By Ken A. Epstein
When Isaac Taggart was hired to serve as tmayor’s re-entry specialist in the office of former Mayor Ron Dellums, many of those who advocate for the formerly incarcerated saw the move as a big step forward.
The appointment meant more than the hiring of Taggart, who quickly earned a reputation as a passionate and capable administrator. The position was also a demonstration of the city’s willingness to devote energy and resources to a large population that is key to any public safety strategy and that is often marginalized and neglected.
Now, Taggart has been transferred to the city’s Department of Human Services, where he has been working without a job description, and DHS is proposing to eliminate his job from the new Measure Y budget.
According to his boss, Sara Bedford, Policy and Planning Manager in the city’s Human Services Department that is in charge of Measure Y spending, Taggart’s position was moved in consultation with office of Mayor Jean Quan to Human Services.
“ I think (his work) is valuable, but it’s not what we do in our department,” she said, proposing a new Measure Y budget in which reentry employment duties would be contracted out to a nonprofit provider.
After being moved to DHS, Taggart had no job description and could longer do policy work or collaborate with other agencies, Bedford said. He was limited to providing direct employment services, but DHS normally manages nonprofit providers – it does not provide direct services, which meant that his work did not fit into the scope of the department, she said.
Speaking at Monday evening’s meeting of the Measure Y Oversight Committee, supporters of taking a bigger approach to re-entry came out to extol Taggart’s work.
“Rather than doing away with the position, we need to equip him with the right resources,” said Rose Munene, CEO of Brothers Barber College in East Oakland. “We have a program where we work with a lot of ex felons,” she said. “He’s very much respected in the community (because) he comes from a place of practicality. He talks to the youth, and he talks in a way that everyone can understand.”
Lynette Neidhardt, an activist in the Allendale neighborhood of East Oakland, said that when two young men came out of prison near where she lives, she and others had no one to ask for help until they found Taggart. “This is one individual who stepped forward,” she said. “He’s the only we could speak to. “
Kimberly Mayfield, an education professor at Holy Names University, said Oakland, with a population of 3,000 formerly incarcerated, needs Taggart’s talents.
“If there is any city in the country that needs a reemployment specialist, it is Oakland,” she said. “When they reenter they need comprehensive resources available to them. Mr. Taggart was able to participate at every level of the process.”
Taggart is not a “widget” who can simply be replaced, she said, adding that she and others would continue to petition and mobilize support for his position if he is not retained.
Other speakers argued that the Department of Human Services as a whole only works with about 15 percent of the formerly incarcerated. Taggart’s work aimed to serve the whole 3,000 parolees with bi-weekly reentry orientations to which all were invited; “banning the box” on city applications, which affects all re-entry job seekers; and leading the effort to obtain $3 million funding for a Day Reporting Center located in Oakland
Taggart was someone who worked to reduce violence during the protests in the aftermath of Oscar Grant’s killing, said Earl Harper, who headed up security at that time. “There was a lot of work that went on behind the scenes, and Isaac was a critical part of that,” Harper said. “He brought the mayor’s office to the table because of his credibility, having worked in the community for years.”
According to Taggart’s supporters, his position was eliminated even though the Measure Y proposed budget has an additional $300,000 to implement reentry employment work.
Other past achievements, supporters say, include many important collaborative projects, such as bi-weekly orientation meetings at City Hall for people returning from, which served over 600 people; meeting with inmates at San Quentin State Prison and Santa Rita Jail before they were released; and creating a countywide resource guide for the formerly incarcerated and a DVD for employers.
Taggart also instituted a Clean Slate Expungement Fair to help people getting out jail to clean up their records; and coordinated a work-crew training program that created jobs at the Department of Public Works.