The City Council is scheduled to open the discussion of the Citizens’ Sunshine Ordinance at the June 2 Council Meeting. Mayor Bates has said that the discussion will be restricted to the fiscal impact the proposed ordinance would have on the city budget.
While this aspect of the ordinance is important and should be discussed, the real issue is open government. President Obama has stated that open government is essential to a democracy, but his administration has been having difficulty living up to the principle when trying to govern. Governor Schwarzenegger and the legislative leaders attempted to force the state budget solutions onto the public behind closed doors. Since that it didn’t work, they are calling for an open process.
What is the point of this? While elected officials and staffs talk about open government, they find it a nuisance and an obstruction to their work.
The Citizens’ Sunshine Ordinance has three goals:
1. Agendas and supporting materials should be published well in advance of public meetings.
2. The city should reply quickly to all requests under the Public Records Act.
3. There should be a quick and economical way to resolve disputes under the Brown Act or the Sunshine ordinance.
The Citizens’ Sunshine Ordinance was put together to accomplish those goals. A comparison with the city attorney’s Sunshine Ordinance shows that it does not address these issues, but, rather, keeps the status quo. You can see the comparison matrix at berkeleysunshine.org/matrix and decide for yourself.
The League of Women Voters says they support open government. Their LWVBAE comments at the Sunshine Ordinance Panel Workshop on Mar. 20, 2007, state: “That means that the public knows what their elected officials are doing, that meetings are open to the public, that public records are accessible, and that the public has a way or ways to make their views known between elections.”
Their president at that time also said, “I never thought I would recommend adding yet another board or commission to our already long list, but Oakland has created a Public Ethics Commission to do just that, and it is working quite well.” Since then we have learned that it is not working so well because there is no enforcement policy in place.
While the Citizens’ Sunshine Ordinance recognizes there is a cost to open government, it also believes there are savings that offset those costs. Sunshine means fewer lawsuits, which translates into fewer legal costs. Sunshine means a more efficient government, because the issues are thoroughly discussed in public before decisions are made. Sunshine means public records are organized and readily available to the public.
All that is asked of the City Council is that it accomplishes the goals of the Citizens’ Sunshine Ordinance. Please call your City Council member and ask him or her to support those goals.
Dean Metzger is a resident of Berkeley.