Pension Armageddon: Can Cities Save Public Employee Pensions?

Ideas in Action with Jim Glassman is a new half-hour weekly series on ideas and their consequences.

State and municipal government leaders across the country are coming face-to-face with a reality they - and the public employees they work with - have long sought to delay. Public pension obligations - for teachers, police officers, firefighters and other civil servants are beginning to break the bank. Pension plans that provide unlimited health care, set benefits for life and the option to retire at an early age are no longer sustainable as the work force shrinks along with budgets. How can local and state government leaders provide benefits that were promised to current retirees while cutting pension promises to current workers?

Transcript

JIM GLASSMAN:

Welcome to Ideas in Action a television series about ideas and their consequences. I'm Jim Glassman. This week: what is to become of city pension plans? With budgets already over-burdened and baby boomers retiring, how can local leaders deal with underfunded city pension plans, some of which are facing immediate default?

Joining me to explore this topic are Jean Quan, she is the recently elected mayor of Oakland, California. Oakland has just under half a million residents. Greg Ballard, he is currently running for reelection as mayor of Indianapolis, Indiana, a city with over 800,000 people. And Anthony Foxx, he is serving his first term as mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina, the largest city in the state with over 700,000 residents.

The topic this week: the public pension implosion. This is Ideas in Action.

ANNOUNCER:

Funding for Ideas in Action is provided by Investor's Business Daily. Every stock market cycle is led by America's never ending stream of innovative new companies and inventions. Investor's Business Daily helps investors find these new leaders as they emerge. More information is available at Investors.com

JIM GLASSMAN:

As the country continues to deal with the effects of a recession, cities, just like the federal government, corporations and families, are facing large budget gaps. A downturn in tax revenue, shrinking state aid, and low stock investment values have left many city services stretched and pension plans dangerously under funded. Some estimates put the total unfunded local government pension obligations at almost $574 billion, or $14,000 per household. As baby boomers begin to retire, public pension payments are mushrooming. If nothing is done, some major U.S cities could default on pension payments as soon as five years from now.

Mayor Quan, you've only been in office since January 3rd but you've already fired your budget director, why?

JEAN QUAN:

Well it doesn't have to do with the pensions. In our city the mayor proposes the budget and I needed to have people who would move quickly and help me make the process transparent. Cities are going through tough times so I need to have a fresh approach to educate the community about the budget and the issues facing us.

JIM GLASSMAN:

So you're facing a deficit of what $40 million?

JEAN QUAN:

About $40 million.

JIM GLASSMAN:

And what are you going to do to tackle it?

JEAN QUAN:

Combination of things. I'm going to be reorganizing the city and hope to actually do some of the city's activities jointly with other agencies like the school district and the county so that we together can save money. Oakland is one of the largest cities in our county so I'm actually hoping to sell some of our services to smaller cities surrounding us. And probably the toughest thing is I'll be taking on the public safety, the police pensions. Oakland is one of the few cities in northern California where our police officers don't pay anything into their pensions. We pay 37 cents on every dollar that I pay them in salary and that is one of the largest ongoing structural deficits in the budget.

JIM GLASSMAN:

So they make no contribution to their pensions at all. We're going to get to pensions in a second; I want to introduce the other two guests. Mayor Foxx, Charlotte has generally been considered over the last few decades one of the most dynamic cities in America, but you have really suffered with this financial collapse, really, I guess as a banking city. So how are you dealing with your budget?

ANTHONY FOXX:

Well, you deal with it on both sides of the ledger. On the revenue side we're working very hard to generate more job growth in our city. We're starting to see some signs that the economy is coming back and that's going to of course help the bottom line. On the other side of the ledger you have to deal with the fact that we have 200 million dollars less this budget year than we've had in previous years. And what that inheres is looking at our lines of business, doing things differently. We now pick up our recycling once every two weeks instead of once a week. That's going to save us 43 million dollars over the next ten years. There are other strategies that we are putting in place to deal with problems. And one of the first things I did as mayor was I assigned an efficient and effective government task force to look not only at short-term budget consequences but long term-- are there issues that we're facing? We've learned that we do have challenges with our public safety pay plan that we're going to have to confront in the future but we're tackling those problems ahead of the curve and I think it's served us well. We're AAA bond rated, great city to be in.

JIM GLASSMAN:

And Indianapolis I think is also AAA bond rated. Correct?

GREG BALLARD:

It is.

JEAN QUAN:

As is Oakland.

