Friday, January 28, 2011

Batts Has Oakland by the Balls

By Robert Gammon
Fri, Jan 28, 2011 at 2:01 PM

San Jose apparently doesn’t think Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts is good enough to be its police chief. But Batts seems to still think he’s too good for Oakland. And a lot of Oaklanders apparently think the same thing, considering all the groveling they’ve been doing over the past two weeks trying to convince Batts to stay. Turns out all the begging was unnecessary. Batts wasn’t going to San Jose anyway. But the groveling now has a substantial downside. It’s emboldened Batts to publicly trash his bosses and the city he serves.

Indeed, Batts didn’t even want to be known as Oakland’s police chief yesterday in an interview, the Trib reported, and asked that he be quoted only as “Anthony Batts.” The chief also took the opportunity to lambast the Oakland City Council, Mayor Jean Quan, and City Administrator Dan Lindheim, calling last summer’s vote to lay off eighty police officers “a horrendous decision,” without mentioning the fact that the police union had refused to contribute 9 percent to its pension plan unless it got a no-layoff guarantee. Criticizing your bosses in the press and publicly distancing yourself from your $250,000-a-year job is not exactly the best way to foster a positive relationship going forward.

But Batts doesn’t seem much interested in that. Instead, he appears only to care about extracting as many concessions from the city council as he can. In fact, he apparently won’t commit to stay unless the council and the mayor meet his demands. "This police department is underfunded and is in need of the very basics to get the job done," Batts told the Trib. “I have not made a final decision as to my future with this agency,” he said later in a press release. “It still needs to be determined if I am a fit for the city of Oakland's vision for the future." In an interview, he added, "I work my butt off. Unless there's support on all sides, there's no need for me to be here."

Bulletin for Chief Batts, er, Mr. Batts: Every department in the city is arguably underfunded. And where do you suppose Oakland is going to find the $10 to $14 million a year needed to add eighty officers? Maybe you don’t pay much attention to the news, but Oakland is facing another $40 million projected deficit next year that could widen to $100 million if Governor Jerry Brown’s budget proposal goes through.

Where would you cut, Mr. Batts? If you’re so sure that the council’s decision was “horrendous,” what would you have done instead? Close the all the libraries and parks in the city? That would save about $21 million. You could then get your eighty cops back, and probably get the force back up to 800 like it was before the city’s finances were decimated by the economic crash. Is that worth it to you? No libraries? No parks? No place for kids to go? If it is, then indeed you are a bad “fit” for Oakland.

But that probably doesn’t concern you right now, because you know you’ve got your bosses right where you want them. You can trash them in the press, and they’ll probably still beg you to stay, because they’re too afraid of the potential blowback if you leave.

And here’ another reason for why you may not be such a good “fit.” You would rather criticize city leadership for making tough choices than the Oakland police union. If the union had agreed to the reasonable request of paying 9 percent of its pension — no strings attached — as other city employees do, then the city council would not have had to lay off eighty cops. But the union steadfastly refused, and watched as their brethren lost their jobs. But from your perspective, there’s apparently nothing there to criticize — even though there’s simply no money in the budget to maintain those eighty officers and keep giving them their Cadillac benefits at the same time.

For those of you who are new to this debate, each Oakland police officer costs the city about $188,000 a year, on average, counting pay and benefits. Oakland also is the only city around in which the police union doesn’t pay 9 percent to its retirement plan. That’s right, Oakland cops are woefully underfunded and treated very badly.

And then there’s this: In any other organization, if the CEO publicly trashed the board of directors and remained silent when the employee union was being less than reasonable, then that CEO would be fired immediately. But not in Oakland. Here, we beg the CEO to stay, because we think we’re not good enough to find anyone else. Sure, go ahead and trash us, everybody else does, right? It’s rather pathetic when you think about it.

But the truth is Oakland deserves better. Longtime public safety activist Don Link had it right when he told the Trib that Batts should resign. Batts has lost his credibility. Don’t want to be called Oakland’s “police chief?” Fine, Mr. Batts. Then stop taking the quarter mil a year we’re paying you.

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