Steinberg’s Consulting Arrangements with Metropolitan Water District

MEDIA RELEASE

Date/Time: June 2, 2016, 3:00 p.m.
Contacts: Craig Powell, President,
Eye on Sacramento
Phone: (916) 718-3030
E-mail: craig@eyeonsacramento.org

Eye on Sacramento Calls on Mayoral Candidate Darrel Steinberg

to Fully Disclose the Details of His Contractual Relationship

With Southern California’s Metropolitan Water District

Sacramentans learned for the first time yesterday from a Sacramento Bee story that Darrell Steinberg, while actively seeking the support of Sacramento voters for his mayoral bid, has been covertly providing strategic consulting services to the politically powerful Southern California-based Metropolitan Water District (MWD) whose interests are very much at odds with the interests of the City of Sacramento and its residents on just about every major water issue facing our region. Steinberg’s law firm, Greenberg Traurig, has been collecting $10,000 per month from MWD for Steinberg’s services since July of last year.

Eye on Sacramento (EOS) has been championing the adoption of meaningful transparency and ethics reform in the City of Sacramento for the past 18 months. EOS co-hosted 10 public forums on the subject last year, helped form a broad coalition of supportive community groups and presented reports and proposals for a model ethics code, a robust ethics commission, a strong Sunshine Ordinance and an independent redistricting commission.

We are troubled that Sacramento voters who have already voted via absentee ballot (now fully half of all Sacramento voters) did so without the knowledge that one mayoral candidate was effectively on the payroll of the MWD. While nothing can be done at this late date to cure that significant informational failure, there are some immediate steps that Mr. Steinberg can and should take to fully explain the nature and extent of his relationship with MWD for the benefit of voters who will be casting their ballots on Election Day.

Questions that Mr. Steinberg should now answer include: When did he and MWD first begin discussing a consulting arrangement? How much of his time over the past year has he devoted to providing “strategic advice” to MWD as called for in the contract? Has he been maintaining time records of his services? Will he publicly disclose such records? Has he provided any “deliverables” to MWD, such as reports and other documentation? Will he and MWD now disclose such documents? What public officials in our region did he meet with in the service of MWD’s goal of building relationships with North State stakeholders? Will he and MWD voluntarily release copies of their e-mail communications with one another, without the need for submitting formal public records requests? (Note: Steinberg was providing “consulting services” for MWD, not legal services which would have been protected from public disclosure under the attorney/client privilege).

The voters of Sacramento deserve to know if Mr. Steinberg, in providing consulting services to MWD while campaigning for Sacramento mayor, has been acting appropriately, ethically and loyally as both a Sacramento resident and an aspirant to the mayor’s office or has he acted in a manner that is at odds with the long-term best interests of Sacramento and its residents?

By promptly and fully disclosing these matters to the Sacramento public, Mr. Steinberg will go a long way towards allaying legitimate public concern over the role he is playing with MWD. If Mr. Steinberg fails to provide such disclosures, we would encourage the Sacramento County Civil Grand Jury to consider initiating an investigation into Mr. Steinberg’s relationship with MWD to uncover the facts. One way or the other, Sacramento voters deserve to know the facts and implications of Mr. Steinberg’s dealings with MWD.

The contract between WMD and the Greenberg Traurig law firm involving Mr. Steinberg’s consulting services to WMD may be viewed on the EOS website via this link.

###

Review of Proposed City Sunshine Ordinance and Code of Ethics

November 10, 2015

Via E-Mail
Members of the Law & Legislation Committee,
Sacramento City Council
New City Hall
915 I Street
Sacramento, CA 95814

Re: Review of Proposed City Sunshine Ordinance and Code of Ethics

Dear Members of the Committee:

Eye on Sacramento (“EOS”) submits the following comments to the proposed sunshine ordinance and the proposed ethics code that were prepared by city staff and publicly released Thursday afternoon.  The proposals come before your committee today, November 10, 2015, at 3:00 p.m. at City Hall.   Our comments include four attachments:

Sunshine Ordinance-Related

Attachment #1 – Draft Sunshine Ordinance, with sections labeled as either “New” or “Existing” (i.e.  meaning sections that would merely codify existing law or practice, rather than establish new rule), or are “Vague” or “Ineffectual.”

