Community members, civil rights activists and advocates for more local jobs spoke out at this week’s Community and Economic Development (CED) committee meeting to oppose Mayor Libby Schaaf’s new reorganization of the city’s job programs, which they say was done without public input and could reduce employment opportunities for Black and other unemployed workers of color, leading to further displacement of low-income families.
Speakers were upset that funds for job services to needy individuals have been cut, effective July 1—even though Oakland has not yet been told what federal jobs funding will be for next year.
The speakers were also concerned about the lack of transparency in the process. The city administrator and Mayor Schaaf issued Requests for Proposals (RFPs) on Jan. 27, based on a new budget and major policy changes – none of which have been discussed or voted on in open session by the City Council or approved by a policy board.
Not following established city procedures, the mayor and city administrator approved the new RFP without a vote by the Workforce Investment Board (WIB), an official policy body appointed by the mayor, according to speakers at the meeting.
Nor have the RFP, budget or policy changes been discussed or voted upon by the City Council or the council’s CED committee.
Further, the speakers said there is no rush to adopt this RFP, and it should be reviewed by the city’s new Department of Race Equity for possible negative impacts on people of color who live in the city.
Though the mayor says there are minutes of public WIB discussions, copies of these documents have not yet been sent to the Oakland Post or posted on the WIB’s website. Most of the discussions mentioned by the mayor were not public meetings.
The city’s WIB staff has long been criticized for making decisions without public input, making decisions in committee meetings with limited public access, violating the Brown Act and for taking about one-third of federal jobs dollars off the top to pay for administrative oversight of service providers.
Speaking at the CED meeting, Carroll Fife, a community activist and co-chair of the Oakland Alliance, said she had only learned about the changes when she saw the RFP on the city’s Economic and Workforce Development webpage.
“I’ve been attending the WIB meetings for over a year,” said Fife. “I’ve attended all the meetings, and I have not seen one of the budgets that are in the current RFP.”
“I am asking that you rescind this until there is a Race and Equity analysis of how people who are underemployed, young people and the formerly incarcerated will be affected,” she said.
“There has been no true cost analysis.”
Businessman Frank Tucker, who has served on the WIB for years and is president of 100 Black Men, was also concerned about the new RFP. “I was really shocked that there was an RFP released that never went through the WIB,” he said. “It has dollar amounts associated with it, and it changes the structure of the system.”
“I am asking that it be pulled and that it be handled properly.”
One change would reorganize the WIB services by service “sector,” abandoning the geographical approach of placing offices in neighborhoods that are most affected by unemployment.
Businessman Dexter Vizinau argued that the reorganization of the city’s job programs should be done deliberatively, taking into consideration what the changes will mean for city residents.
“This is an important time for the City of Oakland because jobs are (growing). Unemployment is going down, and we want to be sure that that there is local hire,” he said.
“Why rush? You can defer this RFP, gather more information and look at more options and maybe reorganize another way,” said Vizinau.
Responding to the speakers, Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan said she was concerned. “When there is not adequate community involvement, we should be very cautious about going ahead with this,” she said.
Council President Lynette Gibson McElhaney said, “It is alarming if this (RFP) has been released without a WIB meeting.”
Defending the issuing of the RFP, City Administrator Claudia Cappio said it was released after “about two years of work … the continued involvement of the WIB over a period of time.”
“The principles have been discussed,” she said.
In a reply to questions from the Post, Mayor Schaaf’s office said a vote by the council or the WIB is not required for the RFP, the new budget or the policy changes on which it is based.
“The RFP framework was agendized and discussed multiple times at meetings of the Board and subcommittees starting in August of 2014. WIOA does not require that the WIB formally review or approve an RFP, nor has it in the past,” according to the Mayor’s Office.
“The RFP is being issued by the Workforce Investment Board (WIB) through the Office of Economic and Workforce Development. The proposals (for the funding) will be evaluated and ranked by a panel of WIA/WIOA professionals from across the country.”
In response to the Post’s question about Race & Equity, the Mayor’s Office responded: “The Department of Race & Equity is not yet up and running, nor have its full roles and responsibilities been fully outlined.”
The city held a bidders’ conference Wednesday afternoon at City Hall. The deadline for submission of proposals under the new RFP is March 8.