A Bay Area Journalist's First-Hand Account Of How Mayor Jerry Brown Screwed Over Oakland On His Way To Sacramento



J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Oakland Unwrapped Column
UrbanView Newspaper
January 9, 2002

Jerry Brown, bless his heart, must have been one of those children growing up who demanded precision in his parents’ instructions. You know the kind. Find your kid playing in the front yard without permission and you say, "Don’t go out this door again without asking." An hour later, he’s back in the front yard again. And when you say, "Didn’t I tell you not to go out this door again without asking?" he answers, "I didn’t go out this door, Daddy. I went out the back door. I didn’t know you meant that one, too."

Clever kids. Those ones test your patience, and your ingenuity.

If you read the Oakland City Charter-—including the Measure X provisions passed in 1998—you’ll find that there is actually precious little that we ask the Mayor of Oakland to do. Besides submitting an annual budget and hiring the City Manager, there’s not much else specific. Most of it is implied.

One of the Mayor’s duties not spelled out in the charter-—but which citizens have come to expect—is that the Mayor report back to us every now and again to let us know what he’s doing. It’s not much to ask in return for the high salary we give him. Traditionally, the major report comes in a State of the City address, which is given to the public and the City Council at the City Council Chambers. That’s the way it’s done in cities like San Francisco and New York. That’s the way it used to be done in Oakland…until Jerry Brown.

The Mayor has taken to giving his annual State of the City address…not to the public and the City Council…but to the private, business-oriented organization known as the Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce. This year’s address, at the Chamber’s regular "Power Breakfast" gatherings, will be held at 8 in the morning on January 16th at the Oakland Marriott City Center. The event is being sponsored by Wells Fargo Bank, though what that exactly means, the Chamber doesn’t say. And they don’t have to say, of course, because they’re not a public entity. Any Oakland citizen is free to come out and here what the Mayor’s got to say. Well, not exactly free. The cost is $50 for non-Chamber members ($600 if you care to sponsor a whole table), payable to the Chamber of Commerce, which will presumably use the proceeds to further its goal of being the "voice of business."

Now, there’s nothing wrong with business having a voice. And there’s nothing wrong with the Mayor speaking to business leaders and representatives. And if the Mayor was calling this the "Mayor’s Annual Report to Oakland Business Leaders," which he has every right—and responsibility—to give, I wouldn’t be saying anything about it.

But I just think that if we’re paying this guy’s salary, he ought to be required to come back to us and let us know what he’s doing with our money.

Oh. And if you think that you weren’t planning on coming out to the Mayor’s State of the City address anyways, and you can just read what he had to say when it’s posted on the Mayor’s website…well, you can forget about that, too. One would expect the "Mayor’s Speeches" link at his official website would take you to texts of his major addresses. It doesn’t. Instead, it takes you to the webpage of the Press Room of the Brookings Institute in Washington, D.C. Why we need to read about the Brookings Institute on the City of Oakland website when we want to find out what the Mayor of Oakland is talking about…well, that’s beyond me.

Clearly, the City Charter needs a little tweaking. In England…from whence our democracy derives…they require the Prime Minister to come regularly before Parliament to answer questions. Maybe we should require that of the Mayor of Oakland. Make him show up for City Council meetings every month or so to answer questions from the public. Goodness knows that if you don’t require this Mayor to do it, he won’t do it on his own. He’s one of those clever children who require special instruction. And followup.

[NOTE: Shortly before this column was published in Urbanview newspaper, the Mayor's staff announced plans for Mayor Brown to address the Oakland City Council on the night before his Chamber of Commerce speech. Both speeches were billed as "State of the City" addresses.]