JIM GLASSMAN:

As is Oakland. That's good. So we're all AAA. But you have some problems in Indianapolis, another city that's generally considered well run, strong-- strong in an economic sense, but you've got a problem with your retirement plan right?

GREG BALLARD:

Well, we did have a problem with the retirement plan, actually, we had public safety problems with retirement plan. The pre-1977 public safety pensions. When I first became the mayor I petitioned the state legislature, on behalf of, really of all the other mayors in the state, for the state to pick that up and they did. So the post 1977 pensions plans were-- are well funded and that is on solid ground but the pre 1977 was picked up by the state in 2008 so we're in good shape.

JIM GLASSMAN:

And what about the rest of your budget?

GREG BALLARD:

The rest-- balanced budget the last 3 years actually, we were-- when I got in we were projecting $170 million deficit by the year 2012 but we cut 5% of the non public safety budget right off the bat. We did it again the next year and of course we did it again this year. So we actually have reserves. We-- last year we started a rainy day fund. We're investing, buying equipment, buying snow trucks, buying police cars and that sort of things. So we've been ok right now.

JIM GLASSMAN:

But-- what are the Indianapolis-- what's the public think? Do they feel like they're not getting the kind of services they used to get from you?

GREG BALLARD:

No actually I would contend that the services are actually better. We really have instituted a culture of efficiency within Indianapolis. We brought in Six Sigma, we actually hired a black belt and are training other black belts within the city and our department heads have really taken to heart the fact that we do want to cut 5% every year and put some off in reserves and so they've taken that to heart, they really had no choice in a lot of occasions, but the-- we've been able to do that and anybody in Indianapolis will tell you the snow's being cleaned a lot better than it ever was before and certain other services have been much better.

JIM GLASSMAN:

And the snow's really cleaned well in Oakland, as I understand it.

JEAN QUAN:

That's one expense I don't have.

JIM GLASSMAN:

This issue of dealing with the public employees unions-- is that a problem for you?

JEAN QUAN:

I think it's different with different unions. I think before the Gray Davis era when they increased public pensions that-- particularly in the non-public safety employees had a fairly fair and well-financed pension. We have CalPERS, a statewide system. Everybody suffered with the basic failure recently of stocks and bonds to keep up the rate that they projected. We also had a problem with the pre-1950s police pension but we have as much of a problem with the new pension which allows pretty much an officer in my city to retire at age 50 at $100,000 a year.

JIM GLASSMAN:

Actually let's talk about that. There is no contribution made by the officers themselves but I think a 9% contribution?

JEAN QUAN:

The contribution was defined by the state plan as 9% or 9 cents out of 37 cents on every dollar. I don't think that's probably enough but in our city the police don't even pay the 9 cents. It's a state wide public safety pension problem. So we inherited something a statewide problem but then our city council at the time way before I got on also didn't force all employees, especially police to pay their share. All the other public employees in my city pay their share if not more.

JIM GLASSMAN:

But the police have refused to pay anything and so what's your recourse?

JEAN QUAN:

Well we had hoped that they would pay or face layoffs and we were pretty surprised when they rather see 80 of their younger officers be laid off rather than pay their 9% share. So I'm still trying to reopen the negotiations. I'm somewhat hopeful that we might come to some sort of compromise.

JIM GLASSMAN:

I want to get to Mayor Foxx as well on this but let me read a quote, Mayor Quan, from the Police Association in Oakland; 'Quan's only consistent stance is to blame the police officers for everything. Yes, that's right, blame the understaffed, overworked police department that was there to take her report when she was robbed. I have no doubt that if elected..' This was before you were elected. '...Quan will dismantle our once proud police department and leave it as a shell of it's former self.' So, it's not easy dealing with police.

JEAN QUAN:

They were pretty hostile. They and the prison guards union contributed over $400,000 to defeat me and that's more money than I raised for my entire campaign. So that's a problem. The local police not so much directly the state prison guards union because they're part of the same system. And that's amazing for a state union to intervene in a local election. But the reality is I wrote the ordinance in Oakland that brought more police officers on board to the city than ever in the history of the city. I'm one of the few council members that does ride alongs. So I'm not hostile to the police I'm working very hard. I'm trying to get the union to pay their share so we can bring back the laid officers.

JIM GLASSMAN:

Mayor Foxx, the taskforce you appointed recently issued a report showing that by 2013 Charlotte will not be able to financially sustain its police and firefighters. What are you going to do about that?

