Billion-Dollar Budget … City spending to increase 25 percent over five years

By Craig Powell

First, there’s the headline number: The city is poised, for the first time in its history, to spend more than $1 billion in the fiscal year that begins on June 30. Total general-fund spending (which pays for police, fire, etc.) is set to hit $450 million next year, while “enterprise” spending (primarily, the utilities department) consumes $584.2 million.

The city expects to employ 4,552 people next year, a slight increase over the current year, but an increase of 720 positions from five years ago. The city expects to employ 130 fewer people than it did in 2008.

City officials are forecasting that the budget will sink into major deficit beginning in just two years, when a general-fund operating deficit of $11 million is expected to grow to $26 million by 2022. You would expect that a city manager, facing the prospect of such red ink, would propose a city budget for next year that calls for major cuts in spending to head off the coming fiscal ditch. But you would be wrong. Fiscal discipline is a very foreign, even suspect concept at City Hall these days. In fact, city manager Howard Chan’s recently released budget forecast anticipates sharp increases in general-fund spending on city operations over each of the next several years, rising from $412.9 million this year to $515.9 million in 2023, a 25 percent increase in operations spending over five years—a spending pace that’s more than twice the inflation anticipated during that period.

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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.

###

RT on the Rocks … Fight over fare hikes splits transit board

By Craig Powell

 

To get a sense of how broke Regional Transit is, consider this analogy. Let’s say you’re part of a Sacramento family. You have a fairly well-off, middle-class lifestyle, but in the last couple of years you’ve really splurged, buying yourself a big, new Mercedes and a big, pricey cabin up at Lake Tahoe, all financed to the hilt. Meanwhile, the small business you run, RT Clothing, has never regained the boatload of customers you lost when you decided to jack up your prices by 20 percent in the middle of the last recession (oops), leaving you with a flat income for years. Fortunately, your wife, a retiree who collects both a military pension from the federal government and a healthy state government pension, has been collecting cost-of-living increases for years. She brings home close to 80 percent of the family income these days, bless her. Together, you have a family income of close to $150,000 per year.

The charming new home you bought 30 years ago in Light Rail Estates is showing serious signs of age and, let’s be honest, neglect. Your roof is shot, the paint’s badly peeling, you may need a new furnace and your backyard pool has algae stains and a rather unpleasant odor. Lately, some of the sketchier kids in your neighborhood have been jumping over the fence when you’re not home, swimming in your pool, hanging around for hours on end and leaving their trash everywhere. It’s gotten so bad that many of your longtime friends no longer accept invitations to your summer pool parties. You’ve spotted some of them going into Bob and Nancy Uber’s backyard down the street. The Ubers put in a nice, new pool last year and they let their friends drop in to swim whenever they want.

Things are going so-so until one day you decide to open up your bank and credit card statements for the first time in six months. You’re stunned (stunned!) to see all of the savings you thought you were socking away each month have somehow evaporated. Not only that, you owe a whopping $18,000 on your Visa bill. (How did that happen?) In a panic, you check the balance in your checking account and your heart sinks further. You have just $3,000 in cash and, at the rate your family burns money, it will be long gone in three months’ time.

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The Grinch Backs Down – Utilities Department Reverses Policy In Time For Christmas

By Craig Powell

Inside City Hall

Last month, my column included my Christmas gift wish list to city leaders, pretty much all of which involved wishes for changes in the city’s troubled Department of Utilities. Instead of granting any of my wishes, the DOU acted like the Grinch last month when it announced the repeal of a decades-old policy under which it would repair breaks in the sewer pipes that run between a resident’s house and the sewer main that typically runs down the middle of city streets or alleys. This change in DOU policy was poised to sock a number of Sacramento residents hard in the pocketbook this season, including a widow on 34th Street, when a sudden reversal of DOU policy chased away the Grinch and saved Christmas for some Sacramento families, with an excellent assist by an able and energetic local TV news station.

Here’s a little plumbing lingo you’ll need to know: The sewer line that runs between your house and the city’s sewer main is called a lateral. The portion of the lateral that lies underneath your front yard is called the upper lateral, while the portion of the lateral that’s underneath sidewalks and city streets (and alleys) and connects up with the sewer main is known in the biz as the lower lateral.

Under a new DOU policy that went into effect on Oct. 1, the city stopped repairing both the upper and lower laterals, leaving it to homeowners to pay the often high cost of repairing such lines. The new policy is part of a DOU effort to reduce the level of service it provides residents while charging ever more for it (which, come to think of it, is pretty much a citywide policy now). It’s like tech industries but in reverse. For example, a couple of years ago, the city stopped picking up recyclable waste on a weekly basis and reduced service to every other week. We also lost street cleaning service as well as the claw, apart from its reappearance for three months at this time of year. After a brief pause, garbage rates are once again climbing. Of course, no one at the DOU suggested that garbage rates be lowered to reflect reduced levels of customer service.  Monopolists rarely do.

