On May 17th, this blogger interviewed now former Oakland City Attorney John Russo on video, as you can see. There have been three blog post written in this space, referring to that 38-minute interview.
But even with that, comes the usual San Francisco Bay Area journalist that has to tell you they got an "exclusive" with Mr. Russo, and after the interview. Enter the website Oakland North this week.
So, the initial plan was to run this new blog post next week, but considering Oakland North's hubris or error in claiming they had an "exclusive" interview, I figured "Why not today," so here it is.
John Russo Recaps Sports In Oakland
When John Russo gave his video interview for this blogger, he talked about how proud he was that he settled a number of legal issues with Oakland's sports teams, the Oakland A's, Golden State Warriors, and the Oakland Raiders. But, as John leaves for Alameda to become its new city manager, he says there are new issues.
"We've talked before about the (Oakland) A's. The A's still want to go away (leave Oakland), the economy is not cooperating with their plans. Nobody knows where Major League Baseball is (after the creation of the "blue ribbon" commission that was to evaluate Oakland as a home for a baseball team). They..I don't know maybe the Blue Ribbon Commission.. I just don't know.
John continued "Maybe the Blue Ribbon Commission came up with the wrong answer? I don't know. All we can do is speculate. Maybe the Blue Ribbon Commission didn't give the right answer?" I pressed John on this, because over the years of knowing him, I can generally tell when he's hiding part of what he knows, but he insists otherwise, saying "I truly just don't know (what happened to the MLB Blue Ribbon Commission or what Major League Baseball plans to do with the Oakland A's).
The "right answer" would have been for the MLB Commission to say that the Oakland A's would be better off in San Jose than in Oakland, but that view has not been expressed via the much-anticipated report.
And while other reports last fall have now-former City Administrator Dan Lindheim as stating that the commission looked at the fiscal health of Oakland's Redevelopment Agency and at its plans for a baseball stadium at Victory Court were sound, MLB has not released a final report. So, Russo is correct, it seems, that MLB did not find Oakland to be the bad baseball bet they probably assumed it was.
On the Oakland Raiders, "they say they want a new ballpark - a new stadium. It's understandable. They also seem to understand there's no appetite for public finance. And, uh, I think the Raiders are trying very hard" to come up with solutions that are workable in getting the new stadium they desire and need given changes in the industry that have left the Coliseum a relic - again. (I will explain in another post.)
"The Raiders are a different deal than the A's," Russo said. "The A's, I've felt, for a long time just did not want to cultivate their fan base here, because they wanted to prove a point 'We don't have a fan base here in Oakland, so we're not going to cultivate a fan base that had over 2 million people come here in 1981."
I personally think the A's don't get how their brand can fit with Oakland, and said so, but Russo actually does like their commercials and approach, and so had nothing negative to say on that more detailed issue of marketing, which is related to the overall picture of "not cultivating the Oakland fan base."
His issues with the Oakland A's were "tarpping up the upper deck to create (ticket) scarcity," which means no walkup ticket purchases for games, the constant changes in radio stations, making it harder for fans to find the games, and the rapid roster changes that "make it harder for fans to get to know the players."
Russo says he's never talked to MLB Commissioner Bud Selig, and he's never been part of the City of Oakland team that's worked on the Oakland A's project.
On NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's statement that he wants the Oakland Raiders to team up and build a stadium in the Bay Area, Russo says he's never talked to Goodell, doesn't think the Niners will get their stadium deal done in Santa Clara, and isn't sure "the teams want to share. You have to want to share a stadium" to get such a deal done.
John says that because the NFL doesn't have baseball's anti-trust exemption, Goodell could not force the Raiders and The Niners to team up, even if he wanted to.
Here, a digression is in order.
If the NFL had such legal power, it could move teams around as it wished, or prevent a team from moving. But the idea that the NFL could do that was effectively killed in court by Al Davis and the Oakland Raiders in 1982.
The point was that the NFL doesn't have monopoly power, thus a team trying to move from one city to another should be allowed in the spirit of business competition, and the NFL Bylaws that then prohibited such actions were said to be illegal after the Raiders challenged the NFL. The Silver and Black won the right to move to Los Angeles from Oakland in 1982, only to return to Oakland in 1995.
I skipped over the Golden State Warriors, which Russo later said he had "no comment on" and mainly because the long-standing litigation between the City of Oakland and the NBA Oakland team had been discussed in closed session, to come to ask how the Oakland Coliseum Joint Powers Authority could sign a cheap $7 million naming rights agreement with Overstock.com, while at the same time being sued by the County of Alameda.
Russo said that was a JPA issue that didn't come across his desk, but that the JPA itself, with a board of eight members, thus insuring the chance of deadlock on votes, should but restructured to have some kind of "tie-breaking method."