ANTHONY FOXX:

Clearly we're going to have to do things differently. A 2% growth rate in our pay plan over the next several years won't over-- exceed our ability to pay for it but it's a question of getting people to the table and working through it.

JIM GLASSMAN:

So is this a pay problem or is it a pension problem for you?

ANTHONY FOXX:

It's a pay problem; it's a benefits problem. We actually --for a starting police officer for the first ten years of their service they can expect a 5% increase every single year on top of a 3% increase that other city staff gets, so they've got an 8% run rate over the next several years based on historical projections. That's an unsustainable plan for us and it's something that we're going to revisit.

JIM GLASSMAN:

There's a lot of talk now, and it's not just at the city level, it's at the state level as well, that promises that were made in the past to public employees just can't be kept. What do you think about breaking promises?

GREG BALLARD:

Well I don't think that's a good idea whatsoever obviously. But I think within Indiana-- the state of Indiana I can't speak for the governor, obviously I can't do that, but he's obviously, and it's well known nationally that he's managed the state very well. So that right now is not a looming issue for Indiana and certainly not for Indianapolis either right now. But the fact that people do negotiate certain things is very difficult in the long term. No question about that. The contracts that people have to negotiate are very, very difficult. We just got done with AFSCME, the police, and the fire within Indianapolis just in the last few months and you want to make sure that you can handle those contracts. We've done that so well successfully.

JIM GLASSMAN:

So what kind of increases were you giving?

GREG BALLARD:

Zero for the next year and then we go to 1 and 3.3 is generally speaking what it is. But there is also health care guarantees in their and that sort of thing because you know that's a big issue right now too because nobody's quite sure what the future's going to look like there.

JIM GLASSMAN:

Now I know you're not in charge of your own school system--

GREG BALLARD:

Right--

JIM GLASSMAN:

Or your own 11 school systems--

GREG BALLARD:

Right--

JIM GLASSMAN:

--in Indianapolis.

GREG BALLARD:

Right--

JIM GLASSMAN:

But obviously you must have some concerns about compensation for teachers. And one of the big problems there is it's hard to attract young people at a high enough pay rate because you're paying older teachers to retire basically.

GREG BALLARD:

Right, and we're going through a lot of education reform within the state and it'll happen frankly this year. The legislature has changed dramatically again at governor Daniels' promotion if you will. So we'll see a lot of education reform that will address a lot of those issues I do believe. Not only regarding the financial situation for the teachers but also school choice and those other reform-- reforms that other cities are really kind of crying for.

JIM GLASSMAN:

Do you have any specific pieces of advice, let's say one, for the other mayors?

GREG BALLARD:

Well, every city is different so I'm a little hesitant but I would tell you it's very difficult to make the hard choices and people are going to be upset with you. Some people are always going to be upset with you but you must make the hard choices and I would make them as early as possible, frankly, because you will pay for them later if you don't.

JIM GLASSMAN:

So make the hard choices early, it sounds like you're doing that--

JEAN QUAN:

I'm trying to do that. I want to make it very clear that we're trying to have as good of relations with the police union as possible. I think they know the election's over. I really need them to look at the budget in the context of the whole budget. Right now we spend half of our budget on police and for them not to cover their pension might mean in the future that I have to close parks and libraries and if I'm worried about public safety I can't have the number of staff in the officers pitted against parks and rec and libraries because both of them keep the community safer and particularly in my city where so much of the crime and violence involves young people. I can't pit services for young people against the police. It doesn't make my city safer.

JIM GLASSMAN:

And what about revenues? Mayor Foxx, you talk about a $200 million shortfall -- one-way to get that is by raising taxes.

ANTHONY FOXX:

Yeah that is one way to do it--

JIM GLASSMAN:

I'm not advocating it. You're not either.

ANTHONY FOXX:

I'm not advocating it.

JIM GLASSMAN:

You don't like doing that in North Carolina.

ANTHONY FOXX:

It's not a pleasant thing to do particularly at a time when you have in our case about a 10% unemployment rate in our area. We want to avoid visiting on people who are restrained additional cost. But let me say this, we don't have control over the schools within the city of Charlotte but that is one place where we're starting to see some real tough, tough decisions. Our school system is facing a $100 million shortfall. Our county, which funds the schools, has a $200 million shortfall like we do. And the state of North Carolina faces a $3.7 billion shortfall and so you look at what's happening up the food chain, it's not hard to see that our school system is going to face some real pain. And I think that for this country we will make mistakes and our children will not forgive us if we don't make the right choices in education even though it may visit suffering in other parts of our budget. And it means making structural changes to make progress even with less resources and it means school systems making careful decisions to say that if they need more money they need to show how the dial is going to move on results at the end of the day for kids but you know this is a period of time we could lose 20 years in public education if we're not careful.

