SAN FRANCISCO — In the first phase of a city government shake-up promised by new Mayor Edmund G. "Jerry" Brown Jr., Oakland's popular police chief and two other department heads were forced out Thursday, one more was demoted, and the remaining six were put on notice.
Sixty additional employees were issued "performance deficiency notices" by Brown and City Manager Robert Bobb, warning them to improve their work or be fired.
Brown ran for mayor of this diverse and struggling city on a clean-sweep platform and was resoundingly elected in June. Five months later, Oakland voters approved a ballot measure creating the "strong mayor" government Brown insisted he needed to improve conditions in California's eighth-biggest metropolis.
"My whole election was a strong statement for change," Brown said in an interview. "I'm responding to that. . . . People elected me not only to be mayor. They changed the rules and the charter so I am the elected chief executive. I'm putting my team together and moving forward."
Even before Brown took the helm in January, Bobb was hired by the Oakland City Council and embarked upon what became a 16-month, top-to-bottom evaluation of city operations.
This week, Bobb recommended in a letter to Brown that the city "remove/transfer agency and department directors in Police, Public Works Agency, Personnel & Resource Management and Parks & Recreation."
Bobb said the purpose of the evaluation was to decide which of the city's 10 department heads would be asked to remain in their jobs. Four were not invited back; of those, the director of parks and recreation has been reassigned as deputy director.
"Because of the dramatic change in our government, each person was offered an opportunity within Oakland city government, but not in their current positions," Bobb said. Of the remaining six, "their performance will be evaluated at six-month intervals."
The most controversial resignation announced Thursday by Brown and Bobb was Joseph Samuels Jr., Oakland's first African American police chief.
Samuels, whose resignation is effective July 2 or on appointment of a successor, did not comment on his resignation Thursday. He has scheduled a news conference for today.
A coalition of Oakland ministers, who met with Brown in the past week to urge the mayor to retain Samuels, decried the move Thursday.
"We felt that the same mayor that had appealed to the faith-based communities for support would be democratic enough to be influenced by what we had to say," said the Rev. J. Alfred Smith Sr., senior pastor of Allen Temple Baptist Church. "Now we know that that is not possible."
Samuels, said Smith, instituted community policing to fight crime at street level, and this is the thanks he gets. Now, the ministers say they are worried about what kind of replacement Brown and Bobb will choose.
"Will the mayor and the city manager go to New York City and bring back the police style that Mayor [Rudolph W.] Giuliani feels comfortable with?" Smith asked. "If that happens, he will turn the clock backward to the days of the Black Panther Party."
Bobb said he was reluctant to discuss specifically why the department heads "will not be appointed to continue with the new administration under the strong-mayor form of government."
But in a letter Wednesday to Brown, he said the city has been "plagued with significant budget overruns . . . marginal reductions in crime and no comprehensive crime reduction strategy, slow response to changing conditions, an inordinate number of citizens complaints and questionable customer service."
Tony Acosta, director of parks and recreation, did not return calls seeking comment, nor did personnel director Cedric Williams, whose resignation is effective June 1.
Terry Roberts, the director of public works, said his resignation is effective May 1. "I announced [Wednesday] that the city offered me another position, and I turned it down," Roberts said. "I have decided to resign and move on."
Crime reduction and school improvement are the main focus of the Brown administration. The mayor, who is a former governor of California, has complained repeatedly that there is not even a numerical goal for crime reduction in the city.
And he wants to implement a system of "geographic responsibility," in which a police officer is responsible for a "manageable region" 24 hours a day.
The schools, with their slumping test scores and administrative upheaval, are a more intractable problem that will take even greater city intervention, according to city officials.
State Sen. Don Perata (D-Alameda) has recently introduced legislation calling for a state takeover of the Oakland school district and giving Brown some say in picking the trustee. The bill also seeks a sweeping audit of the district.
Brown and others also have called for the ouster of schools Supt. Carole Quan and have voiced support for the Perata plan, or, as the mayor puts it, any "lawful effort" to improve school performance.
"I think there is no way that the school district is going to change unless we purge from top to bottom," Oakland City Council President Ignacio de la Fuente said. "It's time. . . . Every day that passes, the children suffer."
Quan was not available for comment, but schools spokeswoman Sue Piper said the superintendent has a contract through August 2000, and has no plans to step down.
"The politicians . . . never talk about what they will do to improve education in Oakland other than getting rid of people," Piper said. "The district does have a plan for turning things around. We are beginning to see changes."