For democracy to work, we must have functioning separation of powers and checks and balances. At the local level, this means city councils make policies and appropriate funds, while administrations run the day-to-day operations. Each branch of government has its function, and laws have been enacted to prohibit the overstepping of another's authority.
In Oakland, there have been many signs that problems exist with City Council interference. Since becoming City Auditor, I have had employees consistently voice concerns to me over Council interference as well as received reports on my Office's Fraud, Waste + Abuse's hotline about this issue. Both the 2010 and 2011 Ethical Climate Surveys found Council interference to be one of Oakland's most troubled ethical areas.
During last year's budget deliberations, I warned Council of a potential interference violation relating to staffing assignments for the Revenue Division [hyperlink]. Most recently, the City Attorney issued a memo regarding non-interference in administrative affairs and outlined prohibitions set forth in the City Charter Section 218. The same day, the City Administrator reminded everyone of the current Administrative Instruction on appropriate procedures for staff when reporting interference [hyperlink].
In light of all these factors, today my Office has initiated an audit to evaluate violations of City Charter Section 218 (Non-interference in Administrative Affairs).This audit is not an investigation of any one incident of Council interference. It is, however, a tool to determine the extent of violations of City Charter Section 218 and offer possible remedies to mitigate their occurrence. As part of this audit, we will be conducting direct outreach to employees and asking them to provide examples of interference so that we might better understand the challenges they face in executing their jobs.
It is essential that each branch of Oakland’s city government stay within its role so that, together, we may move Oakland forward.