Group Gets Ready to Take Draft Sunshine Ordinance to Council

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday November 06, 2008 - 09:58:00 AM

The citizens’ group working on an alternate version of the Berkeley city attorney’s draft sunshine ordinance has released its final draft and will meet with Councilmember Kriss Worthington Monday to discuss a plan to introduce it in the City Council agenda for December. 

Dean Metzger, a spokesperson for the group, said the group was hopeful that the citizens’ draft ordinance would be passed by the council, failing which it could also be passed by a ballot initiative. 

Seven years ago at a request from Worthington, the City Council voted to ask the city manager’s office to look into improving the city’s sunshine policies, including creating an ordinance, to make it easier for people to get access to public records and meetings. 

After then-city attorney Manuela Albuquerque created a draft sunshine ordinance, some community members and Worthington called it a watered down version of a strong ordinance, setting off a movement by a number of Berkeley residents, activists, and members of the League of Women Voters to craft their own draft. 

“The city attorney’s draft was more like a twilight ordinance,” Worthington said Tuesday. “We want this ordinance to help the public get as much information as possible. The citizens’ group is trying to make the ordinance a better one.” 

Worthington said that if the council failed to vote on the citizens’ draft, it would have to be taken to voters in the next election. 

“It will need a significant number of signatures to get it on the ballot,” he said. “We should be prepared.” 

Terry Francke, an attorney for Californians Aware, said the most important thing for the citizens’ group right now would be to get all the councilmembers to support the ordinance. 

“They should make the best effort to encourage as many members as possible to go behind it,” he said. “I suggest good old-fashioned lobbying. There have been all kinds of approaches to get sunshine ordinances passed in different cities. Sometimes it’s drafted by people and taken up by members of council. Sometimes it’s an independent initiative by a member of a body without having any kind of backing from a grassroots group. There are different approaches.” 

Francke said that the sunshine ordinance that seems to have had the most extensive citizens’ support was the one in San Jose. 

Metzger said the group was getting ready to have their draft critiqued by City of Berkeley officials. 

“We will be listening to their suggestions,” he said, adding that the draft had not changed significantly since the group showed it to the public almost two months ago. 

At a public meeting on Sept. 9, the citizens’ group gathered input from community members and former and current city officials about the draft and worked hard over the next few weeks to include some ideas which would make it better. 

One of the changes, Metzger said, was made after Mayor Tom Bates had a problem with a section of the document which stated that a citizen could put an item on the council agenda with 25 signatures of registered voters in Berkeley. 

The updated version now has a minimum of 50 signatures. 

“We also re-organized the whole document so that it’s more of a chronological nature,” Metzger said. “That’s going to help.” 

Some of the other changes include a provision for speakers of non-agenda items to get a chance to speak at the end of a City Council meeting and a mandate asking council to meet for a minimum of 40 times annually, not counting council agenda committee meetings. 

“We are also asking that council meetings be adjourned at 11 p.m.,” Metzger said. “If they extend it after that, they will have to explain to the public why they are doing so. The whole thrust of this is to make agendas small and to provide more public input.” 


To view a copy of the citizens’ draft sunshine ordinance, see the Planet website. To view the city attorney’s draft sunshine ordinance go to www. ci.berkeley.ca.us/Content