Jane called me on June 29th, around 4:30 PM to set the record straight vis a vis the book that had been commissioned by city manager John Jermanis. We had a fluid conversation, I'm highlighting here the most memorable points.
She said that she had received my letter (I assumed she referred to my PRA request vis a vis any records on the book in question), that she had read Brian Copeland's column in San Leandro Bytes, and that the facts stated in the column were incorrect. She admitted that she wasn't present at any of the meetings between Jermanis, Bohne and the writer. However, she was sure that what they had told her was accurate, as she knows Jermanis and Bohne and believes in their integrity. She could not explain why Mr. Jermanis refused to explain to me what his idea for the book was, and why Mr. Bohne had not returned my phone call from a week before vis a vis the book. She did say they had been very busy, she herself had just been back after a 4-day vacation. She also stated that they were surprised to have this issue suddenly appear. She stated that the city of San Leandro did not want to hide its history of racial discrimination, but that it didn't fit into the publication they had in mind.
She said that the book commissioned was supposed to be a book highlighting the positive accomplishments of San Leandro. I asked her if she was talking about a puff history piece, but she said it was not supposed to be a history of San Leandro, and instead it was supposed to be a marketing piece. She said that if they'd wanted to commission a history of San Leandro they'd have hired a historian. Instead, they hired a young journalist who was the son of a respected library employee. I asked her why they would hire someone who had absolutely no experience on marketing or advertising to write a marketing piece, I explained how I'd seen Eric's resume which details a lot of experience in feature article writing, but none in marketing writing. She stated that the project was very informal, but did not succeed in answering my question satisfactorily.
She said Mr. Jermanis was wrong in stating to me and several city council members that the book was supposed to be a continuation of "a garden grows in eden." She said that while the idea for the project originated with Mr. Jermanis, the project was later taken over by Library Services Director David Bohne. The project was presented to the Library Historical Commission, and as it developed it turned into a plain marketing piece. Later in the conversation, however, she mentioned that the book would include the names of important San Leandro figures, and information about San Leandro businesses. I mentioned that if the book would talk about the history of San Leandro businesses, as councilman Badger told one of my colleagues, then the subject of people forbidden from opening or running businesses in San Leandro needed to be addressed. She said the book would not be a history of San Leandro businesses either.
I expressed that if the book was to highlight San Leandro personalities, then it would make the most sense to mention Brian Copeland. Brian Copeland, after all, is the most famous San Leandrean. She contested that statement, and when I asked her who was more famous than Brian Copeland, the only name she could come up with was (Democratic candidate for State Senate) Ellen Corbett. I told her that we'd campaigned for Ellen and that my husband had phone banked for her, and that most people we'd talked to had no idea who she was. She did concede the point, though underlined that Copeland was only currently the best known San Leandrean. She said that in any case it did not make sense to have one chapter out of 6 dedicated to Brian Copeland.
She told me she meant to talk to Brian Copeland after she finished her call with me (and indeed, she called him later and left a message for him). I said that as the information I had as to what had transpired came mostly via Brian, I was interested in seeing what he had to say, and how the information she had fit with the information Brian had been given.
I explained to her that I'd defer to Brian as he was the real victim here. She challenged that assertion, saying that if anything he was a victim of the writer who had missled him as to what had transpired on his conversations vis a vis the book. I reminded her of how Brian had been a victim of both housing discrimination and harassment in San Leandro, a fact that she could not deny. We spoke about the wounds inflicted on the African-American community by San Leandro's policies of discrimination. She protested the city's responsibility, but did accept that to the extent that the police department harassed African-Americans due to their race, the city was responsible for their actions.
We discussed my interest in taking this as an opportunity to address the larger issues of reparations owed to the African American community. She spoke about how things had improved for blacks in San Leandro, and mentioned services offered through the Human Services Commission and diversity training for city employees. She was concerned that I would unfairly use the book issue to focus on this topic. I reminded her that even if we accepted the city's position that the book had never been meant to be historical in any sense, the way in which they've treated the issue of racial discrimination as presented by the author shows a lack of understanding and sensibility to the sequels of racial segregation in San Leandro. City officials have a responsibility not only to act appropriately but to not give the appearance of impropriety.
There were several more questioned that I wanted to pose to Ms. McCrea, and more that I've recognized as I've written down my notes, but I had to cut the conversation short and take my kids to swimming lessons.