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Media Coverage
Richmond To Pick Consultant
March 12, 1998



Thursday, March 12, 1998
Section: news
Page: A04
Shawn Masten

RICHMOND The City Council is expected today to select a consultant to take an in-depth look at city operations, assess finances and map money-saving strategies for the future.

The likely candidate for the job is the San Francisco-based Arthur Andersen Consulting, a nationally recognized business auditing firm that has teamed with former Oakland City Manager Henry Gardner, now a municipal management consultant.

Officials hope the study will result in millions of dollars in savings for the city, which is facing a projected $4.1 million loss in annual revenue from a property tax re-assessment of Chevron's Richmond refinery.

The council hopes to receive cost-saving recommendations in time for its budget deliberations.

Although the city staff ranked Arthur Andersen second of three firms that submitted proposals, it is being recommended by an eight-member committee that consists of Councilmen Nat Bates and Tom Butt; Jim Braden, Chevron's community affairs project manager; Leveron Bryant, acting city manager; and representatives of the city's labor unions and office of contract compliance.

Gardner was a key factor in the committee's vote, Bates said.

"He's a guy who certainly knows local government and is probably best capable of coming in and immediately being aware of what's going on," Bates said.

24 years with Oakland

Gardner worked 24 years for Oakland, including 12 as city manager, before retiring from that $134,000 post in 1993. At that time, Oakland was still feeling the effects of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, the 1991 Oakland Hills fire, a national recession and a $39 million budget deficit.

Although Oakland is much larger than Richmond, the two share similarities.

Both have a majority of black residents, wrestle with the same social and economic problems and have ports. Also, the daily operations of both cities are run by the city manager, not the mayor.

Gardner is an impressive presence, said Councilwoman Donna Powers: "He knows where the city manager buries the bones."

But Councilman Butt said he was more impressed by the Warner Group, which was rank highest by the city staff.

The Southern California firm has conducted organizational studies for hundreds of governmental agencies, including the cities of Glendale and Torrance.

"They have broader experience, specifically with municipalities," Butt said. "They consult for municipalities. That's their job. The other guys are bigger, they're better known. They have more people. They've done bits and pieces, but they could not show that they've done anything remotely like this."

Warner scored high with the staff because its proposed cost, $119,500, compared favorably to the $275,000 proposed by the Andersen group and because its team includes minorities and women.

But quality of work, not cost, is the critical factor, Braden told the council March 3.

Fed by rumors of staff layoffs and service cuts, ripples of financial insecurity spread through city government once officials learned that Chevron's property value had decreased and that the company was seeking a tax break.

Cash and services
Chevron has since agreed to give the city $1 million in cash and services for the study and to help improve city services.

It also has agreed to delay paying the lower property tax until mid-2001. In return, the city has agreed not to levy new taxes on the refinery.

Chevron is the largest city business. It provides 17 percent of the $70 million general fund budget, which pays for police, fire, parks and recreation.