Friday, November 30, 2007

Thank You, Courtney Ruby

In the last few days I've had a feeling that I haven't had in as long as I can remember. I have been grateful to an elected official that I voted for, because that official was vigilantly performing the duties of her office. And the weird thing is, the office is not one of the high-visibility spots: it's the Oakland City Auditor.

At the last election, the race for City Auditor was actually one of the liveliest contests on the local ballot, with the former auditor (who had been in office for years and was accused of being impossible to work for and gutting the department) up against 2 likely-looking and well qualified newcomers, of whom Courtney Ruby, a CPA and former CFO, took the election and took office. Courtney Ruby has just released a hard-hitting audit of city payroll practices, and I feel like standing up and cheering. She's identified more than $3 million in "loosely monitored payroll transactions" over a 3 year period, and she says she's not done.

The reaction from the city administrator, Deborah Edgerly, was disgracefully unprofessional - she called the report "inaccurate and misleading," and somewhat grudgingly agreed to work with the auditor and the city council to identify "payroll policies and practices that need changing." I translate this response as "You don't understand how we do things here." But I think Ms. Ruby does understand how we do things here, and she's just documented it publicly.

Chip Johnson of the San Francisco Chronicle says it's the "first independent fiscal analysis coming out of Oakland City Hall in the 10 years I've covered the place." He further points out that Ms. Ruby, formerly with the East Bay Conservation Corps, is not part of "the city's political cabal" - well, exactly. The problem with Oakland is exactly that long-standing political cabal, of which, I may add, Mayor Dellums is a member in good standing; the purpose of the political cabal is to appoint some friends to well-paying commissions and award lucrative contracts to other friends - I can't think of another reason why the same names keep turning up over and over. Managing the city of Oakland in a fiscally responsible manner isn't on the table, as far as this citizen can see: we pay the taxes and pay the taxes, and still there's no money for police, for fire coverage, for street repair - the money must be going somewhere. Well, we now know that $700,000 a year is paying for automobile allowances for 238 city employees. How many cops would that hire? And why aren't these people taking public transit, or using vehicles from a pool?

Hey, Ms. Ruby - wanna run for mayor next time?

And as for Ms. Edgerly - can we please have Robert Bobb back??

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