How much could homeowners end up paying under the DOU’s new policy on sewer laterals? In a recent ABC10 report on the issue, Karen Silva, owner of Navajo Pipelines, a major city contractor on the water meter project, said replacing a lateral line under a major thoroughfare could easily cost $50,000. She also expressed concern about the quality of work that some contractors might perform. “What if we have sinkholes? What if the sewer main collapses? Then what?”

Coincidentally (I think), in mid-October I had a lower lateral line collapse in the alley that adjoins an apartment house I own in Midtown. What would have been repaired by the DOU without charge two weeks earlier would now end up costing me $5,000. The ABC10 report included an interview with Clara Cid, the widow of the late renowned Sacramento Chicano artist Ricardo Favela. Cid was dealing with the same problem at her home on 34th Street: a break in the lower lateral in the alley behind her home. She faced the prospect of a Christmas ruined by the costs imposed on her by the new DOU policy.

But there actually is a “good news” ending to this story for Cid, as well as 40 other city residents who were informed in the past two months of problems with their sewer lines. Once ABC10 started peppering DOU with questions about its new policy, the DOU abruptly changed its policy once again, announcing that it would repair breaks in lower laterals. (But homeowners will remain responsible for repairs to their upper laterals.)

What left something of a bitter aftertaste about this episode was a follow-up email the city sent to Joe Rubin, the producer at ABC10 who produced the story. The email, from city media officer Linda Tucker, claimed, “The change in direction [returning to the former policy of the DOU repairing lower laterals] is in no way a result of any questions posed to the City by ABC10. Staff had been having conversations about a definitive direction throughout the last four weeks.”

The question is: Does anyone really believe that? To believe it, you’d have to believe that city staff began having “conversations about a definitive direction” (whatever that means) of the new policy almost from the instant the new policy was implemented, a policy that was itself implemented after months of DOU internal deliberation. It’s possible, but very unlikely. It’s much more likely that the DOU abandoned the new policy after feeling the heat of ABC10’s attention to a dumb policy that was causing Cid and others like her major financial grief. Why didn’t they simple acknowledge that ABC10 coverage was about to shine a very bright light on a dumb policy change and they decided to drop the new policy so the DOU wouldn’t look quite so much like a Christmas Grinch?

To understand the city’s highly defensive posture on such matters, you first have to understand the role that investigative journalist Joe Rubin and the media companies he’s been associated with (first, Sacramento News & Review and, now, ABC10) have played in exposing multiple instances of major waste and misconduct in the DOU over the past year or so.

Rubin’s exposes have included revealing tens of millions of dollars of waste in the installation of water meters in city sidewalks; exposing the wasteful DOU practice of abandoning backyard water mains long before they’ve exhausted their useful life; exposing the DOU’s use of a chemical in the city’s water supply that led to concentrations of a likely carcinogen that city tests revealed exceeded maximum EPA standards for almost a year; and revealing contracting irregularities and overbillings in the DOU’s chemical contracts.

This is not the first time city staffers have said that changes in city policy following a Rubin expose had nothing to do with Rubin’s news coverage. On Nov. 21, just one week after publication of Rubin’s blockbuster story in Sacramento News & Review that revealed wasteful practices in the city’s water meter and water main projects, city manager John Shirey announced that the city was changing its policies and would start installing water meters in people’s yards instead of in sidewalks and that each backyard water main would be examined to assess its remaining useful life. Shirey stated in his announcement that he had asked the DOU to conduct a review of the water meter and water main programs “well before [Rubin’s] article appeared,” meaning that the changes in city policy had nothing to do with Rubin’s expose.

Side note: Under the city’s new policy, water meters are supposed to be installed only in folks’ yards unless a homeowner specifically requests that it be installed in the sidewalk and agrees to pay a $400 fee. But Eye on Sacramento, the watchdog group that I head, is receiving reports that meters are still being installed by default in city sidewalks. We’re also received reports that DOU contractors are not always examining backyard water mains to assess their remaining useful life but are, instead, abandoning such mains and digging up streets unnecessarily to move water service to the street. (If you observe such practices in your neighborhood, please drop us a line.)

We at EOS were pretty skeptical of Shirey’s claim that he had ordered a review of the water meter program “well before [Rubin’s] article appeared.” So we filed a records request with the city that sought copies of all communications between Shirey and the DOU relating to Shirey’s alleged directive to the DOU to conduct a review of the meter and water main programs before Rubin’s article was published. City staff was unable to locate any such communication. It’s possible that Shirey instructed DOU director Bill Busath by phone or in person to conduct such a review, but it’s not likely. A city manager of Shirey’s skill and experience would almost certainly have made sure that a directive from him to a department director calling for a review of two of the largest capital improvement projects in city history be documented, at least by email.

Rubin gets under the skin of city managers because his stories uncover waste, fraud and abuse of taxpayer and ratepayer money and bad policies that embarrass city managers who, frankly, ought to be doing a better job of overseeing city government. It seems that they just cannot stand for Rubin to get any credit for triggering positive changes in city policies. Instead, they attack his stories.

