How Oakland's fearful politicos enabled waste: Part III - Page 3

Political, racial pressure pays off for the bakery
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"Then-police chief Richard Word and I chaired the Public Safety committee and I didn't know about it,'' Miley insisted. "Clearly, I had a sense that the police had some concerns (about bakery members), but not how it's been depicted recently.''

Miley is unapologetic about his unflinching support of E.M. Health during his time on the council. He wasn't overly concerned when the company defaulted, he told his colleagues at the time, because the federal money was intended to fund higher-risk ventures.

He recalled in a recent interview that African-Americans had good reason to believe black businesses weren't getting a fair share of city contracts or loans. Oakland's leaders had poured millions in public money into bringing the Raiders home from Los Angeles and bailing out the Ice Center, Miley said, and African-Americans never let them forget it.

It's also possible that city staff and some council members were intimidated by the accusations of racism, he added.

"I think we were very sensitive (about accusations) of being racist and Uncle Toms,'' said Miley, who is African American.

"When E.M. came in to get a loan ... on the face of it that looked like very worthy cause, something that would serve the public. So we decided to give them a chance,'' Miley said, adding that there was some concern over the money being used for a car and consultants.

"We gave them some technical assistance and guidance rather than pulling the rug out from under them completely,'' Miley recalled. "Still, even if it's federal money they got, it's still public taxpayer dollars down the toilet.''

Miley said he admired Yusuf Bey and the way he preached self-reliance, spirituality and discipline. Oakland was suffering record homicides and here was someone who was reaching out to ex-cons or those who might otherwise get caught up in the cycle of violence and helping them turn their lives around and earn money legitimately for their families, Miley said.

In February 1996, a smiling, soft-spoken Nedir Bey stood before the City Council and told them as much.

"This is an excellent program and it will target men and women who are not working presently and have no job skills,'' Bey said. "We can train them in the home health care field and start them on a better way of life.''

'Brilliant' concept

Redevelopment Agency Director Gregory Hunter said the company's goals were hard to turn down even if E.M. Health's promises lacked details.

"The concept was brilliant, absolutely brilliant,'' he said, adding that the business proposal drew applause from as far away as Washington, D.C. "Unfortunately, the execution fell somewhat short of the expectations the city had.''

Elihu Harris, now the chancellor of Peralta Community College District, was reluctant to discuss the matter recently because he said he did not recall many details. Harris said his dad received home health care from employees of E.M. Health, but it was his mother who handled the contract.

He added that a community loan advisory committee _ a body the federal lenders required _ had voted to fund E.M. Health, and the council debated that recommendation back and forth for many months. He said the council was not provided with a lot of details about the company.

"The (loan committee)... had really done the research,'' Harris said. "The council was between a rock and a hard place.

"(E.M. Health) had made some mistakes and they were going to try and rectify those mistakes,'' Harris said. "There was a lot to be concerned about, but they had strong community support.''

One supporter who turned out early and often to lobby for Nedir Bey was Theodora Marzouk, an administrator for Oakland-based Community Care Services, Inc.

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