JIM GLASSMAN:

But it's not simply-- you're not saying it's simply a question of--

ANTHONY FOXX:

It's not resources only--

JIM GLASSMAN:

--of resources only.

ANTHONY FOXX:

It is not just resources it is also results and changing some of the processes and procedures. Tenure needs to be on the table, caps on charter schools need to be on the table, I mean there's a whole host of things but at the end of the day we've got to figure this out. We've got to figure it out quick.

JIM GLASSMAN:

You know it's kind of amazing all 3 of you, you mayors, don't have any direct control over your school systems. Correct?

JEAN QUAN:

I'm planning to have some joint cabinet meetings. In fact next week I'm having a joint cabinet meeting with the school district to see how we can share resources, how we can help them. California has sunk to the-- I think we're only above Mississippi in school funding right now and particularly Oakland after state receivership is more in debt after the state takeover than it was before. So I'm actually trying to go to Sacramento to fight on that because I think that's not fair for the children of our city. But I think if you've got, as I do, the lowest paid teachers in the county and the area, you can't have good schools and so I've supported more resources for the school. I'm going to do what I can in terms of doing what I call wrap around services, helping them with their fields, helping them with their security, doing some joint facility use to cut down our cost. We're opening a new jointly-run library. I think cities don't grow, we don't have safety, we don't have economic future and good jobs if we have weak school systems. So mayors can't afford to ignore what's happening to their schools.

JIM GLASSMAN:

And you have one tool that I don't think the other mayors do, right?

GREG BALLARD:

Well not only charter schools, which I think has really helped to-- really helped the other public schools --some competition doesn't hurt. I don't think that's a bad thing at all.

JIM GLASSMAN:

How many charter schools do you have?

GREG BALLARD:

We have 17 right now and we're increasing.

JIM GLASSMAN:

So what's the total charter population--

GREG BALLARD:

Well that-- I would say that's the city of Indianapolis but there are also other chartering authorities within the state -- for instance Ball State University has schools within Indianapolis also. There are wrap arounds if you will. We are very big into public-private partnerships in Indianapolis and the chamber of commerce in Indianapolis along with some of the mentoring organizations has really-- really reached out to the schools. The chamber of commerce has a program called Common Goal and the intent was to get the graduation rate to 80%-- actually I believe it was by next year but we think right now we're at 80% when you combine the 11 public school systems together we're there. Right now at 80%. That doesn't even count the charter schools or the private schools, which obviously have 98 to 100 percent graduation rates. So it's (?) there are pockets where they're not-- some school systems are not doing as well as others but collectively as a county as a city it has been improving rather dramatically in the last couple years.

JIM GLASSMAN:

And Mayor Foxx what do you think the role of the federal government should be in helping cities that are in distress right now?

ANTHONY FOXX:

Well I think one of the things is rethinking the way federal funds are directed. We have a lot of conversation among the U.S. Conference of Mayors about direct local investments because many times when the federal government adopts a plan we're there for the big signing and then the money goes to the states and then by the time it bubbles around to the states we get drops from the federal government that really aren't able to help us make radical change. We have programs through the federal government like the community development block grant funds, the recent energy development block grant funds, that have done amazing things in cities across the country that are direct investments from the federal government. Local control in this environment is going to be critical and I really encourage the federal government to focus money directly into cities.

There's a lot of talk now about public-private partnerships, about people coming together and about the country needing to figure out pragmatic solutions to the future. I think one of the biggest challenges we have right now is that we are having to work through unresolved things. This issue of schools and educating not just the kids who come to school ready to learn but the kids who come to school not ready to learn. That is a community issue, that's a national issue, and it's something that all of us have an investment in and I think you'll see example after example in North Carolina of the ability of communities to come together and forge alliances to make progress.

JIM GLASSMAN:

And on this issue of federal help, what do you want from the federal government?

GREG BALLARD:

Well, I think the federal mandates-- the unfunded mandates is a piece that I think all mayors share that pain. Generally speaking not just on particular issues generally speaking. I also what I want right now--

JIM GLASSMAN:

But would you rather not have the money than have them tell you what to do with it?