Included is aFramework of Recommendations on Open Government, with those Framework items that have been omitted from the draft ordinance identified as “Not Adopted.”

Attachment #2 – EOS’s Table of Proposed Sunshine Ordinance Reforms (69 reforms), with those reforms not included in the draft ordinance identified as “Not Adopted” (59 of 69).  The Table lists the sunshine reform proposals that EOS and the Open Government Subgroup of the Sacramento Integrity Project crafted in response to a broad community conversation initiated and co-sponsored by EOS and involving 10 well-attended forums throughout the city.

Attachment #3 –  Milpitas’ Sunshine Ordinance –  Milpitas, a modest-sized South Bay city, is one of ten Bay Area cities that have adopted thoughtful, comprehensive and effective sunshine ordinances that are serving to significantly open up local governments to their citizenry.

Ethics Code-Related

Attachment #4 – Draft Ethics Code, with notations of those sections that are “New,” “Existing,” “Vague” or “Ineffectual.”

Included is aFramework of Recommendations on Ethics Reform, with those Framework items that have been omitted from the draft ordinance identified as “Not Adopted.”

Attachment #5 – EOS’s Summary of Proposed Ethics Code, with those items not included in the draft ordinance identified as “Not Adopted.” The summary identifies the critical elements that an ethics code must include to restore diminished public trust in the administration of Sacramento city government.

The Frameworks in Attachments #1 and #4 set forth the terms of an agreement reached by Ad Hoc representatives and representatives of the League of Women Voters, California Common Cause and private attorney Gary Winuck following a series of closed-door meetings in early September.  The terms of the Framework were approved by the City Council at its meeting on September 15, 2015.

Overall Comment

The substantive provisions of each proposed ordinance comprise just a few pages of text that are in many instances vague, largely repetitious of existing law and city practice, ineffectual, minimalist, as well as unenforceable promises of future reviews and improvements, backed up by an enforcement clause that assures zero consequences for violations.  The staff proposals are not a serious effort to enact real transparency or ethics reform in Sacramento.  They are, in general, a restatement of existing practices, designed to offer the public the window dressing of reform but not the substance of it.  Such a minimalist approach fails to address the aspirations of the public for serious open government and ethics reform at City Hall.

Codification of Existing Law or Practice

Consistent with the posture that the city has adopted towards transparency and ethics reform since the public conversation on these issues began earlier this year, we are not surprised to find that fully eight of the 26 provisions of the draft sunshine ordinance, and 13 of the 17 provisions of the draft ethics code are, in whole or in part, duplicative of existing state law, city code or existing city practice. The codification of existing practice would have some minimal value if the ordinance served to impose actual consequences for their violation.  But neither ordinance lays out any consequence for their violation and even includes declarations that violations will not constitute either a misdemeanor or an infraction.

No Consequences, No Reform

An ordinance is a law.  Adopting laws which explicitly state that there will be no legal consequences if they are violated – as is the case with these ordinances – renders such laws a dead letter and would only serve to undermine respect for the law.  The fact that the draft ordinances expressly disavow any penalty for their violation is clear evidence that the intent of these ordinances is to mislead the public into believing that meaningful transparency and ethics reforms are being enacted when, in fact, such ordinances amount to little more than glorified press releases.  If proponents were serious about reform, the ordinances would provide that willful violations be punishable as misdemeanors.

Ad Hoc Committees

 If proponents were serious about opening up city government to the public, they would require that all meetings of council ad hoc committees be conducted in full accordance with the Ralph M. Brown Act (“Brown Act”), which would require advance public postings of agendas, public access to meetings, the public’s opportunity to be heard and publication of meeting minutes, excepting only for matters that can properly be considered in executive session under provisions of the  Brown Act (such as litigation and personnel matters).

Requiring ad hocs to just give an oral report on the substance of their closed-door meetings at the next council meeting is ineffectual.  There is no way to determine if such reports are accurate or honest.  The requirement is so vague that an oral report that merely states that “we had a robust discussion of X” would suffice to comply with the mandate.  The council needs to give up its proclivity to use secretive ad hoc proceedings and bring all of their committees fully into the light by subjecting them to the Brown Act.

