Friday, August 6, 2010
Oakland City Employee Defends $165,500 Salaries for City Managers
The post from the city employee is in reference to the We Fight Blight Post, City of Oakland: Mismanaged, Incompetent and Unfit to Serve Residents?
Dear Editor: I think this article is very unfair to Ms. Levin. I am neither a friend of nor an employee of Ms. Levin. I do, however, know of her work ethic, her dedication and the high standards to which she holds herself and her staff.
As I said before, I am neither a friend nor a foe of Ms. Levin. All I know from regular observation is: MS. BROOKE LEVIN IS ONE OF THE MOST DEDICATED, TALENTED, HARD WORKING, CITY EMPLOYEE WE'VE GOT and the City is lucky to have her. As for her pay, how would you compensate an employee who runs a 300-person organization (approx.) but still responds to emails and phone calls at 2 or 3am in the morning? Does your reader work that tirelessly at his job?
Look, the bottom line is this: as public servants, we are tasked to assist a constituent courteously regardless of his/her attitude, viewpoints, or agenda. Most people recognize we are people too and therefore, are by no means perfect. They appreciate us when we do the best we can. A very small minority (perhaps your reader?) will choose to attack with criticism and insults and will not be appeased no matter what we do. By writing this, I hope those who read this article will see that this most public attack on Ms. Levin is misguided. ~ Anonymous City Employee
We think this city employee is sadly misguided and woefully out of touch with reality. First of all, Ms. Levin has been working with, and for, the Public Works Department for 19 years and has managed the streets and sidewalks in the City for the last six years. She has had plenty of opportunity to become familiar with the requirements for street trees. Street trees affect sidewalks, right?. In Oakland, haven't you ever walked down the buckled and crumbling liability we call sidewalks. Many are in this condition due to inappropriate trees planted by the City of Oakland.
For Ms. Levin to have little to no understanding of the tree services program within Public Works after working with and in the Department for 19 years says a lot about the lack of coordination among managers within Public Works and the lack of initiative on Ms. Levin's part to understand how other programs in the Department function. Now that Ms. Levin is responsible for street trees, and there have been significant questions raised by the public over the mismanagement of the street trees program, one would think Ms. Levin would have at least read and understood the city's tree ordinances and reviewed the status of the program with relevant city staff before meeting with our reader. Isn't that a legitimate managerial responsibility?
Regarding Ms. Levin's salary, the Executive Director for Caltrans, Cindy McKim, has responsibility for maintenance and operation of 50,000 lane miles throughout the state, a budget of more than $13.8 billion and responsibility for 22,000 employees, and is actually paid less than Ms. Levin due to state budget furloughs. Additionally, the Executive Director for Caltrans has a retirement benefit of 2% at 55. Assuming 20 years of service with the state, McKim would get a retirement benefit of only $66,000 compared to Ms. Levin's $89,370. So how is it that Ms. Levin's salary is appropriate for her level of responsibility when other public officials with far more responsibility are paid less? You can see state worker salaries at the Sac Bee.
Residents in the city are tired of paying for bloated city salaries, especially at the expense of public safety, and especially when there is poor customer service from city executives who do not understand the laws and programs they are responsible for implementing, when their management and oversight of staff and department functions is questionable, and who get upset when held accountable by knowledgeable members of the public. We are sure it is uncomfortable for some city employees to have the spotlight shined on city operations and when they are held publicly accountable for their performance. However, since the City of Oakland has been so poorly managed and the customer service lacking in many respects, contributing to crumbling infrastructure and the City's current financial crisis, perhaps what is needed to ensure the public gets what it pays for is to hold its managers and executives publicly accountable.
What will be telling is how, when and whether Ms. Levin and Ms. Lin actually addresses the concerns of our reader. To date, they have both failed to answer the most basic question: Who owns the trees? To date they have failed to ensure that when trees are cut down the City follows local, state and federal laws. To date, they have failed to substantively address the issues raised by our reader. Perhaps our anonymous city employee who so eagerly defended Ms. Levin and her $165,500 salary can tell us. We are only talking about two trees here. This cannot be so difficult for Ms. Levin and Ms. Lin, who collectively make $285,000, or can it?
Perhaps with a new Mayor and City Administrator there will be some significant housecleaning and an emphasis on transparency, quality customer service, and knowledgeable and responsive management.