Sunshining (making public) city government in Berkeley has been a long and daunting task. Sometime in early 2001-2003 Kriss Worthington held a series of public meetings to begin the process of writing a sunshine ordinance for Berkeley and its citizens. This effort was followed up with the city staff drafting an ordinance. Consensus could not be found, but in March of 2007, Mayor Bates called a special council meeting to hear from the community and a panel of four people considered to be experts in sunshine laws on its reactions to staff draft no. 24.
The panel consisted of Terry Franke of Californians Aware; Jinky Gardner, president of the League of Women Voters; Judith Scherr of the Society of Professional Journalists; and Mark Schlosberg of the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California.
The Sunshine Ordinance was placed on the May 8, 2007 information calendar and on May 20, 2007 a draft ordinance and matrix of issues was to be posted on the city’s website along with notice of a subsequence public meeting.
In May 2007 Mayor Bates asked the League of Women Voters to form a group of citizens to review the staff sunshine ordinance, draft no. 24, and bring back to the City Council an ordinance for the city of Berkeley. The League sent a general e-mail to the public inviting interested citizens to meet in their office on May 30, 2007. This was the beginning of the public group’s review of staff’s draft no. 24.
It became clear that the staff draft needed to be supplemented if real open government was to be achieved in Berkeley.
Since that day in May of 2007 a group of citizens has met twice a month and now every week to try to complete an ordinance that is friendly to the citizens of Berkeley. It has taken this long because the group has studied sunshine laws that exist or are being proposed in many other cities in California.
Terry Franke lives near Sacramento and is considered the expert in sunshining government in California. He has donated his time to our group and the citizens of Berkeley.
The review of other cities’ sunshine ordinances and the supplement being written to staff’s draft no. 24 are 30—60 days away from completion and need another 30 days for editing. In March 2008 it was announced that the city would put staff draft no. 25 on the council agenda of April 22, 2008 for public comment and possible action. It was only when staff called Terry that the League learned about draft no. 25 and the proposed agenda item. Terry along with the other members of the original panel wrote to Mayor Bates and the City Council requesting a delay of 90 days so the group could finish its work.
On April 14, 2008 the council Agenda Committee met. After public comment, Mayor Bates told the group that it had been given plenty of time to complete its work and that draft no. 25 on been on the city’s website for a month with no community recorded comments.
Mayor Bates also accused the group of meeting outside of the public (in secret). This is not true, the group has grown to almost 30 citizens and all meetings have been scheduled at the League office and open to anyone wishing to attend and participate.
What the citizens of Berkeley are left with is a staff draft which, if adopted, will keep the status quo in place, and Berkeley will continue to have a government of backroom deals, pre-determined legislation without adequate public discussion and little if any way to obtain documents, except through the courts.
Any sunshine ordinance (and there are none we could find) that is worth the paper it is written on must have a valid and workable enforcement segment.
If the Agenda Committee (Mayor Bates, Linda Maio, and Gordon Wozniak and other councilmembers) wish to keep Berkeley from having a sunshine ordinance that will actually bring sunshine to Berkeley they are doing a good job. If you want an open government and want to help, call your councilmembers and ask them to support the proposed postponement request so our work can be completed.
Dean Metzger is president of the Claremont-Elmwood Neighborhood Association.