Policy on Public Records Management Policy and Retention Schedule

City policy on the availability to the public of city records is a major policy matter that should be set by the city’s highest policy-making body, the City Council.  Instead, the proposed sunshine ordinance (in section 4.04.080) delegates the power to establish the city’s “records management policy, which …include[s] the city’s records retention schedule” to the city clerk.  That must change.  The city clerk performs ministerial duties and is not authorized by the city charter to set city policy.

Failure to Address Retention of City E-Mails, Use of Private E-mail Accounts

The proposed sunshine ordinance does nothing to assure that specific city records will be available to the public.  It fails to set retention schedules for critical records, including city e-mails that have become the primary communication method for city government.  Due to the falling costs of electronic storage, city e-mails can be kept almost indefinitely for minimal costs.  The city no longer faces old concerns over bulging file cabinets and pricey office space needed to store an ever expanding volume of physical documents.   City e-mails should be stored for a minimum of 10 years, not the two years provided under the city’s obsolete policy.  With modern search tools and storage devices, the volume of retained city e-mails has little impact on the city’s ability to identify e-mails sought by the public.

Similarly, the proposed sunshine ordinance utterly falls to address the growing problem of city officials using private e-mail accounts and servers to shroud and prevent public disclosure of e-mails involving city business, undermining the spirit California Public Records Act.   We are mindful that California courts are currently split on the status of such e-mails, but there is no legal or policy reason why the city council cannot or should not adopt a provision in the sunshine ordinance that requires that all city business e-mails be received and transmitted using only city-issued e-mail accounts and mandate that all e-mails passing through such city-issued accounts be deemed city records.

Proposed Ethics Code Lacks Critical Elements

The proposed ethics code is almost entirely a rehash of existing state law, city law and city practices.  It includes neither a general requirement that city employees act ethically, nor any specific standards of behavior or prohibitions of wrongful behavior.  It is a mere gloss of duplications, slightly expanded training requirements, and another unenforceable obligation to provide future recommendations for improvements.

The major provisions that are missing from the proposed ethics codes are:

  • It fails to give the ethics commission the authority to initiate removal proceedings in Superior Court against senior city officials in cases of corruption or egregious misconduct in office.
  • It fails to require council members to abstain from voting on matters that will financially benefit their major campaign contributors.
  • It fails to limit the out-sized behested payments that create the public appearance that donors are buying influence, particularly donors who give large sums to nonprofits controlled by the soliciting officeholder.
  • It fails to prohibit city officials from accepting post-city employment with firms that have financially benefitted from the decisions of such city officials.
  • It contains no requirement that city officials promise to testify truthfully before the council, with potential career consequences for failure to keep their promise.

Extensive Failure to Include Provisions Called for in the Framework

The proposed sunshine ordinance fails to include eight of the 12 provisions called for in the Framework, while the proposed ethics ordinance fails to include seven of the 12 provisions of the Framework.  It is inexplicable how city staff, after Council approval of the Framework, could fail to include over one-half of its terms.  The duty of city staff is to carry out to the will of the City Council, not to decide which Council edicts to follow and which they can ignore.

Conclusion

The proposed ordinances demonstrate a lack of commitment to the values of open government and accountability for the ethical conduct of city business.  The ordinances may hoodwink the public into believing that real reforms have been adopted – for a while.  But if these ordinances are adopted as proposed, it shouldn’t take long for the public to discover just how ineffectual they are in responding to the problems of opaque city government and unethical conduct by city officials.

We urge you to reject the proposed drafts and implement real reform.  If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to call me at (916) 718-3030.

Very truly yours,
Craig Powell, President

 

Enclosures
cc: City Council
John Shirey, City Manager
James Sanchez, City Attorney
Shirley Concolino, City Clerk
Media Distribution List
EOS Board of Directors
Open Government Subgroup

Sacramento needs real ethics reform, not city’s fake version

SOAPBOX

OCTOBER 4, 2015

City Council is finalizing a package of proposals on ethics and open government

Eye on Sacramento says its reforms are much more robust

Public won’t be satisfied with weak changes

A bitter divorce on ethics reform

FOON RHEE

SEPTEMBER 30, 2015

Eye on Sacramento and League of Women Voters joined forces to push City Hall

But after holding 10 public forums, the two groups disagreed on policy and tactics