GREG BALLARD:

No I-- money's fine. I always tell people you know as the mayor I say this all the time; you could you know on a national level you could debate whether this program should be there or not but as the mayor if somebody's going to give you money for a project you're going to take it. You're going to take it because you can build that dirt road, you can do that bridge, you can help the kids, whatever it might be. But what I'm looking for right now honestly-- I hear this from my businesses all the time; I'm looking for consistency, predictability, stability, for the business sector. I want consistency and predictability from here in Washington so that our business folks can expand and hire more people.

JIM GLASSMAN:

But you're not going to raise taxes. You're not going to--

GREG BALLARD:

We lowered income tax. We gave back income tax money a couple of years ago and property taxes are down by a third.

JIM GLASSMAN:

And you, Mayor Quan, want to raise taxes on marijuana, as I understand.

JEAN QUAN:

It's one of our interesting growth industries we have. We're trying to find what the right level is both for our dispensaries and for production and we're working on that. But what I want from the federal government--

JIM GLASSMAN:

Is that at all controversial in Oakland?

JEAN QUAN:

Not enough. It's passed by 80% both times--both initiatives.

JIM GLASSMAN:

Ok, it probably would be in Indianapolis.

GREG BALLARD:

Might be a little bit more difficult.

JIM GLASSMAN:

Anyway.

JEAN QUAN:

What I want from the federal government are a couple of things. I'd like to see them-- we're-- Oakland's a port city, we're one of the major ports of China. I'd like to have them help us improve our ports so that we can be an economic generator for the whole country as well as the region and so infrastructure is very expensive. I'd like the federal government to understand that California, because of our understanding of global warming, is really investing more in public transportation and right now I think that only 18% of the dollars goes to cities like us for public transportation. And we really need more help on our infrastructure for our public transportation rather than highways, I'm sure they're from states so they need both, but as a poor urban area in the bay area we need money for public transportation because California's trying to prevent sprawl into our agriculture areas and keep our development in our urban core. And lastly I'd like to see them help, continue to help the school districts that are most in need because they-- the young people in urban areas are being left far behind. The graduation rate now for African American men in east Oakland is only 30%. We need a lot of help dealing with these kids who have the most needs.

JIM GLASSMAN:

I want to switch gears for a second. Indianapolis has famously done a lot of privatization.

GREG BALLARD:

A lot of it goes back to Steve Goldsmith. I think people may know that he was really a nationally recognized mayor of Indianapolis at the time and he did certain things like the easy thing to point out is the golf courses where he leased those out and then they put capital improvements. We just re-did those leases actually and got capital improvements as a result. The one we have just done which is really massive, really the biggest deal in the history of Indianapolis was we're transferring our water and our wastewater utilities into a public charitable trust called Citizens Energy and this is what I call a win win win. We de-politicize the water company, which was very much needed, and I get a billion and a half of debt out of it. I get between 400 to 500 million dollars cash in my hands for dry infrastructure for the roads, the bridges, sidewalks, and alleys, and abandoned homes, and of course I would say roads don't resurface themselves. So you have to put people to work. And because Citizens already is an energy company, a utility company, they get synergy. So the projected rate increases for the water and wastewater are going to be about 25% less. And on top of that we just saved consent decree we're really kind of a model for the U.S. conference of mayors-- we revised our consent decree which everybody's going through over 700 cities with the EPA and the Department of

Justice and saved an additional $740 million out of our consent decree so--

JIM GLASSMAN:

Consent decree on water?

GREG BALLARD:

On the combined sewer overflow.

JIM GLASSMAN:

Ok.

GREG BALLARD:

Combined sewer overflows.

JIM GLASSMAN:

Right.

GREG BALLARD:

So this is a piece-- this is a big deal in the city of Indianapolis and it really helps the citizens have lower rates-- rates are going to increase anyway but they're going to increase less and because it is a sale of assets I freed up hundreds of millions of dollars worth of money for infrastructure which every city needs.

JIM GLASSMAN:

So can you do that sort of thing? Mayor Foxx?

ANTHONY FOXX:

We do. We have-- the recycling arrangement I mentioned before is a privatized contract and there are many other examples within Charlotte of areas where we've taken some of our business lines and put them out to bid and we've actually done better going that direction. We're looking for other opportunities. We haven't quite been able to unload our water system but I'm going to talk to you a little bit about that after about how we do that.

