February 17, 2011

The Lakewood transparency in local government pledge

Update: see related post on need for transparency and our Candidate Review

We are asking all Lakewood City Council candidates, and incumbents, to agree in writing (they can just reply to us and we will post their pledge as weak or strong as it is) to the following transparency pledge and to introduce legislation to insure that a city ordinance or section is added to the Lakewood municipal code to address all these issues below. LAAG will be glad to assist in this process in any way feasible.

Some of these ideas can be implemented immediately. Some will take longer but that is no reason for foot dragging. All are very technologically feasible and are already being done by other local government websites. These proposals are all very low cost and quite frankly will cost less than most of what the city has spent so far on technology issues (had the full budget been posted as it should have we would know that figure!!)

Why Lakewood voters/residents need this pledge

"Transparency" is the linchpin to ensuring that the city government does what its supposed to do. Quite frankly it is one of the most important factors to ensure a democracy remains a democracy.

What do China, Iran, Egypt, N. Korea and host of other repressive regimes all have in common? No free press but most of all a total lock down on any information being leaked out other than what the government wants to have leaked out. The best way to insure you win re-election is make sure the voters never find out anything bad might be going on at city hall. The best way to do that is keep all information off line and away from snooping voters. Then when you run for re-election just say you support things like law enforcement, parks, baseball and puppies. Then get 2500 of your friends to vote for you no matter what and you are in. The rest of the voters have no idea what is going on as there is basically no media or investigative journalism going on (unlike in most larger cities) so the vast majority of voters have no real reason to vote...nothing bad is going on right? This is the formula Bell city officials used. Seem familiar to you? If Lakewood voters (all 41,000 of them) really felt strongly in favor of a candidate don't you think they would get more than 6% of the vote (3% of the population)? 2500 votes is not a mandate or an endorsement. Its a glee club.

Elements of this proposal were presented to (now) Candidate Joy Janes in December 2009 as proposed state legislation to be introduced thru Assemblyman Warren T. Furutani (D-Lakewood) but nothing ever came of it (no surprise there) Interestingly Janes re-requested it on 10/26/2010 (likely to use in creating her campaign website!). So it is not really a big surprise that she lifted some of our ideas to add to her current "platform" (of course with no thanks or attribution to LAAG).

Candidate Jeff Wood stated in one of his his campaign fliers he "support[ed] transparency in local government" but again no details what so ever on his website or anything else we could find on him. Disheartening. But this is typical with candidates. Say as little as possible. Just enough to get elected. Talking points are best. Don't use detailed substantive platforms, just mention your endorsements and that you belong to the YMCA. Who cares! We will discuss the candidates in detail in an upcoming post.

Both Wood and Janes are also long time sitting city commissioners so one has to wonder if they are so "pro" transparency why have they not enacted any of these proposals on their own commissions over the last 5 years. Again talk is cheap and politicians will say anything to get elected. That's why.

On Jan 7, 2011 LAAG sent all the candidates a link to some recent Long Beach proposed ordinances regarding transparency (here and here) so really all the candidates and the sitting council members have had more than ample opportunity to adopt these ideas as a platform but did not. LAAG also has posted numerous articles dealing with transparency over the years. The real question for voters is why have the city council and the two sitting city commissioners Janes and Wood not done more so far? What are they afraid of?What is the excuse they are going to hide behind?

We proposed our state legislation in December 2009. The City of Bell scandal broke in July 2010. Amazing. Again transparency is the key to keeping local government honest and under control. Anyone that fights against transparency is highly suspect as a politician in today's web enabled environment. Again its the appearance of impropriety that is the issue here not actual impropriety. Secretiveness breeds distrust. Oh and don't fall for the line that "all this stuff is out there" as its not. People don't have time to dig thru musty archives are do Public Records Act requests which as costly and time consuming for both the requester AND the city. People are busy with their lives. Government should make it easy for citizens to check up on what their elected leaders are doing. That should be part of what our tax money does. Posting it on the Internet accomplishes that at a very low cost.

This is a work in progress and will will amend this as time goes on as we refine it based on what other comparable cities are doing.Obviously there is lots of detail missing here which we will also try to flesh out as time goes by.

General conditions applicable to all postings:

* All material (material includes documents, photos, video or any other information in any form) must be posted as soon as it is made available to the city or city council. Static documents (like organizational charts) or information must be updated at least quarterly.

* All material must be posted on the web for a minimum of 2 years from date of posting regardless of the date of expiration of the information or notice. City emails should be archived for 5 years.

* All postings must visibly indicate to the viewer the day, month and year of the original date the document or material was first posted to the web;

* All materials posted must be text searchable (this includes pdf documents which can be rendered text searchable before posting)

* All postings to the web must be fully available to the "spiders" and "crawlers" of all major search engines such as google at the time they are posted and at all subsequent times. The material must also allow web search engines to "cache" posted material.

* Any material posted can of course be redacted to exclude private information already excludable from current Public Records Act request responses, such as home addresses, home phone numbers, social security numbers, drivers licences, etc.

* Postings of documents or other material must not require special software that must be purchased to view it. When possible documents should be posted in HTML or in open source formats. Documents or material must be downloadable and able to be saved on a viewers computer.

* If possible documents should have a unique URL or web address for the documents entire existence on the web.

* Any third party hosting site may be used to post documents but it should be a reliable host such as google.com and the city must use the most cost effective posting site and protocol.

* There must not be a user fee or registration requirement for viewing or saving any documents or material.

* Any Sheriff's department (LASD) material or that from any other contractor in city possession is subject to the same rules as the city with respect to posting and Public Records Act requests.

* The city can link to external government websites where such data is already posted so as to avoid duplication.

