Oakland's Part-Time Mayor 

Ron Dellums' work schedule would make a banker blush.

When Ron Dellums agreed to run for mayor of Oakland in October 2005, he warned his followers that if elected, he did not intend to give it his all, despite the city's many problems. "I want balance in my life," he explained to a throng of admirers at Laney College who had pleaded with him to run. "I don't want you to think that I have to go 24/7." His admonition didn't seem to faze the rapt audience. But it should have, because during his first two years in office, Dellums hasn't even worked eight hours a day, five days a week, let alone 24/7.

Indeed, a review of his official calendar since his inauguration in January 2007 reveals that at a time when Oakland's troubles have deepened, Dellums has consistently scheduled himself to work about 25 hours a week for a job that pays nearly $184,000 a year. Dellums tends to schedule himself to only be in the office for short periods on Mondays, and often has no or very little work scheduled on Fridays. And when he does come into the office on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, his schedule would make a banker blush. He's typically scheduled to arrive at city hall between 10 and 11 a.m., have lunch from noon to 1 p.m., and then head home about four. His calendar indicates that he occasionally attends evening events and is often scheduled to attend one or two on the weekends, but they tend to be ceremonial affairs that last no more than a couple of hours.

The calendar also indicates that he sometimes has barely shown up at city hall for up to a week at a time, particularly during summer months. Or, sometimes he's out of town because he has flown to conferences in other cities at taxpayers' expense; his favorites include mayoral conferences and summits. Here's a typical scheduled work week from early March of 2008: Monday, 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.; Tuesday 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Wednesday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Thursday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Friday 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.; and Saturday, 12 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. That's a total of 20.5 hours.

The Express obtained a copy of the mayor's official calendar, which lists his daily meetings, activities, and work schedule via a California Public Records Act request. The mayor's office took more than a month to respond to the request and then when it provided copies of the calendar, many entries were blacked out. Dellums' spokesman Paul Rose said those entries involved personal matters.

Dellums' calendar makes it easy to determine when he's scheduled to be working, because there are clear notations for when his driver is to pick up him and his wife, Cynthia, at their home, drive them to work, and then take them home when they're done. A typical notation at the start of the day reads: "10:00 to 10:30 a.m.: Pick up at Dellums Residence." And then at the end of the day: "4 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.: Return Home."

Ron and Cynthia Dellums are chauffeured to and from work and to events around the city in a black Lincoln Town car that, according to several city hall sources, is leased by the City of Oakland at more than $70,000 a year, including the driver's fee. Cynthia Dellums does not make a salary from the city and has no official office inside city hall, but she is the mayor's closest advisor, and regarded by some as being the city's second mayor. The couple's usual driver, Frances Kelly, typically waits for them inside the mayor's office or sits in the car outside city hall, two sources said.

Dellums declined a request to be interviewed for this story. But his spokesman Rose said the mayor's official calendar is not a true indicator of how many hours he actually works each week on behalf of Oakland. "This is a 24/7 job," Rose said repeatedly. "When things come up unannounced, they don't appear on the schedule. The calendar only reflects what was scheduled ahead of time." But when asked why the mayor consistently has scheduled himself to be at city hall just twenty to thirty hours a week, instead of forty, Rose's answers kept shifting. "This is a 24/7 job," he said again, and then added: "He's here most of the time." But then later he said: "Being mayor is not a nine-to-five job."

It's certainly not for Dellums. Here's another sample week from his calendar from mid-October 2007 (the times indicate when he was scheduled to be picked up by his driver and dropped back off at home): Monday, 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Tuesday 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; Wednesday, 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Thursday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Friday, 12 p.m. to 2 p.m.; and Saturday, 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. That's a total of 28.5 hours, including the commute from the home the mayor leases on Skyline Boulevard in the East Oakland hills.

Rose said the mayor often works from home, making conference calls or holding meetings. According to two sources familiar with the situation, it's a habit Dellums started years ago while serving in Congress. That may be true, but there's very little evidence of the mayor actually working from home on his official calendar. There are some notations for him to call people from home, but they appear to be infrequent. He also occasionally is scheduled to host a meeting with high-ranking city staff members or other officials at his home, but they also appear to be uncommon. So if the mayor consistently works from home, then why doesn't he schedule himself to do that on his official calendar? Rose, again, did not answer the question.

The scant number of hours that Dellums appears to put in week after week wouldn't matter much if the city were running smoothly and he was an effective mayor who got things done. But it's no secret that Oakland faces numerous problems, including crime being at historically high levels, a multimillion-dollar fiscal mess that likely will only worsen, and a dysfunctional city bureaucracy that seems accountable to no one. At the same time, Dellums has been a largely ineffective and indecisive mayor, who has repeatedly failed to come up with creative policy solutions for the city's vexing problems and neglected to permanently fill top-level jobs, including the positions of city administrator and director of economic development.

When told of the mayor's part-time work schedule, some city council members expressed frustration. Councilwoman Pat Kernighan, who is not known for her fiery public rhetoric, is obviously fed up. She said Dellums should take a pay cut if he isn't willing to work full-time. "Those are very skimpy hours for someone making $184,000 a year," she said. "His pay needs to be reduced accordingly." Kernighan also said that it's time for Dellums "to abandon the fiction" of him being the city's chief executive officer and delegate the authority to someone who will actually do the job.

But council President Ignacio De La Fuente, who lost out to Dellums in the 2006 mayoral race, said it should come as no surprise to anyone that the mayor only schedules himself to work part-time. "That's what he said he was going to do from the beginning; he was candid, and honest," said De La Fuente, sounding like he was only half-joking.

According to Dellums' calendar, he meets with De La Fuente every Tuesday for an hour to discuss city issues. It's one of several regular meetings the mayor is scheduled to attend each week. In fact, the mayor appears to spend most of his time at city hall going from one meeting to the next. Under the city charter, mayors are expected to work full-time and are forbidden from holding any outside employment. By contrast, councilmembers aren't expected to work forty-hour weeks, and many of them have outside jobs. De La Fuente, for instance, is a union rep.

But Dellums isn't Oakland's first part-time mayor. Jerry Brown, for example, would never be confused with a workaholic. "Jerry wasn't here a lot either," said Sanjiv Handa, who writes a newsletter on Oakland and has basically lived at city hall for years. "Most days he was out of here by three o'clock, or so, and then he would head over to Verbena and have calamari and cocktails with developers."

But Brown got away with his less-than-stellar work habits because he was mayor during the housing bubble and presided over the accompanying upswing in tax revenues. Although Brown had to grapple with many of the same problems Dellums does today — without much success, either — he didn't have to endure the severe budget troubles the city now faces nor did he have to deal with a near-dead housing market. But Dellums does have to cope with those issues, which is all the more reason for why he doesn't have the luxury to say he's no worse than his predecessor.

To be fair, Dellums deserves credit for a few moderate successes during his tenure, including ending the garbage lockout last year, reorganizing the police department to geographic policing, and bringing the police force up to maximum staffing — an accomplishment that Brown failed to do. But it's also clear that Dellums' absence from work sets a bad example for the rest of city hall, and has hindered his ability to solve more of Oakland's problems. After all, it's hard to get the job done when you don't show up to work.

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