Eye on Sacramento Calls on City Council to Modify Its Ad Hoc Committee’s Proposals

MEDIA RELEASE

For Immediate Release
Release Date/Time: September 14, 2015; 11:15 a.m.
Contact: Craig Powell, President, Eye on Sacramento
E-mail: craig@eyeonsacramento.org
Phone: (916) 718-3030

Erik Smitt, EOS Policy Director
E-mail: erik@eyeonsacramento.org
Phone: (916) 215-2275

Eye on Sacramento Calls on City Council to Modify Its Ad Hoc Committee’s Proposals

to Include Meaningful Ethics and Transparency Reforms to Restore Public Trust

At a morning press conference today at Sacramento City Hall, representatives from Eye on Sacramento, a local government watchdog and policy group, publicly called on the Sacramento City Council to take the time to consider EOS proposals for comprehensive and meaningful ethics, transparency and accountability reforms.

On Thursday, the City Council’s Ad Hoc Committee on Good Government publicly released for the first time its proposed “good government” reforms and announced its plan to have the City Council act on such proposals tomorrow night.

“In the past nine months, Eye on Sacramento and its co-sponsors have hosted 10 well-attended public forums on city ethics, transparency and redistricting reforms.  Our coalition prepared and presented a detailed summary of the practices of other major California cities.  Our four study groups have spent the past four months considering the input we’ve received at our forums, and researching and preparing a comprehensive package of reforms to restore accountability to city government.

“Meanwhile, after 10 months of closed-door meetings, the three members of the council’s ad hoc committee have revealed their “good government” proposals and called for immediate adoption of their proposals by the city council with essentially zero opportunity for the public to evaluate their proposals.  Sadly, this is what passes for open and transparent government in Sacramento these days,” said EOS president Craig Powell.

“The proposals released by the Ad Hoc are threadbare at their best and an exercise in misdirection at their worst.  The public should not and will not accept window dressing dressed up as real reform.  We have reviewed the Ad Hoc’s proposals and find them deficient in almost every regard:

(1) The Ad Hoc’s proposals fail to establish a meaningful set of transparency reforms.  To contrast the Ad Hoc’s efforts to merely “centralize” existing limited transparency laws in a new Sunshine Ordinance, EOS presents today its 69 specific transparency reforms that our Open Government Subgroup is recommending be included in a new Sunshine Ordinance. (See “Table of Proposed Sunshine Ordinance Reforms,” available at the link below.)

(2) The Ad Hoc’s proposed ethics code fails to establish any new standards of acceptable behavior, fails to address the lack of accountability with regard to claims of harassment and bullying allegations against senior city officials and fails to deal with growing public concern over the appearance of influence-buying via unlimited charitable contributions made at the specific behest of elected city officials.

(3) The Ad Hoc’s proposed Ethics Commission gives the appearance of increased accountability without the substance of it.  Its staff would not be answerable to the Commission, but to the City Clerk.  The Ethics Commission could not initiate its own investigations and or decide which complaints to pursue, but would, instead, be entirely dependent on a city employee who would serve as a “gatekeeper,” passing along only those complaints and initiating those investigations that he or she deems appropriate.  The proposal includes no dedicated funding for the Ethics Commission, leaving it to the discretion of the City Council to fund it or not fund it on annual basis, an approach which led to the neutering of the Oakland Ethics Commission.  Further it fails to empower the Ethics Commission to initiate removal proceedings against those city officials who engage in egregious conduct, including willful or corrupt misconduct.

(4) Even Mayor Johnson’s “Strong Mayor” Initiative included a section that provided that those city officials found to have “substantially violate[d]” the ethics code would be subject to removal from office.

(5) Most troubling of all, the members of the Ad Hoc’s Ethics Commission would be appointed directly by the very politicians whom it is supposed to monitor and, if necessary, discipline.  The failure to provide for the independent appointment of Commission members is a fatal flaw that assures that the Commission will never be truly independent and will never enjoy the public’s confidence as the city’s ethics watchdog.

“Each and every one of these deficiencies is avoided in the comprehensive package of reforms released by Eye on Sacramento two weeks ago and viewable on its website (here).  While city staff may have excluded EOS representatives from its closed door meetings in recent weeks on these issues, we encourage the full City Council to carefully consider the value of each of every one of our proposals in the weeks and months ahead.

“Finally, it is rather offensive to any notion of open and participatory government for the City Council to vote on the Ad Hoc’s proposals a mere five days after they were first released.  These are serious and far-reaching matters that will effect city government for generations to come.  We urge the Council to process the Ad Hoc’s and EOS’s recommendations through its standard council procedures, starting with public hearings by its Law and Legislation Committee.  Give the Sacramento public a chance to participate in the process instead of shortchanging their rights through a rush to judgment.” Powell concluded.

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To view/download a copy of the Table of Proposed Sunshine Ordinance Reforms click here
To view/download a copy of the Sunshine Ordinance Summary click here
To view/download a copy of the Ethics Code Summary click here
To view/download a copy of the Ethics Commission Summary click here
To view/download a copy of the Redistricting Commission Summary click here
To view/download a copy of the 12-page “Summary of Public Comment” click here

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