Tranparency Eludes Oakland Mayor

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Mayor Jean Quan touts transparency in government as one of her chief policy objectives. “As Mayor, I pledged to: ... Be transparent. I promised no back-room deals. I post my schedule on line so people can see what I’m working on.”

    One of Oakland Mayor Jean Quan’s first promises on taking office in January 2011 was to post her schedule online, giving residents a peek at how she manages the public’s business. 

    It is a commitment she has had trouble keeping.

    During the past eight months, Quan has not posted a single calendar entry. Before that, her posts were intermittent. All told, the calendar she has made available to the public covers less than 30 percent of the time she has been in office.

    An aide attributed the lapse to understaffing in the mayor’s office.

    It is being done, it just doesn’t get done right away, obviously,” said Jay Allen, the mayor’s interim communications manager. “The mayor wants to be transparent, but she also wants to be frugal. This is one of those areas where good intentions come to cross-purposes.”

    The mayor did not return calls requesting comment.

    Quan’s difficulty in fulfilling this high-profile yet modest campaign promise reflects the problems she has had in addressing the financial challenges, crime and social upheaval facing the city.

    Last year, the city attorney and police chief quit, and voters rejected her parcel tax proposal that would have helped close the city's budget deficit. Her handling of Occupy Oakland protests threw the city into turmoil and helped spawn two unsuccessful attempts to recall her from office. And in June, she acknowledged that her plan to deploy police officers in violent neighborhoods was based on erroneous crime data.

    On the city’s website, Quan touts transparency in government as one of her chief policy objectives. “As Mayor, I pledged to: ... Be transparent. I promised no back-room deals. I post my schedule on line so people can see what I’m working on.”

    She elaborated on this pledge in a campaign video in November 2010, where she explained that posting her schedule online would allow people to “see how I’m using my time, who I’m meeting with, what are the main issues I’m taking up. I plan to make sure I have an ethical government, you know, that we have no cronyism, we have no corruption, that access to the mayor is based on important issues and not who gave me campaign contributions.”

    At the beginning of her term, the mayor posted weekly calendars covering her first two months in office. After that, however, she began posting fragments of her schedule seemingly at random. The last time a calendar entry was posted was January. All told, her calendar is available for 26 of the nearly 90 weeks she has been in office – and even for the posted weeks some days are missing.

    One of Quan's rivals in the 2010 mayoral race says the public deserves to know which contractors gain access to city leaders and how much time Quan spends at policy and budget meetings.

    “I think it’s ridiculous,” said Joe Tuman, a former mayoral candidate who serves as chairman of the communications department at San Francisco State University. “Voters have an expectation to know what you are doing and who you are meeting with. Instead she is keeping people in the dark.”

    Allen, Quan’s spokesman, defended the mayor, saying the past eight months of her calendar are not yet online because the job of posting it falls to the mayor’s scheduler and herexecutive assistant, who are busy juggling other demands.

    “They are also manning the front desk, scheduling her appointments, fielding public records requests, providing the mayor with briefing books and accompanying the mayor to and from places when she doesn’t drive herself, which she often does,” Allen said.

    “She was very committed and still is committed to putting her schedule online given her small staff,” he added.

    The Bay Citizen requested 15 months worth of Quan's calendar entries on June 28. The mayor's office promised to provide the documents by July 23 but then missed that deadline. On Aug. 30, after repeated requests, the mayor's office promised to "post the calendar online soon."

    Bay Citizen reporter Shoshana Walter contributed to this report.

    This story was produced by The Bay Citizen, a nonprofit, investigative news sources in the Bay Area and a part of the Center for Investigative Reporting. Learn more at www.baycitizen.org.