First, Merry Christmas, everyone! Second, Let me repeat that title: “The Oakland City Council Budget Problem Is The Pandemic Councilmember Kaplan”. That take comes from a Twitter exchange that featured Oakland City Council President Rebecca Kaplan posting this to a small set of other Oakland-focused Twitter accounts:
They say the huge budget problem was "caused" by COVID-19 pandemic. But the largest portion of the fiscal problem, by far, is the $32 million in un-budgeted over-spending by OPD. Why doesn't their letter say "due to runaway uncontrolled illegal spending by OPD we have a crisis"? https://t.co/afZGtW7B0Y pic.twitter.com/VfqXfCvYQ0
— Rebecca Kaplan, Oakland Council President (@Kaplan4Oakland) December 17, 2020
They say the huge budget problem was “caused” by COVID-19 pandemic. But the largest portion of the fiscal problem, by far, is the $32 million in un-budgeted over-spending by OPD. Why doesn’t their letter say “due to runaway uncontrolled illegal spending by OPD we have a crisis”?
Council President Kaplan is referring to the report issued by Oakland City Administrator Ed Reiskin, and backed by Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, who hired him. Now, Ed’s new to Oakland, and just getting his feet wet, so he may be excused for a second in appearing to toss all of the blame for our current budget woes on The Pandemic. But, in defense of Ed, and to counter Kaplan, Rebecca forgets that the Pandemic doesn’t cause overspending – it causes reductions in revenue that then look like overspending.
The Twitter exchange is not something most have seen, and that’s because most people in Oakland are not on Twitter, and even if they were, were not following the accounts that would have caused one to see the exchange. The problem with media today is common folks think that if their tribe saw some news, then everyone else saw the news, too, even those people not in their tribe. News flash, Rebecca – have a livestream video-blog talk, it travels better because it combines text and images and sound. In other words, vlog version of this coming, soon.
But I digress.
Rebecca must be careful not to use the current Pandemic as a tool for her to achieve a political end of blaming her colleagues for something that she also, as Oakland Councilmember, was involved in. The people who responded don’t understand that money spent within a department in the City of Oakland does not go through a process that involves the City Council or the Oakland City Administrator; it goes to the head of the department, and perhaps the City of Oakland .
Generally, and historically, and from my personal experience as economic development intern, Mayor’s Aide, and consultant to The Oakland Redevelopment Agency, the department head makes budget spending decisions, and then deals with any findings of an overall department overspending problem, months later, and only after the spending information is collected and calculated by the Oakland City Administrator. So, the department heads, including the Oakland Chief of Police, have ultimate budget control. The City of Oakland Finance Department is designed by number of divisions and personnel to focus more on collecting money, and far less on city-wide expenditure control.
Rebecca, who controls her own Oakland City Council Officeholder Budget, should know that.
For my friend Rebecca Kaplan to put out the idea that any one person is responsible for overspending in Oakland is just not the right message to send. The problem is with the Oakland bureaucracy and the very built in lag effect between spending and comparisons with what revenue came in. All of the tweets Kaplan puts out can’t change that. But the fact is the matter is, neither she nor her Twitter friends are helping the matter by taking a worldwide Pandemic and using the situation to cast blame.
What Kaplan is trying to achieve is a situation where Oakland ultimately defunds the Oakland Police Department, rather than reforms how it does what it does. I know there are people who prize defunding the police, but it goes against an ugly reality: the money spent on police is reflective of what the electorate wants. You can’t take money from the cops, then call them and expect work for free. Try it.
Moreover, as one who’s rather miffed that more Democrats weren’t elected down-ballot, I’m pushing for a fast course-correction: the extremists have had their day, and messed a lot of things up on both sides. It’s time for adults to take back control of America, and that includes Oakland and The White House. Reform police, yes, but defund police? Get your head examined. The politicians saying we can do that are just really expanding police reach to social services, not really defunding. And they think you’re all fools for believing it can be done, because if the police can’t have money to work, guess who feels the heat? The politicians. They’re not stupid. Cut the crap.
We need to fire bad cops, now. That should be the chant, FIRE BAD COPS, FIRE BAD COPS, FIRE BAD COPS!
As for the City’s spending problem, it really is a revenue problem, Rebecca. The question should be how does the City of Oakland solve the problem? I advocate borrowing money from the Port of Oakland, as we have done in the past. The City of Oakland has had to cut workers salaries to meet the shortfall, but I think that just worsens the overall problem.
The talk should be how to increase revenues, not who to blame. People are already stressed, in some cases to the breaking point. If Rebecca wants to be Mayor of Oakland, she should work to build coalitions to help the City, not play character assassination to elevate herself. She can be a uniter; we don’t need dividers. We need a return to the creative, problem solving mindset Oakland was once known for.
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