Transparency and Accountability in the Oakland City Council: Examining the Mid-Cycle Budget Process
While much of Make Oakland Better Now!’s recent advocacy has involved public safety and budget issues, two of our key values are transparency and accountability. To us, these mean keeping City Hall’s inner workings open and honest. Now that City Council is in its August recess, we want to wrap up our discussion of the recent mid-cycle budget process, which ended in a dispiriting and opaque action by the Council.
As those who follow City Government know, Oakland operates on a two-year budget cycle. When things are going smoothly, the City makes “mid-cycle adjustments” once, after the first year. Other times, as in the 2009-11 cycle, it may seem as if the City is making adjustments every month.
This January, the City made significant adjustments in its budget to reflect the loss of redevelopment money after the California Supreme Court upheld legislation eliminating redevelopment agencies. Then, in May of this year, the Mayor and City Administrator proposed further adjustments that focused heavily on public safety and economic development, anticipated a general purpose fund revenue increase of $3.93M, and an increase in GPF spending of $3.86M, resulting in a slight net increase in the surplus.
While we noted some flaws in and questions raised by the proposal, we were generally supportive. The administration acknowledged that the proposal did not fix all of the City’s long-term deferred expenses (e.g., pensions, retiree health care, deferred maintenance on the City’s assets), but it was operationally balanced and its emphasis on public safety and economic development made sense. The proposals went to Council at three public hearings. In advance of each hearing, the administration provided written reports to the public and the Council addressing questions raised by both.
What happened next? Read about it after the jump.