April 1, 2007

Open and Accessible government....are they kidding?

Remarks by Mayor Diane DuBois on assuming the office of Mayor of Lakewood
March 27, 2007

This is taken from the announcement verbatim:

"Accessible government
We also pledge to uphold another Lakewood value: an open and accessible city government. Our new “Lakewood Connect” service provides you with 24/7 access to city services and information. It provides a way for you to track the status of your service requests.It makes your city more accountable to you in meeting your service needs. I invite you to go online today to www.lakewoodcity.org and become more connected to your community."

As it happens LAAG sent an email to the City Council on March 27, 2007 noting how lacking its website was [see 3/27/07 email below]. As of this date there has been no response at all. Typical. Is this the City's idea of an open government? Is not responding their way of dealing with the problem? Apparently. We also requested that the city (on more than one occasion) keep the agendas current on the web page. The city responded that essentially they are not required to and that this is just done as a courtesy to residents. We pointed out it was not a courtesy if it was not current. It was basically useless.

Why does LAAG make such a big deal over openness? Well look at the scandals that have happened in a number of small cities in LA county (Like Maywood and Cudahy to name a few) that were essentially allowed to fester due to the fact that there really was no one watching the city council. We have lots of investigative reporters looking into what the federal government and the state are doing but very little at the city level. All this is made harder by a lack of "REAL" information.

LAAG is pretty much fed up with Lakewood City Hall refusing to post agendas timely on the website at least 72 hours before the city council meetings. The law only requires that they post the agendas somewhere at city hall (broom closet?) and three other "mystery" public places not on the website. (Supposedly they are also at the Library on Calrk St. but no luck there finding anything current) Why might you ask would they fail to post this information on the website? After all they post dance class schedules there. Well the best way to "slip" things past sleeping voters is to just not alert them to issues and do the the bare minimum as required by law (ie don't post stuff on the site or send out an email with real agenda items on it or you could end up with some angry or curious residents at your meeting and they don't want that!)

As for the agendas this was brought to the city's attention a few times but still the repeated problem has not been fixed. For example as of 1/15/07 the current agenda posted on the website was 12/12/06. As of 3/17/07 the "most current" agenda posted on the site is dated 2/27/07. This is a big deal as the agenda is the only way busy residents can see what is going on and if they need to go to a meeting. That is the purpose of agendas.

Our 3/21/07 email inquired further specifically on the agenda posting:

"Where exactly are they [the agendas] posted [by law], when exactly are they posted, during what hours are they available and is the full agenda package [supporting and backup material] available for viewing at those three "public" locations? Is the city hall closing always the Friday before the tues meeting? As you know making this available M-Th 9am 5pm is not really convenient for most people who work.

As far as US mailing agendas what does that cost per year? Also are they put in the mail 72 hrs (3 days) before the meeting or earlier? I would suspect that [LAAG] would not get them in sufficient time to act on anything in the agenda."

There was no response to this above email as of 4/1/07.

LAAG has asked the Sheriff's department on 4 separate occasions for the last two months for crime statistics for 2006. No response at all. So we will have to do a public records act request. Neither the City nor the Sheriff's department apparently feels it is worth their time to document and back up their vague and grandiose statements about crime "reduction".

This is just a sampling of the lack of information about current issues being decided in the city. The email below contains more examples.

Date: Tue, 27 Mar 2007
15:13:55 -0700

To: TSRR@msn.com (Todd Rogers, City Council), bayoujo@aol.com (Joe Esquivel, City Council), JEsquive@lakewoodcity.org (Joe Esquivel, City Council), oldeacon@aol.com (Larry Van Nostran, city council), LVanNost@lakewoodcity.org (Larry Van Nostran, city council), stacro@aol.com (Steve Croft, city council), DDuBois@lakewoodcity.org (Diane DuBois, City Council), HChamber@lakewoodcity.org (Howard Chambers, City Mgr), SRuyle@lakewoodcity.org (Sandi Ruyle, Deputy City Mgr), LNovotny@lakewoodcity.org (Lisa Novotny Asst City Mgr), MStover@lakewoodcity.org (Mike Stover Asst City Mgr), "Denise Hayward, Lkwd City Clerk"

From: "www.LAAG.us | Lakewood Accountability Action Group"

Subject: web page..."Times change....Lakewood doesn't"

Cc: "Bob Brammer, Lkwd webmaster" , "Linda Price"

One of many examples of how you do a city web page right. http://www.cityoftemecula.org/Temecula/Government/Meetings_and_Agendas/CityCouncil/

FYI: temecula pop: 93,923 (2006)

Temecula: One click and you can email all the city council members with real city email addresses:

Lakewood: Email addresses not even provided

Temecula: Minutes and agendas posted TIMELY and archived (back to 1/06) in an easy to locate fashion

Lakewood: nope

Temecula: Agenda also have supporting materials on line!! All linked to the agenda..what a dream

Lakewood: Dream on...cant even get the agenda to the library next door on time...in good old 1950's paper version

Temecula: Full screen windows media (also on FIOS tv) and ARCHIVED ready for viewing ANY TIME

Lakewood: Better be sitting at your computer at 730pm stream time as its not archived video like everyone else does on You Tube

Temecula: Public hearing notices: http://www.cityoftemecula.org/Temecula/Government/PublicHearing/

Lakewood: Nope

Temecula: Business licences on line:

Lakewood: cant even put the business lic. form on line! let alone the licences

Temecula Muni code: http://www.cityoftemecula.org/Temecula/Government/CityClerk/CodeOrdinancesResos/
(of course they use Lexis like many cities; first rate and up to date; the WHOLE code; I mentioned Lexis to you months ago)

Lakewood: only 2 muni code articles. Most of the code is missing. Project mired down and way behind the times and behind schedule.

Temecula: lots of current info on line http://laserfiche.cityoftemecula.org/weblink7/Browse.aspx?dbid=2

Minutes, agendas and ordinances back to 1989!!! Note they are even using a more updated version of Laser fiche than Lakewood (it has a search function Lakewood's does not...very helpful)

Lakewood: Nope...you want a record come down and look at it (..oh and were are closed alternating Fridays)

Temecula: parcel info all online: http://chtemp.cityoftemecula.org/GIS_ArcIMS/Viewer/Top/Viewer.asp?app=parcels

Lakewood: looked up "GIS" on Lakewood page and got this??: http://www.lakewoodcity.org/news/displaynews.asp?NewsID=822

Temecula: Entire 214 page current budget on line as well as the 2006-07 CIP Budget and the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) (160 pages)

Lakewood: Have to make due with 39 pages of cute pictures and pie charts http://www.lakewoodcity.org/civica/filebank/blobdload.asp?BlobID=3680
(dont want to get into all those numbers as the devil is in the details);

FYI: Lakewood budget 55 million and temecula is 61 million (but they have a few more residents and their own PD; yet another story)

Even the city council resumes are impressive: http://www.cityoftemecula.org/Temecula/Government/CouncilCommissions/CityCouncil/

(Of course I guess that is why the Temecula web page is clean, up to date and thorough (less fluff on softball and more meat on what the city is doing or not doing)

No go back and look at your web page again and see what you can improve. Quite frankly I think there is lots of room for improvement and I think Lakewood is in the bottom tier of cities with respect to meaty information on their website. On another note I also asked the city clerk in Temecula if the city will email electronic versions of documents for free and they said yes. And they responded the same day they received the email.