Do 'The Kevins' Know Something Other Politicians Don't Know?
Are Alameda’s city treasurer and city auditor mere negative Nancies, or do they know something about finances that their city peers don’t?
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Photo by Chris Duffey
The Kevins, Kennedy, left, and Kearney.
They share the same name and middle initial. Their surnames sound similar. So, too, has the fiscal advice that each has offered the Alameda City Council over the years.
City Treasurer Kevin Kennedy and City Auditor Kevin Kearney—The Kevins, in shorthand—have become Alameda’s version of the mythological Greek prophet Cassandra, blessed with uncommon foresight, yet cursed, never to be believed. At least, that’s what the Island’s moderate-to-conservative faction contends.
Yet critics challenge the accuracy of their financial opinions and note that their budget oversight is not called for in the City Charter. In fact, the treasurer’s duties are simply to recommend an investment policy and oversee the city’s portfolio, while the auditor’s role is to conduct an annual audit of the city’s books. Like a political appendix, each office appears to be a vestige from a different era in city government. These days, most cities employ finance directors to offer the type of advice The Kevins eloquently offer the City Council. As elected officials, they are anomalies among East Bay cities, especially for one Alameda’s size. By comparison, only Oakland elects a city auditor.
Kearney, 61, a second-generation Alamedan who was signed by the Oakland Athletics in 1977 before suffering a back injury that ended his career, was appointed to the auditor’s office in 1991 before winning election the next year. Kennedy, 48, who grew up in Livermore and Piedmont before moving to Alameda 25 years ago, was elected treasurer in 2000.
The Kevins said their roles have evolved over the years at the behest of city managers and city councils seeking further advice on financial matters. “Previous staff and city councils recognized we’re experts,” Kennedy said. Both have served on the city’s fiscal sustainability committee.
Yet the Kevins also recognize that the assessments they offer the public are not derived from their elected offices. “We don’t have any power,” Kennedy said. “Are we allowed to speak in public? Yes.”
Critics often complain that neither Kevin chooses to address the City Council as private citizens during public comment but rather through their official capacities. That means they receive more speaking time than ordinary members of the public. “I think they should be limited to three minutes like everybody else,” said Alameda Firefighters IAAF Local 689 President Jeff Del Bono, a frequent critic. “Those guys are abusing their power when they go off on subjects that are not within the responsibility of their office.”
As a strong proponent of fiscal restraint, Kennedy has used heated rhetoric over the years. That has made him a target of Alameda’s union-friendly faction, especially after an infamous March 2011 budget meeting during which Kennedy warned of the city’s dire financial outlook. “If I’m here two years from now, it’ll be to off the lights and lock the door,” Kennedy said. “This is it.” That remark is often mocked by The Kevins’ opponents.
The comments came back to haunt Kennedy recently during a budget meeting when the city projected a larger-than-expected reserve fund for the next fiscal year. The $30 million reserve for 2015-16 became even more pointed when Interim City Manager Liz Warmerdam compared the figures with Kennedy’s 2011 projections of a $22 million reserve fund deficit.
But The Kevins are unrepentant. “They might say, ‘Look how wrong they were,’ ” Kennedy said. “We weren’t wrong.”
The road to a modicum of prosperity in Alameda certainly did not come from the type of austerity measures routinely recommended by The Kevins, such as reforms to city employee pensions and retiree benefits. Instead, citizens had to learn to make do with fewer city services following wholesale cuts to staff.