Now, league is backing city plan, while watchdog group is mulling ballot measure

BY FOON RHEE

Sacramento City Council ethics reform is a must

EDITORIALS  SEPTEMBER 7, 2015

HIGHLIGHTS

Watchdog group’s ethics recommendations should not be dismissed

Public accountability and access are properly the focus of recommendations

Ironically, City Council committee has been discussing ethics behind close doors

IMG_J_JV_051215_COUNCIL__2_1_MP4QAIUU_L126192555

Sacramento City Councilman Allen Warren was replaced as leader of the council’s ethics reform effort after news of a sexual harassment claim against him. Warren has denied his former aide’s allegations. José Luis Villegas jvillegas@sacbee.com

BY THE EDITORIAL BOARD

As Sacramento’s elected officials hem and haw, a local watchdog group has set the bar on transparency and ethics reform.

After holding public forums with the League of Women Voters, Eye on Sacramento is calling for four major changes at City Hall:

▪ An open government ordinance that guarantees and increases public access and accountability. It includes keeping all city emails for at least 10 years, requiring ad hoc City Council committees to meet in public and adding an independent city auditor, not one appointed by the council.

▪ A city ethics code, including strict rules on nepotism, conflicts of interest and sexual harassment, plus a cap on donations made to charities at the behest of elected officials. That would hamstring Mayor Kevin Johnson, who has persuaded donors to contribute huge sums to charities of his choice.

▪ An independent ethics commission, likely appointed by retired judges, to enforce the code and state ethics laws. It would have the power to subpoena records, compel witnesses to testify under oath and to fine and censure officials, or even seek to kick them out of office.

▪ An independent redistricting commission to draw City Council districts. There should be no doubt this is needed for the 2020 Census after the fiasco after the 2010 count. The council appointed a citizens committee, but ignored its maps and approved its own.

These are reasonable ideas deserving of serious consideration by a City Council committee, which was appointed by the mayor and is supposed to issue its report later this month.

We don’t know exactly what the council panel has in mind because it has been meeting in private – which is amazingly hypocritical.

The mayor’s spokesman assures us the council’s recommendations will reflect all citizens’ values, not just those of a special interest group. Eye on Sacramento’s proposals should not be dismissed lightly.

If the council does not approve reforms, Eye on Sacramento is prepared to go to the ballot in 2016. It would be far better if council members and the group’s leaders can agree on a plan. Whether in office or outside City Hall, everyone should want a more open and ethical government.
Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/opinion/editorials/article34326018.html

 

 

Eye On Sacramento calls for Moratorium on deletion of City of Sacramento e-mails

MEDIA RELEASE

June 29, 2015
Contact: Erik Smitt, Policy Director
916-215-2275

At a press conference today on the steps of Sacramento City Hall, leaders of Eye On Sacramento, a member of the community coalition pressing for robust ethics, transparency and redistricting reform of City government, called on City officials to halt the City’s announced plan to mass delete City e-mails on July 1st and to place a six-month moratorium on the deletion of City e-mails pending the ongoing and robust community conversation over needed reform of City government.

“The Ethics and Transparency Reform Project has drawn hundreds of City residents to public forums.  These forums held in every council district in the City over the past three months with the consistent message we received was loud and clear: the people of Sacramento want a major upgrade of ethics and transparency in their City government.  Even the City council has an ongoing initiative to upgrade City ethics and transparency.  For City officials to even entertain the idea of a mass deletion of millions upon millions of City e-mails dating back years in the face of this citizen-led reform movement is an affront to the will of the public and their aspirations for a more open, more responsive and more ethically accountable City government.” said Eye On Sacramento, Debra Desrosiers.

“We call on the mayor, the City council, the City manager and the City clerk to do the right thing, to do the responsible thing,  and stop the deletion.  The cost of electronic storage of e-mails has dropped to virtually nothing in recent years, imposing no burden on City government.  The cost of searching such e-mails to respond to the public’s request for records is a necessary cost of open government and democracy, not a reason to shred the history of the City, to frustrate the public’s legitimate access to public records or to stymie pending and future civil and criminal investigations into potential wrongdoing and lawbreaking by City officials,” said EOS Policy Director Erik Smitt.

