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State Agency Faces Elimination After First Black Woman Takes Charge

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In January, members of the California Board of Equalization (BOE) selected Malia M. Cohen, former President of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, to chair the 140-year-old state agency.

Cohen became the first Black woman elected to the board last May and the first to lead the agency responsible for representing taxpayer interests and “equalizing” county-by-county tax assessments across the state.

Now, less than eight weeks into her 4-year term and under two months as chair, Cohen has been thrust into a difficult fight, as lawmakers grapple with whether or not to dismantle the agency, she finds herself justifying her job, her $151,260 salary, and the very existence of the agency she leads.

“Here we are, members of the new board, just shy of eight weeks in – of coming into this position – we now have to defend keeping the board elected,” Cohen said.

Cohen said the board represents the interests of many disadvantaged Californians such as small business owners who may not be able to afford an attorney or families who speak English as a second language and people impacted by wildfires. BOE is a champion against unfair practices like the widespread undervaluation of homes in predominantly Black neighborhoods.

Lawmakers held hearings to check in on the operations of the board since its functions were reduced by Gov. Jerry Brown two years ago. A state audit before that decision revealed a series of shocking incidents of mismanagement and corruption involving members of the previous board, including the misappropriation of $350 million.

During the hearing, Cohen asked lawmakers to give the new board, under her leadership, time to fix “the sins of the previous class.”

Former Gov. Brown signed Assembly Bill 102 or the Taxpayer Transparency and Fairness Act into law in 2017 following the audit that uncovered the scandals at the BOE. The legislation stripped the state agency and its elected board of much of its tax administration and adjudication powers. The law also relieved the agency of its tax collection responsibility.

New state agencies like the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration and the Office of Tax Appeals were created to take over some of those functions while others were absorbed by existing state offices.

The BOE is the only elected government board of its kind in the United States that is specifically set up to represent taxpayer interests.

California State Controller Betty T. Yee, who was once an elected officer of the 4-member board, believes the board is no longer relevant.

“For me the answer is no,” said Yee. “The BOE does not need to continue to have an elected board. The name on the door of who administers these programs is less important than how they are administered.”

Since the board’s mandate is constitutional, the process to determine its fate will take a few years. Legislators would have to vote to place a constitutional amendment regarding the Board’s fate before California voters on the 2020 ballot.

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Bay Area

Schaaf Seeks Retraction from Post Over School Closing Remarks

In a KQED interview, Mayor Libby Schaaf supported the proposed closing of 15 schools as an “opportunity” and even went father. “This is not just some painful but necessary budget cut,” she said. “I really feel for parents, students, teachers. We have been through so much trauma, and they have every right to feel distrustful and fearful about this decision. But I believe that it is different this time.

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Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf. Oakland.ca.org photo.
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf. Oakland.ca.org photo.

By Ken Epstein

The Office of Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf has demanded a retraction from Oakland Post, saying the newspaper was incorrect to characterize Schaaf as a supporter of permanently closing up to half of the public schools in Oakland.

“She’s never held that position,” said Justin Berton, the mayor’s spokesperson, in an email to the Post.  “As you know, knowingly publishing false information is not only unethical, it’s potentially actionable,” he wrote.

Berton was responding to a sentence in an article in last week’s Post that said, “Schaaf, a longtime supporter of charter schools, has spoken forcefully in the media in favor of closing as many as half of the city’s public schools.”

The Post’s comments on the mayor’s position was based on a Feb. 4, 2022, interview with KQED. At the time, the school district had just announced that it was closing 15 schools this year and next and was planning to close more in future years.

The City Council took a strong position opposing the school closings not Mayor Schaaf.

In the KQED interview, Schaaf supported the proposed closing of 15 schools as an “opportunity” and even went farther.

“This is not just some painful but necessary budget cut,” she said. “I really feel for parents, students, teachers. We have been through so much trauma, and they have every right to feel distrustful and fearful about this decision. But I believe that it is different this time.

“When you look at districts like Stockton, Fremont, San Jose, they serve roughly the same number of students, about (33,000). But they do it in almost half the campuses, between 41 and 48 campuses in those three districts, whereas Oakland has EIGHTY CAMPUSES (Schaaf’s emphasis).

“This is an opportunity to do better for our students, our educators, our families, and I trust this leader to deliver on that promise in a way that has never happened before.”

To review Mayor Schaaf’s remarks, go to the original interview at https://archive.org/details/KQED_20220205_030000_KQED_Newsroom/start/360/end/420

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Bay Area

Residents Demand Right to Vote on Use of Public Funds for A’s Stadium Project

“We’re here to commit to the residents of Oakland that they must have a right to vote on whether to spend over a billion public dollars (on the proposal) for the Oakland A’s to build a stadium and real estate development at Howard Terminal,” said City Council member Noel Gallo, speaking at the media event Wednesday morning.

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Councilmember Noel Gallo speaks at a press conference Wednesday, June 29, calling on the City Council to put public funding for the Oakland A's real estate development on the November ballot. Photo by Ken Epstein
Councilmember Noel Gallo speaks at a press conference Wednesday, June 29, calling on the City Council to put public funding for the Oakland A's real estate development on the November ballot. Photo by Ken Epstein

Oakland City Council may decide July 5 whether to place measure on November ballot

By Post Staff

Oakland community leaders and activists, port workers and environmental advocates joined City Councilmember Noel Gallo on the steps of City Hall this week to urge the City Council to allow the public to vote on the use of public funds for the A’s stadium and private real estate development at Howard Terminal.

