I don’t know how many people caught the LA Times article yesterday about Mayor Ron Dellums and the trouble Oakland’s experienced during his tenure, but it’s kind of embarrassing. I grew up in LA and love to talk up how great Oakland is to all my friends down there. But if they read this, I don’t see how they could possibly believe me.
Though the whole article is depressing, this part particularly jumped out at me:
That said, Dellums acknowledged that being mayor is “absolutely” harder than serving in Congress, where he said he oversaw $300-billion budgets as chair of the House Armed Services Committee.
“I remember when I first got elected, right? I said, ‘Well, I’ve got a $1-billion budget. That’s cool,’ ” he recounted. ” ‘We can bring great change with a billion dollars.’
“And they said, ‘No, Mr. Mayor, half of that budget’s already earmarked, and that’s not in the general fund.’ So I said, ‘OK, I got a half a billion dollars, that’s still a lot of money.’ “
But police and fire department budgets had to come out of that, his staff told him, so there’s more like $100 million in discretionary funds. Great, he said, “I can create some new programs.” But don’t forget the museums, they said, the libraries, parks and recreation.
“I said, ‘OK, so what do I have?’ ” he continued. “It came down to . . . $2.1 million to create new programs to change the world.”
It really hurt to read that. It would have been one thing if when he first started his campaign, he found out this news, but to admit he didn’t understand even the most basic parts of Oakland’s budgeting process until after he took office is so embarrassing.
Also, how can a mayor describe the budgeting process as “cool”?!
I cannot wait until Dellums’ term is over. We need to make sure our next mayor at least has a basic grasp on his/her job description and on how the city functions. Luckily until then we have a council that’s ready to step up to the task of budgeting.