Smitt added, “How many e-mails are City officials planning to trash?  Believe it or not, even City clerk Shirley Concolino has no idea how many would be deleted.”  “We have no way of knowing,” she stated in a recent e-mail to Craig Powell, President of Eye On Sacramento.

“We know from hearing from citizens at our forums that City government is operating with a major league trust deficit,” said Eye On Sacramento,  Erik Smitt.  “Citizen trust in City government, indeed, all levels of government, is at an all-time low.  We see it in falling participation rates in City elections and City meetings.  We see it in recent election results. We all hear it at the grocery store, in the coffee houses and around the dinner table.  Let’s be clear: there is no better way to rebuild the public’s trust in City government than to adopt meaningful ethics and open government reforms and there is no better way to further destroy that trust than to mass delete decades of City e-mails in the face of public calls for greater transparency in City government,” Smitt added.

As part of the press conference, EOS Policy Director Erik Smitt delivered a gift of a one-terabyte USB drive to the clerks at the public counter of the City clerk’s office, which provides enough storage space, he says, to store approximately 10 to 25 million e-mails, which EOS acquired for a total cost of $65.09

At least two citizens of Sacramento, with standing, have made Public Record Requests that include emails planned for deletion

Under the City’s new records policy, e-mails would be deleted two years after their transmission or two years after the project to which they relate is completed.

###

Speakers included:

Erik Smitt, Policy Directory, Eye On Sacramento
Debra Desrosiers, Eye On Sacramento Board Member
Jean Fleury, Eye On Sacramento Board Member
Joe Rubin, Journalist and Investigative Reporter

Lawsuit Filed in Sacramento County Superior Court to Enforce the California Public Records Act

MEDIA RELEASE

July 6, 2015
Contact:
Erik Smitt, Policy Director, 916-215-2275, Erik@ eyeonsacramento.org
Paul Nicholas Boylan, Attorney, 530-297-7184, PNBoylan@gmail.com

In a press release today Eye On Sacramento, a member of the community coalition advocating for robust ethics, transparency and redistricting reform of City government, notifies the press that a lawsuit has been filed with the Sacramento County Superior Court seeking to enforce the California Public Records Act (CPRA), and an application has been made for a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) to prevent the City of Sacramento from deleting emails that form a critical, irreplaceable part of the public record.

If the application for a TRO is denied, the City will destroy these emails on Wednesday, July 8.

The hearing for the TRO will take place at the Gordon D. Schaber Sacramento County Courthouse, 720 9th Street, Sacramento, on July 7, 2:30 pm, Department 24, the Honorable Judge Shelleyanne W. L. Chang presiding.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Richard Stevenson, member of Eye On Sacramento and Katy Grimes, President of the Sacramento Taxpayer’s Association. Both Plaintiffs have made formal requests to access to emails the City intends on destroying on July 8 and are suing the City under the CPRA to enforce their rights to gain access to these records.

Plaintiffs are asking Judge Chang to issue a TRO preventing the City from destroying the emails Plaintiffs want to access because, if the City destroys these emails, the lawsuit will be rendered moot and Plaintiffs’ – and the public’s – constitutional right to access these emails will be irrevocably injured.

“My clients understand the City’s desire to manage the City’s email archive,” said Paul Nicholas Boylan, the attorney representing the plaintiffs in the CPRA enforcement lawsuit. “But the City’s interest can’t violate the public’s fundamental right to access public records. The City’s plan to destroy these emails after my clients have asked to see them is like a librarian burning down an entire library because a member of the public has asked to check out and read one book,” Boylan said. “It is unthinkable that this might actually happen.”

As noted in news reports of an ongoing trial in Sacramento Superior Court, public officials have deleted records even after legal notifications to preserve those same records. Eye On Sacramento supports Richard Stevenson and Katy Grimes in their lawsuit to enforce the California Public Records Act and their application for a restraining order to prevent the City of Sacramento from destroying public records.

“Eye On Sacramento is focused on transparency and citizen access to all mechanisms of government. Deletion of public records is contrary to the principles of Open Government and the public’s right to know.” Erik Smitt, Policy Director.

Open Government … transparent, responsive, accountable!

###