By Viola Gonzales, Past President, LWVO
Voter support for revenue raising ballot measures relies on confidence that the revenues will be spent as they expect. Thus, tax and bond measures usually include oversight bodies. Between 2014 and 2020, the City of Oakland and the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) asked voters to approve nine tax measures. All designated oversight bodies. However, these measures did not establish any processes for evaluating the effectiveness of these oversight bodies or for evaluating their work.
So in 2021 the League of Women Voters of Oakland (LWVO) did a deep dive to assess whether oversight bodies in Oakland merit voters’ confidence.
Primary goals of the League are to create transparency and accountability around government programs and build public confidence in government. Consistent with those goals and the League’s long history of observing city government and analyzing ballot measures, we conducted research on the oversight bodies created by ballot measures that proposed special taxes or bond funding between 2014 and 2020. We examined City and OUSD tax measures because Oakland residents often express skepticism that tax monies are being spent effectively and as intended.
We reviewed public records and conducted interviews with city officials and staff, former members of oversight bodies, and community leaders. We identified the processes and support that must be in play for an oversight body to merit our confidence:
regular meetings and reports,
attention to equity,
support by committed staff,
thorough training, and
recognition of their work.
Our resulting report, Policy Recommendations to Improve Transparency, Effectiveness and Accountability of Oversight Bodies in the City of Oakland, leverages that research to identify a systemic approach to the management of oversight bodies in Oakland. It suggests how citywide changes to staffing, improvements in website functioning, adherence to integrated processes, and other system-wide adjustments could create the appropriate conditions to enable all oversight bodies to achieve their intended purpose.
The League makes use of the report in its own work examining ballot measures before and after their enactment. We caution voters that oversight is not simply a matter of setting up an oversight body, but of adequately staffing it, setting specific objectives, tracking results, and demanding responsiveness from the City Council, City administration and departments, the school board, and OUSD’s administration.
We have shared the report with the City Council and asked that it endorse our recommendations with respect to existing oversight bodies and those proposed in future ballot measures. We believe incorporation of our recommendations will help restore faith in government. We also ask that the Mayor, the City Administrator, and OUSD members and administrators work with us to look for common sense solutions to address shortcomings of oversight commissions in terms of public accountability and transparency.