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