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Oakland Deficit Far Worse Than Estimated

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Thursday July 24, 2008 - 09:52:00 AM

Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums confirmed Thursday that Oak-land’s current budget deficit is far worse than originally estimated—in the tens of millions of dollars, the mayor noted—and said that he is asking city department heads to prepare new fiscal year 2008-09 budgets that include 10 to 15 percent across-the-board cuts. 

In addition, as has been rumored for several days, Del-lums announced he is bringing in a management team headed by former City Manager and City Administrator Robert Bobb to do a top-to-bottom evaluation of Oakland’s administration, as well as to do a national search for Oakland’s new administrator. 

The mayor made the twin announcements at a packed midday Wednesday City Hall press conference. In addition to reporters, the press conference room was filled with city department heads, city workers, and union officials, all interested in hearing the new direction to be taken by the city. 

Former City Administrator Deborah Edgerly—whom Dellums fired earlier this month in a city hall shakeup that included the firing of Edgerly’s second-in-command as well—had originally estimated an 2008-09 budget deficit of $15 million. But Dellums said Thursday that Edgerly’s figures “were not accurate numbers,” though he declined to give the exact size of the source of the deficit, saying only that he would provide specific figures at a later point. 

The mayor indicated that while his office will “look at all options” and “leave no stone unturned” in looking for budget cuts, the city’s public safety programs may be off limits to reductions.  

“Public safety has been due north for us,” Dellums said. “We have made major gains over the last several months, and that will not be compromised.” 

Dellums indicated that budget cuts are not imminent over the City Council’s summer break, which begins next week, but will be submitted to Council in the fall after consultation with the city’s labor unions. 

The mayor said that he has already instituted three budget-cutting measures to meet the city’s fiscal crisis, including a selective hiring hiring freeze, a review of the city’s credit card policies (which came under criticism in a recent Alameda County Civil Grand Jury report), and a halt of all travel expenditures by city workers other than travel that has already been approved. 

Meanwhile, Bobb returns to Oakland five years after he was fired by former Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown, reportedly in a dispute over the direction of the city’s uptown development project. After leaving Oakland, Bobb relocated to Washington D.C., but has maintained close ties with Oakland officials, including several members of Oakland City Council. He will head a review team that includes former Oakland Budget Director Marianna Marysheva-Martinez, who will serve as a policy advisor to the mayor. 

In explaining why he selected Bobb to head the review and search team, Dellums said that “no one challenges [Bobb’s] brilliance, his organizational ability, or his knowledge of Oakland. Why do I bring him back? Because of his brilliance, his organizational ability, and his knowledge of Oakland.” 

Among other things, Bobb’s team will be charged with assessing Oakland city finances and making recommended revisions to the budget, developing measures to control city spending and hiring, and reviewing and recommending changes to the city’s executive and management structure. 

Bobb was present at the press conference but did not speak, and was not asked any questions by reporters. 

Though he did not mention former Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown by name, Dellums had implicit criticism for Brown’s loose management style. 

“In the past, the mayor’s office has been seen as some exotic agency sitting over somewhere and operating parallel to the city’s administrative operation,” Dellums said. “That’s wrong, it’s inefficient, and it’s not what Oakland voters had in mind when the decided they wanted a strong mayor form of government.” Dellums added that “it’s fallen upon this administration to define—operationally—what [strong mayor government] means” in Oakland. 

Asked by a reporter why he had not instituted such an administrative review sooner, Dellums took another dig at Brown, who left the mayor’s office without turning over any of the mayor’s official records. To this date, those eight years of Brown mayoral documents remain missing and unaccounted for. 

“When I came into this office, there were no files and no notes,” Dellums said, adding that it took until now to put the money and the team in place to go forward with the administrative review.