Oakland Mayor Chris Goodman ‘always looking for ways to serve’

It is safe to say that Chris Goodman might have been the most surprised person in attendance at Town Hall last month while being sworn in as Oakland mayor.
Sure, the father of two and 32-year banking vet had already been named vice-mayor after being elected alderman in the November 2012 election.
But mayor?
“I’ll say this,” Goodman said, “municipal government wasn’t on my bucket list. I was quite comfortable being an alderman. I came in here as a public servant with no personal agenda.”
Now, exactly 50 days into his unexpected term, Goodman has been working tirelessly to unify a town still unsettled by the abrupt departure of its second mayor in three years.
“There is a real issue with community in Oakland,” Goodman said. “We have to have someone to bring this community together and erase the line that has been drawn between the past two facets so we can grow in the right way.”
That is why Goodman, who moved his family to Oakland five years ago from Shelby County, has spent much of his first seven weeks on the job simply making himself available to any and everyone in the community.
“I want the citizens to realize that they matter and that they have a voice,” he said. “I have been returning phone calls (made to the previous administration) from as far back as December. People appreciate that.”
While he continues to telecommute most nights as a professional services consultant for Fiserv, Goodman has been able to meet all of his mayoral obligations since being sworn in on March 6.
“I have been in the office every day,” he said. “I am able to juggle it now.”
According to Goodman, once “everything settles” around town hall, he plans to approach the BMA about the possibility of making the position of mayor a part-time post in an effort to save money.
“Over time,” he said, “the mayor of Oakland will require full-time attention. I think now, with 6,700 people and the services we have, that it can be managed in a 32-hour a week capacity.”
What follows is the first half of an interview with Mayor Goodman. See next week’s edition for the second half of the interview.

• (ON) You’ve talked a lot about bringing everyone together. The town’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen has been somewhat separated in the past, and even recently. You have a unique perspective because before this you were an alderman. What is the board like now? Is the board unified?

The board is very unified and focused on looking ahead and taking care of the town. One of the immediate issues that we have is that three out of the four board members are on their first term and have really never been involved in municipal government, which can be a good thing.
So, one of the things that I find in front of me is trying to educate them on the process. There is a lot that I didn’t understand. The few weeks that I was an alderman, I asked questions because I didn’t know. Now that I am in the furnace, I am trying to push that information out and make sure that they are well educated on the process.
I want them to legislate and do their job. I don’t want to have to be the tiebreaker. I bring the information, the data and the facts. From there, I let them make the decisions. So far, they have all been right on target of what they expect and want to do.

• (ON) What are some issues that the board is currently focused on? I know that town finances are a priority. Where does everything stand with regards to that?

One of the big strides was getting a recorder and treasurer in here. The board selected one out of the five applicants on April 11. She’ll start Monday on just catching things up that really haven’t been done for the last year.
Along with that, there is the state audit that is ongoing. There is a lot that we can’t do until that audit is finished.

• (ON) Any word on when to expect the results?

Probably another 60 days is what they are telling me. It is a long, tedious process. They are continuing to request information from us. They’ve not come back and said one thing or another. At the end of the day, it is important for us to get that so that there is a clear line of when this administration started moving forward as opposed to anything that has happened in the past.

• (ON) You made the motion to request the audit. Is that right?

Yes. The way that the state audit works is, they won’t come in and do a full audit. But there was a complaint that was filed through our town attorney with information from me for specific irregularities in spending. The issues that we saw, the state did decide that they were serious enough to come in and do the audit.
If they had not done that then the town would have had to pay for an outside auditor to come in. Which, I would have recommended if necessary. But since the state is doing this we will be comfortable enough with what they find. Whether it is anything prosecutable or not, at least we will know where we are.
The bank records will tell us exactly where we are financially. We are able to pay our bills but there has been a lot of money spent in the last couple years. The general fund has really been depleted.
The next year is going to be focused on cutting cuts where we can and getting that built back up to state required levels and then what the board deems is necessary for the town. I believe in reserves and that we need to keep our debt down. My background in banking gives me that accounting side of it to understand it. You have to manage your expenses. That is what we are starting to do here.

• (ON) What do Oakland’s reserves look like right now?

There is not a reserve in the general fund. The general fund is depleted. Fortunately there is enough revenue coming in that we don’t have an issue with paying any of our bills. But we are below the state requirement of what we should have in the general fund.

• (ON) You guys are going through the budgeting process now, right?

It is due in June. We are probably going to be a month late. With the treasurer not being here, I don’t want to rush through the process. There are no state penalties for being late as long as we communicate forward.
I would rather it be late and right than jam something through just to get it in there and have to do hundreds of amendments to it.
The big step was getting the treasurer hired. We have made that step now.

• (ON) Can you speak at all to any of the red flags that you saw that made you pursue the audit?

There seemed to be a lot of funds being moved from one account to the other. The town literally has a dozen different accounts. There was a lot of money being moved from one account to the other.
The spending that went along with that was…there were just things being expensed that were not typical municipal expenses. It appeared there were living expenses. I don’t have personal knowledge of it. But that is what it appeared to be and that is what raised the red flags.

• (ON) Beyond the town’s finances, what else are you hoping to accomplish in the next few years?

There has not been a lot of planning done in Oakland for the last three or four years. The first thing I want to do is get the budget done. I want to come up with a plan for the next fiscal year.
I want to clean up the infrastructure, the streets and some of the other issues that we have.
We then need a two- and- four-year plan of what comes after that. There are a lot of services that the citizens want. There is a lot of growth expected. I can see cleaning up the infrastructure and getting plans in place.
The last true planning that I can find was done around 1998. We need to get some updated planning that is consistent with what the county is doing. I am spending time with the county planner and mayor to make sure that our plans work together.
With the growth that is expected over the next year and a half, if we don’t do that we are going to continue to add rooftops but deteriorate everything else. We just have too good of a little town to let that happen.
I would also like to work on a six-year plan so that whoever is serving after my term already has a base to get started.