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Sunshine Law Draft Heads to Hearing

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Friday April 18, 2008

Despite requests from citizens to postpone the public hearing on the Berkeley city attorney’s draft sunshine ordinance—designed to provide citizens with greater access to local government—the City Council Agenda Committee refrained from rescheduling it. 

The hearing will be held Tuesday at the City Council Chambers, 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way. 

Julie Sinai, chief of staff to Mayor Tom Bates, told the Planet Wednesday that although the mayor had not supported the postponement of the public hearing, he had agreed to hold off the first reading of an ordinance until June 10. 

Sinai said that Bates had refused to delay the hearing since the council had been discussing the ordinance for a number of years. 

The city has been working on a sunshine ordinance since 2001, when at the request of Councilmember Kriss Worthington, the City Council asked Kamlarz and then-City Clerk Sherry Kelly to look into improving the city’s sunshine policies, including the adoption of an ordinance.  

“The City Attorney’s 26th draft was posted on the city manager’s website for public comment from October 2007 through March 2008,” Sinai said in an e-mail to the Planet. 

According to Sinai, the draft was also e-mailed to the council’s March 2007 Sunshine Ordinance workshop panelists—including Californians Aware General Counsel Terry Francke, Berkeley, Albany and Emeryville League of Women Voters President Jinky Gardner, American Civil Liberties Union Police Practices Policy Director Mark Schlosberg and Planet staff reporter and Northern California Society of Professional Journalists member Judith Scherr in October. 

The city manager’s website posted the revised draft incorporating the public comment received online in the beginning of April, Sinai said. 

Bates’ decision to hold the public hearing next week met with protests from a citizens’ group—comprised of representatives from the League of Women Voters, SuperBOLD (Berkeleyans Organizing for Library Defense) and other community members—who have been meeting for almost a year at the League office to review former City Attorney Manuela Albuquerque’s 21-page draft ordinance.  

In a letter to the mayor on March 31, the four workshop panelists requested a 90-day extension on the hearing. 

“We have been working on an alternate draft since June,” said Gardner. “We are almost close to being done and we need a little bit more time than Tuesday. The sunshine ordinance is fundamentally important for citizens. With the ordinance, the city is taking open government one step further than the two state laws—the Brown Act and the Public Records Request Act—which address it.” 

The citizens’ group said that the mayor had wrongfully accused them of meeting outside of public view. 

“We all know that’s not true,” said Dean Metzger, a member of the citizens’ group. 

Metzger said Bates had asked the League of Women Voters to form a citizens’ group to review Albuquerque’s sunshine ordinance draft at the March 2007 workshop. 

Bates had also asked Francke to draft a new ordinance which he said would be compared with the city attorney’s draft. 

“I think the real reason is they don’t want to see our draft,” Metzger said. “The league sent out a general e-mail to the public inviting citizens to meet in their office in May. Anyone could have joined our meetings at any point. We have not excluded anyone. The meetings were not posted but people could check with the League of Women Voters and get their name on the list.” Meeting notices have been e-mailed to a long list of recipients, not all of whom chose to participate in meetings. 

Sinai defended the mayor’s decision. 

“The city attorney’s office called Terry Francke in March to inform him that it was going back to Council on April 22,” she said. “Mr. Francke told the Acting Assistant City Attorney [Sarah Reynoso] that he could not comment on anything because there was another group working on a new ordinance and he was not at liberty to tell her who they were—but he would pass on the information and have someone contact her.” 

Bates said at Monday’s meeting that adequate time and opportunity had been provided for public review and input, and that an additional hearing would be scheduled if necessary. 

Councilmember Kriss Worthington called Bates’ decision an insult to the community volunteers reviewing the draft ordinance. 

“The mayor asked all these people to sit down and work on an ordinance,” he said. “This group has spent hundreds of hours on it. We are lucky to have so many people working to make the sunshine ordinance strong and effective. We need a sunshine ordinance, not a twilight ordinance.” 

Councilmember Dona Spring said she supported the citizens’ group request for postponement. 

“The group deserves to be heard,” she said. “We are not going to have a good ordinance without them. The council needs to compare it to Albuquerque’s draft which no one has spoken in favor of. Some of what the citizens’ group wants may be a legislative nightmare but we need it to be debated in public. The group is asking for too much exposure, that’s where the tension lies.” 

Gardner said that effective enforcement was missing from the city attorney’s draft ordinance. 

“What I’d like to see is the process be put in a more open arena with representatives from the citizens’ group, local businesses and the council,” she said. 

Councilmember Linda Maio said at Monday’s meeting that the hearing was being held next week because Planet staff reporter Scherr had pushed the council to move ahead with the ordinance, something that Scherr denied. 

“It’s absolutely wrong,” Scherr, who is on vacation until Tuesday, said in a telephone interview Thursday. “I am anxious to have a Sunshine Ordinance, but I am anxious to get a good sunshine ordinance. Of course I have been pushing for this for a long time but I thought that Albuquerque’s draft needed a lot of work.” 

Maio did not return calls for comment from the Planet. 

Spring said the city was rushing to establish an ordinance because it was campaign season. 

“It seems clear why Mayor Bates wants to force through a weak ordinance,” said Doug Buckwald, who attended Monday’s meeting. “He wants to put it in his campaign literature under his accomplishments for his upcoming mayoral election.” 

Sinai said a 90-day extension would mean a six-month delay since Council would be on recess from late July to mid September. 

“The mayor’s goal is to complete this process by the council’s 2008 summer recess,” she said in her e-mail. 

Francke said he was not sure why the process had to be completed by summer recess.  

“The issue has been on and off since 2001, so I don’t know what the hurry is now,” he said. “If the council really wants serious public participation, it would respect the request of the two dozen people working on it. Other than the mayor’s reason there are no legal or practical reasons to rush through this.” 


To view the city’s draft ordinance visit:  

For more information on the citizens’ group send an email to :