Dec 062013


It should elect a full-time Mayor instead.

“The City of San Leandro is currently seeking the services of a state legislative advocate who will assist the City of San Leandro develop a state legislative program as well as advance its legislative goals at the state level. For additional information, please see the Request for Proposals document or contact Eric Engelbart, Assistant to the City Manager at (510) 577-3391.”

Former Assembly member Johan Klehs has been lobbying for the job and has tried to get it without going through a competitive proposal process, but fortunately the Council chose to open the process up to proposals from other lobbying firms.  The City of Alameda just hired former state Senator Don Perata for a similar role without such process, and while that’s a good way of rewarding old friends, it doesn’t guarantee the best results in Sacramento.

It’s not clear what San Leandro plans to pay its lobbyist, but Alameda’s contract is for $90,000 a year.  It may also be a waste of taxpayer money.  Lobbying Sacramento should be part of the job description for the Mayor and City Council members. They are, after all, politicians and they can and should be developing the relationships with elected officials in Sacramento to make any direct lobbying not just possible, but successful.   Sacramento, after all, is only a couple of hours away with bad traffic.

Unfortunately, San Leandro Council members have shown very little inclination to do actual political work.  For example, the only Council member who attended the holiday party thrown by Congresswoman Barbara Lee, State Senator Loni Hancock, Assembly members Rob Bonta and Nancy Skinner,  and Supervisor Keith Carson last Tuesday, was Ursula Reed.   She is running for County Superintendent so is courting political favor for her next race.   Reed and Jim Prola were the only two to attend the Democratic Party holiday party in San Leandro on Wednesday.  Parties are great opportunities to schmooze, make relationships and lobby.

An even better opportunity to do all three is the Democratic Convention which takes place every year.  There, you get access to state legislators from throughout the state in one single, fairly informal, but 2-days long event.  The Convention happens in Sacramento every other year, which makes it within driving distance.  And yet, the only Council members who attended this year’s convention were Jim Prola and Ursula Reed, who is busy with her own campaign.

One of the main reasons why our Mayor and Council members are so detached from their Council jobs is that these are all part-time positions.  This means they have other jobs that take most of their time.  Not surprisingly, the only retired member of the City Council is Jim Prola.   I have advocated before that we turn the Mayoral position into a full-time job. This would allow the Mayor to actually do his job as Mayor, in addition to represent the economic and political interests of the City in other fora.  And having a full-time Mayor could actually save us money.  A full-time Mayor need not be paid more than what Oakland’s Mayor makes currently, $137,000 a year – which is about what the City will spend in the combined salaries of a part-time lobbyst and part-time Mayor.   A full-time Mayor, however, should also be able to shoulder some of the responsibilities of the assistant City Managers.  Currently, San Leandro spends over a million dollars a year on its City Manager and two assistants.

Mayor Stephen Cassidy, however, doesn’t want to even entertain this possibility as it would not behoove him.  He’s currently a partner in a major law-firm so his current salary is probably more than twice what he’d make as a full-time Mayor.  However, Mayor Cassidy’s employment obligations are probably to blame for the fact that he has abdicated most of his responsibilities as Mayor.   The current system cheats the voters.

Before any actual changes can happen at City Hall, however, we need to elect a Mayor and Council members who actually want to do the job, and not just hold the title.  That is difficult, of course, given how little they get paid – seldom we have elections among quality candidates.  Ultimately it’s a chicken-and-egg question.