Home » Columns, Island Talkback

Island Talkback: Treasurer, auditor respond to mayor’s editorial

Submitted by on 1, April 8, 2011 – 12:01 am6 Comments

By Kevin Kennedy and Kevin Kearney

To say we were shocked and disappointed by Mayor Gilmore’s response (“Island Talkback: Mayor says Alameda is solvent,” April 5) to our comments at the City Council meeting of March 29 would be an understatement. We’d like to take this opportunity to correct some of the misstatements she made and hopefully set a more constructive tone for working together toward fixing a problem that affects our entire community.

It’s disappointing that the mayor has decided to make personal attacks against us for speaking out about the city’s budget problems – problems which were clearly and accurately presented by city staff that evening. Why she went from thanking us at the meeting to calling our remarks “irresponsible” and questioning our motives less than a week later is puzzling. But we’ve seen this type of reaction before.

When we raised concerns about the telecom arm of the former Alameda Power & Telecom, we were subjected to the same type of derision. Ultimately, those same parties acknowledged that we were right, and we were able to work together to solve that serious problem.

We hope that going forward, energy won’t be wasted on trying to place blame and deny the city’s condition, but instead will be focused on saving our city. This is what we get elected to do. We don’t “yell fire in a crowded theater” unless the theater is on fire.

At the meeting on March 29, we clearly and passionately articulated our belief that if nothing is done to change the current course, the city will go bankrupt. We stand by that conclusion. We did not say the city was on the “verge” of bankruptcy. Nor did we say that it is a foregone conclusion that this is our fate. Looking at the information staff presented that evening, any rational person would reach the same outlook. If “bankruptcy” isn’t “politically correct” enough, let’s just say that we’ll experience “severe bill-paying impairments.” Ignoring or downplaying this information is the disservice to our community; we should be addressing it head on and looking for solutions.

The mayor also criticizes us for not being engaged in this issue. We need to set the record straight on this:

-In 2005, we convinced the city that long-range planning was imperative to ensuring our financial future. We spent many hours with the chief financial officer developing a tool that could be used not only by staff, but also accessed by the public to better their understanding of the budget. For unknown reasons, this effort was abandoned when it was 90 percent complete.

-In 2008-2009, we co-chaired the Fiscal Sustainability Committee, which completed a comprehensive study of the city budget and provided a 10-year forecast of city finances. On this committee were a former city manager, former council member, and former city chief financial officer. This information was presented to council and many community groups beginning in June 2009.

-In May 2010, we did a follow-up presentation of the FSC report to council, re-emphasizing the key information the report had presented a year earlier.

-We have always been available to council and staff any time they have asked for our input or opinion.

There is one statement the mayor makes that is absolutely true: We have never been involved in labor negotiations. We have as much authority in labor negotiations as any of you reading this: none. The mayor mentions “public input” and “transparency” as goals of resolving this budget quandary. If she truly means this, let’s open the contract negotiations to the public. If we can’t go that far, at least communicate to us and all Alamedans what we’re offering and what the unions are asking for. San Jose has done this. We don’t see why Alameda can’t. We haggle and lobby for spending on golf, libraries, funding the arts, yet 80 percent of our money is spent on labor, an issue which the public gets absolutely no input on. That’s not right.

Finally, we agree that this current situation has been decades in the making. Rather than yelling at her passengers about who gave bad directions, the driver of this car needs to grab the wheel and turn us onto the right path before we go off the cliff.

We agree that this is possibly the most serious issue this city has ever faced. And we hope that going forward our elected leaders will fulfill their obligation to serve the interests of all citizens by taking the steps necessary to ensure our financial future.

Kevin Kennedy is the city’s elected treasurer; Kevin Kearney is the city auditor.


  • Karen Bey says:

    Dear Kevin and Kevin,

    Recently, we learned that there has been on going negotiations with labor to address the pension and health care costs and that progress has been made in negotiations with Alameda’s four public safety unions over the past two and a half months. The International Association of Firefighters Local 689 has said he’s hoping to be able to go public with the results of the negotiations sometime in the next few weeks.

    Seems to me this Mayor and council has already “grabbed the wheel and charted a course on the right path” as you describe.

    If your goal is to alert the council that they need to be making those tough decisions sooner rather than later, then your goal has been accomplished and you should be happy to learn that this administration has already made this issue a priority. But if your goal is to have the council open up the contract negotiations to the pubic, I’m glad this Mayor and this council has chosen to respect the rights of workers and their bargaining rights — while at the same time bargaining hard for the much needed changes to move our city forward.

    Next, I believe the Mayor was right to make you aware that your words were irresponsible. We are in the midst of trying to bring LBL to Alameda and your remarks could very well have made it more difficult to do so. Also, you hurt the very city you are trying to help by implying our Mayor is unaware of the city’s financial situation and that she is doing nothing to resolve the city’s budget problems — at least this is how her critics have interpreted your remarks.

    Finally, I hope you are serious about setting a more constructive tone for working together – the stakes are high, and for the sake of our city we all need to put politics aside and work together to solve the problem.

  • Adam Gillitt says:

    Thank you Kevin and Kevin for doing your jobs and speaking honestly about the City’s finances. This is information the citizens of Alameda need to know, and need full disclosure about. Bravo for standing up and giving it to us straight.

    Ironically, with transparency being the alleged hallmark of the new City administration, it is elected officials who have been around the City for several years who are providing us with clear, digestible, honest information that we need.

    Although most of us already know the old saw, “Don’t shoot the messenger,” it would seem to be another piece of information that our new Council leadership has yet to learn.

  • Darcy Morrison says:

    For anyone who wants to listen to the budget discussion, here’s the video w/ the relevant starting points:

    Special Meeting of the Alameda City Council (3/29/11) re: General Fund Budget

    01:43:00: Kevin Kennedy begins comments
    02:03:55: Kevin Kearney begins comments
    02:12:25: Mayor responds to Kevins’ comments
    02:15:50: Kevin Kennedy responds to Mayor re solutions
    02:19:30: General council discussion begins

    (Mayor states to Kevins: “your input is always welcome, and always valuable, no matter how difficult sometimes it may be to hear,
    but we appreciate it, I appreciate plain and up front talking…”)

  • John says:

    World Class Kevin and Kevin. Straight from the heart, honest and straightforward. Your passion and love for this city is unmatched in the 50 years I have lived here. Hopefully anyone who cares about this city will watch your presentations. The citizens of Alameda can’t thank you enough.

  • telebob says:

    It looks like you guys have embarrased the local political elites by speaking out of turn with a non-approved message. Naturally they are going to attack you both personally and through the voices of their supporters.

    One of these supporters even accused you of being ‘Tea Party’ members, used as a smear of course. And we can’t have that, not in diverse, tolerant, inclusive, transparent Alameda. The local media seem only to happy to accomodate these attacks.

    So good luck with that ‘constructive tone’ thing. These guys want your blood now and they won’t be happy until you’re history.

  • John says:

    City of Alameda with it’s unfunded pension and retiree medical commitments and deferred maintenance on its assets would they be considered bankrupt if private sector accounting were required by the city?

Leave a comment!

Add your comment below, or trackback from your own site. You can also subscribe to these comments via RSS.

Be nice. Keep it clean. Stay on topic. No spam.

You can use these tags:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

This is a Gravatar-enabled weblog. To get your own globally-recognized-avatar, please register at Gravatar.