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
September 5, 2001

I think maybe I’m just going to have to stop asking questions around City Hall. The more questions I ask, the more confused I get.

A few weeks ago, I found out that Assistant City Manager Simón Bryce was putting in some time working over at the Oakland Military Institute at the old Army Base. That seemed strange because even if you consider the fact that while the Oakland Military Institute is a pet project of the Mayor, it’s not actually supposed to be a city-operated function. Not legally, anyway. So I emailed City Manager Robert Bobb to find out what was going on.

"Mr. Bobb," I wrote, "I am interested in finding out how many City Manager's office staff hours have been used in the present fiscal year in working in any capacity in coordination with the Oakland Military Academy."

A few hours later, the City Manager emailed back. "I am unable to honor your request," he said, "because we don't keep records on the number of hours we work on any project. However, we have had one member of my staff dedicated almost full time to the Oakland Military Institute. When you need additional information please ask....."

Well, actually, yes, I did need more information.

The first thing I wanted to ask was, how can they manage their time over there at the City Manager’s office if they don’t keep track of how much time they are putting in on any individual project? But I suppose that’s a question for another time.

What I did ask the City Manager, in a followup email, was for 1) the name of the City Manager’s employee working over at OMI, 2) his duties at OMI, 3) whether or not any of this work took place after OMI started classes, and 4) who was paying this City Manager’s employee while he was working at OMI.

To which the City Manager emailed back: "1) Simon Bryce 2) None with OMI... 3) Minimal 4) City of Oakland."

To which I can only answer, "Huh?" I guess he was really busy that day and didn’t have time to answer in full sentences. Or to explain.

So putting this all together, this is what I’ve learned so far from my exchange with the City Manager:

1) Assistant City Manager Simón Bryce is "dedicated almost full time to the Oakland Military Institute," but the City Manager doesn’t know how much time that means, since the City Manager’s office doesn’t keep such records.

2) Although Bryce is "dedicated almost full time" to OMI, he doesn’t have any duties with OMI. Which means…? I don’t know.

3) At least some of Bryce’s work took place in the period after OMI opened classes.

4) While working either at or with OMI, Bryce is being paid by the City of Oakland.

My problem here is, it doesn’t seem as if any of this ought to be taking place. The Oakland Military Institute is not a city-operated program, and therefore city staff shouldn’t be assigned full-time to its activities.

It is certainly proper for governmental agencies to assign liaison officers to coordinate with outside groups or businesses. In fact, in a lot of cases it’s necessary. City Planning staff members work closely with developers; City Attorney staff members do the same with nonprofit organizations and businesses. The Oakland School Superintendent has a staff member doing full-time coordination between the school district and the city’s charter schools. But in each of these instances, the city, or the school district, has a legal responsibility in these matters. The school district, for example, is responsible for monitoring the charter schools it is sponsoring. But the City of Oakland didn’t sponsor OMI. The State Board of Education did. Any government coordination ought to be coming through the state, not the city. At least, as far as I can see.

So what is an Assistant City Manager doing spending all that time with the Oakland Military Institute? I don’t think I’ll bother Mr. Bobb about it any more. He seems too busy to give a full answer. I think I’ll ask Mr. Russo. Maybe he’ll know.