Interview: Former City Attorney John Russo Calls Oakland Government "Morally Corrupt"

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John Russo

Cy Musiker yesterday interviewed new Alameda City Manager/old Oakland City Attorney John Russo, who resigned that position after engaging in several public disagreements almost rising to feud-level with Mayor Jean Quan. Russo has made no bones lately about his disenchantment with his former colleagues. That goes double and I dare say triple in this segment from an interview he gave Sunday to KQED's Cy Musiker, in which the phrase "morally corrupt" rears its head more than once.

The audio is followed by an edited transcript.

Tomorrow, we'll post Russo's comments on the Crown Beach drowning controversy and on other issues of importance to Alamedans.

Audio: John Russo on Oakland's government

Edited transcript:

Cy Musiker: Why did you leave Oakland? Did it have to do with disagreements with Mayor Jean Quan?

John Russo: I've been in disagreement for at least the past two years because of the lack of leadership Oakland has exhibited in dealing with the twin crises of public safety and the clear degeneration into insolvency the city is experiencing. I don't see a lot of leadership in fixing that, and that's going to make my former colleagues angry; it made them angry behind closed doors when I told them that.

When the new mayor came in, I found myself in a position where I was acting as city attorney of a government with which I had fundamental legal disagreements and essential moral differences.

I believe that the city of Oakland has become, not legally, but I believe that the leadership of city hall, not the individuals, but overall, the whole leadership class if you will, I believe this is a morally corrupt government and I just didn't want to serve anymore in that capacity. If I'd been a city council member I could speak out in a real way about what I felt was morally wrong; as city attorney you have confidentiality bonds that bind you and prevent you from being able to speak out in a way that you could. And I really got to a point where I just felt that I didn't go into public service to help preside over what I believe has become a government that is not serving the people of Oakland

Cy Musiker: Morally corrupt... I'll have to call Mayor Quan and Larry Reid and say these are John Russo's parting words...

John Russo: I don't say that any individual is morally corrupt, but I think the group, the dynamic that has developed between the mayor and the council, the dynamic between the staff and the elected leadership, the way that it is working right now, it is not a government that is serving the people of Oakland, and to me that is morally corrupt, yes.

People have known for years that Oakland could not continue to operate in the manner it has. It cannot continue to run a government that is all things to all people. You get to a point where it's almost as if the leaders of Oakland want to get on the back of a flatbed truck and just start throwing dollar bills out at people who are yelling at them.

The last three years, they've had this argument: We need to determine what are the core services of Oakland city government. They never come to a resolution on that argument. And I will define (it) for you now: Core services in Oakland is any program that can deliver 50 angry people to the council chamber on a Tuesday night. That is not leadership.

It's unfortunate because to do the things that need to be done in Oakland, the people who make those decisions will almost certainly become unelectable in their next election.

Ouch, is the word I believe I'm looking for.


Cy Musiker asked Mayor Quan's office for a response, receiving this laconic e-missive in reply, from Citywide Communications Director Karen Boyd:

"Mayor Quan wishes John Russo well in his new job in Alameda."

No word yet from City Council President Larry Reid.