On Alameda, The City Of, and Russo
We finally shifted gears to talk about his new occupational home, Alameda. On the question of what's first on his agenda, Russo blew and his eyes widened by a factor of two before he answered the question. "Well, there's number of things that need to be done in Alameda. Firs there are a number of people in interim positions in Alameda, so the team needs to be made permanent."
Russo says that he will be the seventh city manager in six years, and Alameda has an interim fire chief, interim police chief, and a "vacancy at economic development," as well as an interim city attorney, so Russo's job is to make a city executive team that's permanent. But if you think about it from another perspective, it's a great opportunity for John to populate the City of Alameda with the kind of public executives he thinks can't help him get the job done there over his five-year contract, and "bring stability."
Second, Russo says that the City of Alameda will work to secure the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory expansion, and says there is public support for the effort to place them at Alameda Point, for which Alameda is "short listed." He says that Alameda will work to get it, "like no other city in The Bay Area."
"I don't think it's an accident that the reuse of bases has been held up. There must be structural impediments," Russo said. He wants to "re-engage the Federal Government" to determine how best to speed up the base reuse process because it "shouldn't take 25 to 30 years to get the bases back into reuse."
Changing The City Of Alameda
"The City of Alameda needs to adopt these three words: accountability, responsiveness, and transparency. By those I mean if you look at Alameda's budget and you look at performance measures that are adopted for each department, they are in significant number input based, not output based. What I mean by that is, they'll say 'Your job is to make sure you've gone to 12 League Of City Meetings each year' if your the intergovernmental person there - who cares? Your job should be how many millions in grants have you gotten for the City." Russo says that his job will be to install a more output-based, results-oriented, performance evaluation system for the City of Alameda, as a starting point over the next year.
On "responsiveness," Russo says that too many Alamedans write or email city hall and never get a response from it "That will change," he says.
Regarding "transparency," Russo says that Alameda's tag as the least transparent city in the Bay Area will change. By September, the City will put out its city council agenda two weeks ahead of schedule, so that "everybody can see what their government will be voting on."
Russo will also stress public comment on what Alameda is "doing on their behalf." Overall the changes he will install are really basic to the operation of a good urban municipal government.
John says that, at 700 people, Alameda's not too big for him to manage and get to know. He's always wanted to be the chief exective of a city, and was looking for a city that had significant problems but also had significant opportunities."
On The Idea That Russo Donations Got Him The Job
We turned to the charge that John's donations to several Alameda City Council members essentially got him the job as City Manager. I was particularly eager to talk about this on camera, because the East Bay news organization that raised the issue has a bad habit of not contacting the people it writes negatively about while in the process of creating a story.
When I asked, directly, about the claim, John laughed in that funny "hehehe" he gives when he thinks something's stupid, and said "I love that. I also wanted to go to El Cerrito, Richmond, San Francisco, Piedmont, Emeryville, and every other city where I've given money to candidates. It's just silly. People say some really foolish things in politics."
Russo continued "I gave Marie Gilmore I think a thousand dollars for her mayoral campaign. I think I gave three thousand or thirty-five hundred dollars (to her) in 2004, when she ran for council. So does that mean I like her a third as much? I gave money to Lena Tam when she ran for hospital board in 2004. Understand something. As (Oakland) City Attorney, I gave a strong position that I should not give money to local (Oakland political) candidates."
And because Russo, as Oakland City Attorney, was essentially an Oakland department head. So what Russo did was to spread that money around the Bay Area, helping people he liked and had good relationships with over the years. But by not giving money in Oakland, Russo says that decision has hurt him politically.
He said the idea that he bought his way into Alameda is "ignorant of how the World works" - the "job for donations" charge by the news organization that is the East Bay Express. Moreover, Russo says that it was presented as an isolated incident, rather than looking at the range of donations he's made over the years, and to people who are his associates and friends and represent Alameda.
But the biggest kicker is that no one at the East Bay Express bothered to call John, and yet the publication went with running the story under the guise of journalism. Next thing you know, because it's in print, the Bay Area pseudo-intelligencia that follows that publication quote it without investigation, and so it unfairlty tarnishes Russo's image.
This is no the first time the East Bay Express has done this, and it's really a sad practice. It happened during the 2010 Oakland Mayor's Race, when the target was mayoral candidate Marcie Hodge, who was first said to be a plant of Don Perata, getting money from him, and then that her whole candidacy was illegal. Marcie says she was never contacted about those claims before the stories ran, and eventually went to court to sue the East Bay Express.
I want to think the best about the East Bay Express and myself have a long history with them as both author and subject that's worth a series of blog posts, so this is not personal. They have a long standing history in Bay Area media and are a valuable resource. But the EBX must make sure that it's not using the paper to take out personal agendas against people. I'm not saying that it it, but many people around town think it looks that way.
But I digress.
Stay tuned. One more topic to come, on SunCal.