When I was Vice-Mayor and advocating for a new fire station on Bay Farm Island (BFI), I walked into the old BFI station for a tour. I was greeted by firefighters in lounge chairs watching pornography.
They got all the cable channels. Their full kitchen and living quarters were better than most Marine, Navy or other military personnel receive. When the new station was built, it was like a health club, including workout room and equipment.
Then firefighters worked two days on, two days off, two days on, two days off, two days on four days off. Now they work two days on four days off. Even then it allowed for second jobs, or going to school. One firefighter completed law school and passed the bar exam. Of 100 firefighters, only two lived in Alameda.
When I left office, the City was managed by Bill Norton. Upon his retirement, Jim Flint was hired. You may recall Flint was nearly arrested over theft of city equipment when he was terminated. Then Debra Kurita. She balanced her budget by appropriating funds from the general fund – the city’s general annual budget- to pay for items that the departments were supposed to be paying with funds from their own budgets.
When the Council finally figured out what she was doing, she too, was canned. The damage to finances was severe. Ann Marie Gallant, like our Auditor and Treasurer, recognized the mismanagement had created a financial quagmire. In response to a study concerning the feasibility of contracting out fire services to Alameda County Fire Department, the council learned learned Alameda could maintain the same level of service and save $2 million per year.
One Councilmember leaked confidential emails to the Fire Department negotiating team. The District Attorney did not prosecute the councilmember. Fire personnel and some councilmembers yelled “FIRE! FIRE!” to create a diversion and they began a campaign to get rid of Gallant. Firefighters worked hard, giving money to elect a council that would never rattle their fire houses again. The result was a new City Council, who hired as City Manager John Russo, a former real estate lawyer turned politician, who left Oakland as he couldn’t get along with newly elected Mayor Jean Quan.
Russo campaigned early for a post he had never held and for which he had not been trained. For Russo and his supporters and to promote their political ambitions, this sales tax increase is nothing but payback. It will lock the citizens of Alameda into contracts for spending so much money on facilities for the next 30 years that we will not be able to consider contracting with Alameda County.
In doing this, John Russo is ignoring the Long Term Capital Improvements Projects budget which is vetted by the citizens and council year after year. Instead, Russo sends fire department projects to the top of the list, with planned “construction” and “purchases” when the “money comes available.” Any finance person will advise that purchasing by issuing bonds in advance increases the price of all purchases. Like charging stuff on your credit card when you have the cash in your pocket and then not paying your monthly bill in full. It is extremely poor management of the City’s funds.
Why would an untrained newcomer like John Russo not take the time to thoroughly investigate this proposal before putting it on the ballot? The answer is simple. Russo and this city Council think they can get away with it. The firefighters want us to vote to tax ourselves to pay for their new equipment for their two-day use. Then they can go home to the city where they live for the next four days and where they do not pay the tax.
And the City of Alameda will not be able to admit how stupid it was in issuing bonds, and paying interest to pay for new equipment, for the next thirty years when it could have contracted with the Alameda County Fire Department and saved $60 million or more that could have been used for other needs, such as a swimming pool and sports fields. Don’t throw good money after bad. Vote NO on Measure C
–Barbara Thomas, former VICE-MAYOR, Alameda