Pressed for details, Dellums offers new budget plan, defends role in process
on June 22, 2010
With the Oakland City Council set to start deliberating its fiscal year 2010-11 budget during a special meeting Thursday night, Mayor Ron Dellums called a press conference Tuesday morning to introduce his latest version of the budget for the council to consider. But instead of focusing all his time on the budget, thanks to a story that ran on a local television station Monday night, Dellums spent a good portion of the conference defending his record as mayor and his involvement in the budget process.
Dellums appeared at the press conference in the second floor hearing room at City Hall with City Administrator Dan Lindheim, City Council President Jane Brunner, City Councilmembers Ignacio De La Fuente and Jean Quan, and Oakland Police Department Deputy Chief Howard Jordan. Dressed in a black pinstripe suit and silver and black striped tie, Dellums made a lengthy statement and addressed many of the reporters’ questions in the hour-long meeting.
“I’ve always believed if you want to learn something about a city a state or a community, look at their budget because their budget determines their priorities,” Dellums told the press. “It speaks to what you think is important, it speaks to what you believe in. A budget tells a lot about a city. And so our budget needs to reflect what we’re concerned about and what we believe in and I think revenue raising in this context is vitally important.”
Two versions of a budget currently exist—one produced by Dellums and Lindheim, and another proposed by councilmembers Brunner, Kernighan, Quan, and De La Fuente. The councilmembers’ version would cut $18.7 million from next year’s budget, while the mayor’s version would cut $16.3 million. Both sides said that many of their cuts to close the $30.5 million shortfall are one-time measures and warned that the situation will be far worse next year, when the budget deficit is estimated to be between $52 and $60 million, unless more sustainable solutions can be found.
Both the mayor’s and the councilmembers’ current versions of the budget depend on November ballot measures to address some of Oakland’s fiscal problems—most urgently, a Measure Y fix that would amend the number of police officers the city must employ before it receives funding collected from a parcel tax for safety programs. A Measure Y fix lies at the heart of the controversial proposal to lay off what had previously been reported as 200 police officers, but will now be either 80 or 150 officers if concessions are not made by the police officers’ union before Thursday.
While the mayor’s budget plans for 80 layoffs next month, with the officers returning if a Measure Y fix is passed in November, the council is apparently divided between cutting 80 or 150 officers. Under the councilmembers’ plan, if a Measure Y fix fails in November and only 80 officers are cut in July, another 122 officers would then have to be let go in January 2011. If 150 officers are laid off next month and the Measure Y fix fails, only 29 officers would have to go in January. In either scenario, the officers would return if a Measure Y amendment is passed in the fall.
But the majority of the questions from the press dealt with the story KTVU Channel 2’s political editor Randy Shandobil aired Monday night about the police layoffs and the mayor’s role in resolving the problem. Shandobil interviewed Brunner and mayoral hopeful Don Perata, asking among other things how involved Dellums was—or in Perata’s opinion, should be—in the process of balancing the budget.
In response to the question “How helpful has the mayor been in this process?” Brunner told Shandobil she has never sat down in a budget meeting to negotiate with Dellums, and has instead worked with City Administrator Lindheim and other councilmembers. When Shandobil went to the mayor’s office Monday afternoon to ask him how he had been contributing to the budget process, Dellums wasn’t in. The mayor called Shandobil at KTVU later in the afternoon to defend his record and complain about the piece, but refused to appear on camera. Dellums did not call on Shandobil during Tuesday’s press conference.
It didn’t matter. About 50 people, mostly reporters, attended the press conference, and at least three members of different news organizations questioned the mayor about how active he’s been in developing the latest budget proposal and negotiating with the police union—with Dellums at times getting testy as he defended his actions. “I’m the master strategist, that’s my job as the chief executive officer of this city,” Dellums said in response to a question about what he has personally done to help the budget process move forward. “I’ve been briefed to the max. It would seem to me that, to the most casual observer, that I’m totally in command of what it is we are trying to do. My job is to direct.”
The press conference on Tuesday seemed to be a show of unity between the councilmembers and Dellums. Brunner said she was “delighted” at the progress made by both offices to get so close to an agreement. She said she and other councilmembers would continue negotiations with the mayor’s office before Thursday to try to bridge the $2.7 million difference between the two budget versions.
Dellums said Tuesday he plans to be at Thursday night’s budget meeting and will break a council tie if necessary. (The mayor is only allowed to serve as a tiebreaker in the event of a 4-to-4 split among councilmembers.) Until then, the council will be focused on trying to find the extra $12 to $14 million needed to balance the budget. “The reality is this city is in very, very deep financial trouble,” said De La Fuente.
[Full disclosure: Lauren Callahan currently works for KTVU, primarily with Shandobil, as an unpaid intern. She observed Monday’s interviews for Shandobil’s piece, including the call Shandobil received from Dellums.]
Oakland North is an online news service produced by students at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and covering Oakland, California. Our goals are to improve local coverage, innovate with digital media, and listen to you–about the issues that concern you and the reporting you’d like to see in your community. Please send news tips to: firstname.lastname@example.org.