JIM GLASSMAN:

Good. We have to wrap but can you-- no tell me about privatization really quickly.

JEAN QUAN:

We've already subleased our golf courses. I would go slightly a different direction. On my inaugural night I had a thousand citizens come to city hall to sign up to volunteer for the city and for the schools.

JIM GLASSMAN:

That's great. So that's real privatization.

JEAN QUAN:

Yes.

JIM GLASSMAN:

Private people helping the public sector. Thank you so much Mayor Quan, thank you Mayor Foxx, thank you Mayor Ballard.

And that's it for this week's Ideas in Action. I'm Jim Glassman, thanks for watching.

Keep in mind that you can watch Ideas in Action whenever and wherever you want. To watch highlights or complete programs just go to ideasinactiontv.com or download a podcast from the iTunes store. Ideas in Action because ideas have consequences.

ANNOUNCER:

For more information visit us at ideasinactiontv.com. Funding for Ideas in Action is provided by Investor's Business Daily. Every stock market cycle is led by America's never ending stream of innovative new companies and inventions. Investor's Business Daily helps investors find these new leaders as they emerge. More information is available at Investors.com. This program is a production of Grace Creek Media and the George W. Bush Institute, which are solely responsible for its content.


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Featured Guests

Greg Ballard

Mayor, Indianapolis, IN

On November 6, 2007, Gregory A. Ballard was elected as the 48th Mayor of Indianapolis.

Prior to his political career, Greg was a self-employed leadership and management consultant, and the author of The Ballard Rules: Small Unit Leadership. He conducted seminars and modular training based on the book, and taught college-level economics, marketing, and management courses at Indiana Business College. Previously, he worked for several years as North American Operations Manager for Bayer in Indianapolis.

Active in the community, Greg served as a tutor and an Advisory Board Member for the Lilly Boys and Girls Club; as a contributing editor to both the Indiana Minority Business Magazine and the Indiana Parenting Magazine, and as founder of the Indianapolis Writers Group. Greg spent the majority of his career in the United States Marine Corps, retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel after 23 years of service to his country. As a Marine, Greg rose steadily through the ranks and held a variety of leadership and staff positions in logistics, transportation, and acquisition, both at war and in peace.??Medals awarded to Greg in recognition of his leadership and outstanding service include the Legion of Merit, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Kuwait Liberation Medal, the Marine Corps Expeditionary Medal, the Humanitarian Service Medal, and the Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal. Greg is a veteran of the Persian Gulf War and is a Service-disabled veteran.

Anthony R. Foxx

Mayor, Charlotte, NC

Anthony R. Foxx is the Mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina. He took the oath of office on December 7, 2009, becoming the city’s 48th and youngest mayor.

Mayor Foxx’s political career began in 2005 with his election to the Charlotte City Council as a two-term, at large representative. During his four years of service as a councilman, he chaired the Transportation Committee and was a member of the Economic Development and Planning Committee. He was council’s representative to the Charlotte Mecklenburg Development Corporation and the Mecklenburg-Union Metropolitan Planning Organization.

Since 2009, Foxx has served as Deputy General Counsel at DesignLine Corporation. He previously served as an attorney at Hunton & Williams law firm, as a law clerk for the United States Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, a trial attorney for the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice, and as staff counsel to the United States House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary.

Jean Quan

Mayor, Oakland, CA

Jean Quan is the first Asian American and first woman to be elected Mayor of Oakland in that city’s 158-year history. She was sworn in on January 3, 2011. Prior to being Mayor, Jean served on the Oakland City Council, where she chaired the Finance and Management Committee and served on the Life Enrichment, Public Works, and Public Safety Committees. Prior to being elected to the Council, she worked as a Council member’s representative on the City Budget Advisory Committee. She also worked with the City's Public Ethics Commission process to develop the recent campaign reform measures and has served on the Emergency Planning Board from its founding (1993-2003) to develop a citywide response to possible earthquakes, fires, and other disasters. As part of the Homeless Commission's education committee, she helped develop a master plan for homeless youth and families. Mayor Quan began her political career after years of parent organizing, when she was elected to the School Board from 1990 to 2002.

Jean is a National Kellogg Foundation Fellow. She was also a founding member of the Friends of Hibakusha, a nonprofit organization helping Japanese American atomic bomb survivors, the Asian Pacific Labor Association, and Asian Americans for Justice. She is affiliated with many civil rights organizations and served on the Alameda County Medical Center Foundation and on the Oakland Red Cross Board.

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