow in Oakland, but there are still many partnering opportunities that can be taken advantage of and Perata’s goal of increasing the city hall and public schools connection could receive strong support, especially since he was a schoolteacher in Alameda for 15 years.

As part of his cost cutting measures, Perta said he would suspend all city boards and commissions, unless they are mandated by state or federal regulation; eliminate a city staff position before cutting a police officer; and go “line by line” through the budget to find savings.

What We Found: There may be some boards worth cutting. the city has more than 40 boards and commissions, which include the Paramount Theatre of the Arts Board, the Community Policing Advisory Board and the Children’s Fairyland Board. However, it’s unclear what cost savings would be made in cutting the boards and if there would be enough savings to warrant cutting city boards and commissions.

As part of his budget plan, Perata said he would also “identify other non-essential city positions that are either duplicate or create needless layers of bureaucracy, and get rid of them first.” Perata points to Council President Brunner’s suggested cuts totaling $20 million. He said he is the only candidate with a track record of leadership in making such tough decisions and making them work.”

What We Found: Perata doesn’t give examples of non-essential city positions he may be thinking of; Oakland has undertaken serious staff cuts in the last two years. Brunner’s suggested cuts, if put into action by Perata may raise the ire of some communities. One of Brunner’s suggested savings include a 25 percent cut to the City’s Arts Grants Program.

As for his claim of being the only candidate with a track record of leadership in making “tough decisions,” Jean Quan may disagree, after all she voted for the recent police layoffs.

Jean Quan

Quan gives a brief response. She begins by saying, “the weighting of departments is unlikely to change in the short term.” Quan also said while the Oakland police will remain the largest part of the general budget, “the weighting within the budget” for items like over-time for officers will be likely be reduced. “Where possible I will reorganize to reduce administrative costs.”

What We Found: Quan may be correct about there being few short term changes to the city’s immediate budget, save for some reduction of police overtime, but she fails to say what she will specifically do to reduce administrative costs. Given that Quan has sat on the Oakland City Council for two years terms but cannot specify what needs to be cut, her answer is puzzling.

Joe Tuman

Tuman’s response is blunt: “I don’t know what I will cut yet; that will be subject to what I find in the audit.” (Editor’s note: In a previous MOBN! answer Tuman vowed to conduct a financial audit of city hall.)

Tuman also said he was committed to making public safety, public works, parks, and housing a priority in his mayoral term.

What We Found: Tuman’s “I don’t know” answer can be interpreted a variety of ways including either refreshing or troubling.

Terrence Candell

Candell is very ambitious in his plans. “I plan a $100,000,000 Mayor’s Jobs Program, with an on-the-job training component, with a distinct emphasis on “Hire Oakland First”, a committee on which I served for several years, but which had no teeth.”

Candell goes on to say that, “I do not plan to reduce programs. I plan to expand them. That is what you do, when you run successful businesses.”

What We Found: There was little to hang our hat on with Candell’s response. No details are provided about his jobs program idea, nor does he provide information on where he will get the funds to expand city programs.

Fields

Fields would like to “eliminate expenditures by cutting City bureaucracy on the top level. We have double the amount of city employees that we need.”

What We Found: Fields did not provide any specific expenditures or city positions that needed to be done away with.

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