Material/information to be posted following above guidelines:

* Organizational chart for the entire city by department, listing the functions, duties and areas of responsibility of each department, in addition to all commissions and the city council. Also list the top three persons in each department with a photo, as well as that persons direct extension or phone line as well as their cell phone number, if city funded. This must be updated quarterly. All other employees or contractors working in the department listed by name and title and direct email address (not a general one).

* City email addresses (name@lakewoodcity.org) for all commissioners, elected officials, city attorneys, code enforcement people or any contractors working more than 20 hours per week for the city.

* video of all council and other city public meetings and include all public comments full length (not cut off like now after 30 or 60 mins and public comments intentionally cut off) at all city meetings (timely released on Chanel 31 via Time Warner and Verizon FiOS) and posted on line in an on demand streaming format so that it can be viewed at any time. Link the FULL agenda package and meetings minutes (when completed) with it. example from long beach In addition there should be an online public comment ability so that people can comment in writing via the internet on all agenda items and these comments should be viewable by all and archived.

* all written comments to city council or commissions by any person or entity.

* all so called "press releases" or information provided to local newspapers such as the Press Telegram will be posted to the city website the same day it is sent to any newspapers or publications.

* all information or "notices" required to be (or which generally are) posted in the city clerks office (or publicly posted) or posted in a newspaper of general circulation in the city (even though the City claims Lakewood has no newspaper of general circulation; see Govt. code sections 6000-6159) must be posted on the website at the same time with dates posted and expiration dates and shall remain posted on the site for two years.

* post all rules relating to Public records act requests, costs for copies, time frames and who to write to for such requests (example) Allow non profit groups (or individuals that could prove they were working as a “private attorney general” or for the “common good” sort of speak) to obtain records without cost if provided electronically and less than 10 hrs of government employee time is required to obtain them. Create a maximum number of free requests per year. Create a realistic pricing structure for the cost of providing digital info via email as opposed to paper. See prior bills (2006) SB 1832 and AB 2927 and (2007) AB 1393. Post all requests and responses to public record act requests.

* post links to all salary info posted here (this state site was put up due to calls from LAAG and many others after the Bell scandal broke). Post all other city salary/pay/reimbursements/per diem information not requested by the state controllers office on a quarterly basis.

* Post all sitting council members FPCC filed materials regardless of date or link to them on the FPCC site.

* Post all staff reports and presentations to the council, including photos, power points and video.

* Full agenda packets with the full agenda. example from long beach

* full meeting minutes with all attached followup information referenced or attached and linked to the meeting video. example from long beach

* Detailed City budget in excell or html form. Not only forecast but actual expenditures and check register logs. Update this quarterly. Also log all incoming revenue and source as well as cash surplus.

* The city's checkbook register should be posted online. This information provided should include: The amount of each payment; Date; Check number; To whom the payment was made (including the address); Scan of Invoice or Purchase Order or Check Request (this often provides significant drilldown detail including who approved it); What it was for; Budgetary authority for the expenditure; Functional expenditure category; Sources of funds; Links to the relevant contracts under which the payment was made.

* all FULL survey results paid for or commissioned by the city including information on the approximate geographical location (by street intersection or rounded street address of those polled) and number of resident polled.

* public calendar of all private meetings and public meetings under the Brown Act along with dates times and locations as well as contact persons for the meeting and anticipated attendees or speakers. Similar to what is being done now but in greater detail.

* list all business licences that are current and have expired in the past three years searchable by business name and address within the city

* list all vacant commercial property updated quarterly searchable by address or former tenant (Ironically we saw a city employee walking the streets just today looking at vacant commercial property. When we asked him what he was going he said making a list of all vacant commercial property sites so the city can create a master list...hmmm..so the taxpayers are paying for the collection of the data they just don't get to see it....wonder why...is it foreboding? Does it show how ineffective the city's redevelopment efforts have been vs what we have paid for them?)

* list all redevelopment funds as spent or scheduled to be spent that budget year by address

* City contracts should be made available to the public once they are completed and become final. Placing completed contracts on line - with all private, personal information redacted - would support and demonstrate openness and transparency in government. The Sheriff's Department (LASD) should be included in this requirement.

* adopt as many of the ideas in the two Long Beach proposed ordinances (here and here) as possible to the extent any items were not mentioned in this LAAG proposal or to the extent the Long Beach proposals detail more information.

Lakewood Accountability Action Group™ LAAG | www.LAAG.us | Lakewood, CA A California Non Profit Association | Demanding action and accountability from local government™ click here to receive LAAG posts by email


One anonymous poster (likely a plant or one of the candidates...thus the anonymity) was perplexed why we were "blaming" lack of transparency on the sitting commissioners and not the sitting city counsel. We weren't. We are not letting anyone off the hook either, especially those who claim to be campaigning on transparency and also currently sit on city commissions. All we are saying is that there is no "transparency policy" at this time, so there is nothing stopping commissioners from being transparent other than state law. We welcome any information from the commissioners themselves as to how they tried to do things like post full commission agenda packets (not just abbreviated ones), why they did not obtain and or post all their email addresses and info on line etc. The campaigning commissioners apparently have the time to run campaign websites but not enough time to post their own blogs like this ever since they have been on a commission and or post public items or documents from their OWN commissions on their own sites. Nothing illegal about this. I have not seen a case made by the commissioners noted above for holding them blameless for their own lack of transparency on their own commissions or why we should blame the city council for the commissioners own lack of diligence. LAAG is not saying that the commissioners should set policy for the whole city, the city council or the city website. But again we see no indication that transparency talk amongst the commissioners running is anything but campaign fodder.

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