“We’re here to commit to the residents of Oakland that they must have a right to vote on whether to spend over a billion public dollars (on the proposal) for the Oakland A’s to build a stadium and real estate development at Howard Terminal,” said Gallo, speaking at the media event Wednesday morning.

“This is an unprecedented grab of public funds,” which could grow considerably because there seems to be no limit on the city’s liability for potential cost overruns, Gallo said.

“We have to learn from our past experiences (with the Raiders) to not make the same mistake again,” he said.

The rally comes in anticipation of a July 5 City Council meeting that will consider a resolution to put an advisory vote on the November ballot on the use of public funds to support a privately owned stadium and real estate development at Howard Terminal at the Port of Oakland.

At the Tuesday, July 5 meeting, the Council will discuss the measure and may ultimately take a final vote on placing it on the ballot. Public comment for this item will be taken at the beginning of the meeting.

In recent weeks, more than 4,000 Oakland residents have signed a petition in support of putting the measure on the November ballot.

Other speakers at the City Hall media event included James Vann, an advocate for affordable and homeless services.

“This is the people’s money, and the people should get to decide,” said Vann.

Civil rights attorney and activist Walter Riley said that Oakland A’s owner John Fisher is acting like a “corporate raider” who takes money out of the A’s instead of investing in his team.

Instead of giving a billion dollars to Fisher’s private development, the city should be investing in building and maintaining public parks and other infrastructure needs, he said.

Naomi Schiff, a housing activist, said, “The Howard Terminal deal keeps getting more expensive” for taxpayers. adding that the stadium at Howard Terminal would be built on a “inundation zone and liquification zone.”

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Bay Area

Willie O’Ree, 1st Black Player in NHL, is a Real Ice Man

In 2022, U.S. President Joe Biden signed the Willie O’Ree Congressional Gold Medal Act. The bill awarded O’Ree a Congressional Gold Medal, the U.S. Congress’ highest honor, for his contributions to “hockey, inclusion and recreational opportunity.”

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Willie O’Ree on the ice in mid-career.
Willie O’Ree on the ice in mid-career.

By Tamara Shiloh

Historically, professional hockey has held fast to its tradition of lacking diversity among its players. But no Black on the ice did not hold Willie O’Ree back. He started playing hockey at age 3 and instantly had a passion for the game.

Born on October 15, 1935, in Frederickton, New Brunswick, Canada, O’Ree at the age of 14 years old, played with his brother Richard in organized hockey. Within a year, he was playing with the Frederickton Falcons in New Brunswick Amateur Hockey team.

O’Ree played in Canada with the Quebec Frontenacts in the 1954-55 Junior League and the Kitchener Canucks of Ontario during the 1955-56 season. It was during this season that he lost 95% of his vision in his right eye after being hit by a puck. He also suffered a broken nose and cheekbone. Knowing that the NHL bylaws would prevent him from playing with the eye injury, he kept it a secret.

After one year in Ontario, O’Ree returned to play in Québec and was eighth in team scoring with the Quebec Aces in the 1956–57 season with 22 goals and 12 assists for 34 points. He would play two more seasons with the Aces in 1957–58 and 1958–59.

As a result of the relationship between the Boston Bruins and the Quebec Aces, O’Ree was called to play with the Bruins making him the first African American to play in the National Hockey League.

That same night the Bruins beat the Montreal Canadiens 3–0, so there was no fanfare in the fact that O’Ree was the first Black player to play in the NHL. Neither The Boston Globe nor The New York Times wrote anything about the historical event.

O’Ree would only play two games for the Bruins in the 1957–58 season. He returned to the team in the 1960–61 season and scored four goals and 10 assists for 14 points in 43 regular-season games. On Jan. 1, 1961, O’Ree also became the first Black player to score a goal in the NHL, in a 3–2 win over the Canadiens.

Racism continued to show its ugly head on and off the ice. On the ice there were always fans throwing things at him and players would make racial remarks and he would suffer body abuse.

However, during one game he returned the favor and broke his stick over a player’s head. During an interview, O’Ree shared that he was treated worse in the United States than in Canada.

He retired in 1979 at age 43. He has spent the past two decades as the NHL’s diversity ambassador, working to expand the sport.

O’Ree has received many accolades since his retirement. In 1998, he became the NHL’s director of Youth Development and an ambassador for the NHL Diversity program. He traveled throughout the United States promoting hockey programs, with a focus on serving economically disadvantaged children.

In 2003, he was named the Lester Patrick trophy winner for his outstanding service to hockey in the United States. O’Ree received the Order of Canada in 2010 for his outstanding service to youth development and promoting hockey within North America.

He also received the Order of New Brunswick (2005) and was named an honored member of the New Brunswick Sports Hall of Fame, where he was inducted in 1984. In 2018, he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

In 2021, as a celebration of Black History Month, all NHL players wore a commemorative helmet decal honoring O’Ree from January 16 to February 28.

In 2022, U.S. President Joe Biden signed the Willie O’Ree Congressional Gold Medal Act. The bill awarded O’Ree a Congressional Gold Medal, the U.S. Congress’ highest honor, for his contributions to “hockey, inclusion and recreational opportunity.”

O’Ree is the first player in NHL history to receive the honor.

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