Shirey’s public rebuke of Rubin and ABC10 for the story on excessive levels of a likely carcinogen in the city’s water supply made the point that the city never violated an EPA regulation. Well, that’s fine, but it’s also not relevant: The ABC10 report never claimed that the city violated an EPA regulation. ABC10 reported that numerous city tests showed that the city’s use of a test chemical (ACH) led to elevated concentrations of a likely carcinogen in the city’s water supply beyond that allowed under EPA standards for nearly a year. The report also expressed suspicions that the city may have shifted testing locations and taken the extraordinary step of injecting county water into the city water supply just days before a mandatory EPA test in order to dilute concentrations of the carcinogen to below EPA limits to avoid violating an EPA regulation and triggering an EPA citation.

The city is even hounding reporters who report on the ABC10 story, namely yours truly. After publication last month of my column, which included a brief summary of the ABC10 story on elevated levels of a carcinogen in the city water supply, the city’s Linda Tucker fired off an email to Inside Publications publisher Cecily Hastings that accused me of “propagating false information about our drinking water.”

Well. I knew that Rubin had the test reports in hand that proved the aEl Centro Reservoir trihalomethanesccuracy of his story. I also knew that ABC10 had its story vetted by ABC’s corporate legal counsel before running it. But out of an abundance of caution, I asked EOS policy director Erik Smitt, an engineer and experienced water plant operator, to analyze the data. He selected the test reports from a single city test site for review and plotted a graph that tracked the levels of the carcinogen over time. (You can view the graph at eyeonsacramento.org.) Smitt found that the mean (or average) concentration of the carcinogen at the test site throughout the one-year period in which the city was injecting the chemical ACH into the city’s water supply exceeded the allowable EPA standard of 80 parts per billion.  El Centro Reservoir trihalomethanes

Meanwhile, I’m pleased to report that Cid’s Christmas was not ruined by the DOU Grinch, thanks to the skilled and energetic reporting of the ABC10 team. As Cid was quoted as saying in the news broadcast, she considers the reversal of the DOU policy her family’s “own miracle on 34th Street.” And, yes, I’ll be asking the city in the New Year to credit me for the $5,000 plumbing bill I paid to replace the broken lower sewer lateral in the alley behind my property.

 

PROPOSED CITY UTILITIES RATE HIKES

January marks the beginning of key hearings on the city’s proposal to increase water rates by 9 percent, sewer rates by 10 percent and storm drainage rates by 16% in each of the next four years. The rate hikes are expected to increase a typical Sacramento homeowner’s monthly city utilities bill from $116 to $185 per month.

To express your views on the proposed rate hikes, I encourage you to attend the city’s Utilities Rate Advisory Commission meeting at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 27, in the city council chambers in New City Hall (915 I St.). The commission’s recommendations will then likely be considered by the city council in either February or March. You can stay up to date on developments, as well as find out how you can help in the effort to moderate city utility rate hikes, by signing up for EOS email updates at eyeonsacramento.org.

 Craig Powell is a local attorney, businessman, community activist and president of Eye on Sacramento, a civic watchdog and policy group. He can be reach at craig@eyeonsacramento.org or 718-3030.

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 Releases Package of Proposed City Reforms

MEDIA RELEASE

For Immediate Release
Release Date/Time: September 2, 2015; 10:15 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

Restoring Accountability:

Eye on Sacramento Releases Package of Proposed

City Ethics, Transparency and Redistricting Reforms

At a press conference this morning, local government watchdog group Eye on Sacramento (EOS) presented a package of ethics, transparency and redistricting reforms proposals for the City of Sacramento.

“The reform proposals we are releasing today are the culmination of ten very well-attended public forums held in every part of Sacramento earlier this year, followed by three months of extensive research and careful deliberation by our numerous volunteers and study groups, “said EOS president Craig Powell.  “These reforms are designed to make Sacramento the most open, transparent and ethically accountable municipal government in California and to help restore citizens’ trust in their city government.  It’s a package in which we, as citizens and residents of Sacramento, can take real pride,” Powell added.

The package includes summaries of each of the “Four Pillars of Reform:”

(1) A cutting edge Sunshine Ordinance that will make it easier for residents to participate, and have a more effective role, in City decision-making and will open up City government records and data to public review and media scrutiny to the greatest extent practicable;

(2) An Ethics Code that will set minimal standards of ethical conduct expected of our city officials;

(3) An independent and empowered Ethics Commission that will have the means and authority to hold public officials accountable for misconduct and to exonerate them whenever they’re subjected to unsubstantiated claims, through the application of rules that will provide strong due process protections; and

(4) An independent citizens Redistricting Commission that will, at long last, bring an end to the unhealthy and undemocratic practice of councilmembers drawing their own council district lines (aka picking their own voters) and shift that power to a panel of citizens who will have final authority to draw council district boundaries.

Also presented was a 12-page “Summary of Public Comment” (copy attached), that recaps the numerous comments received from the public at our Kick-Off Forum in February, our seven District Forums and our final Work Shop Forum at the Clunie Clubhouse on May 17th.  The forums were jointly sponsored by EOS and the League of Women Voters, as well as 23 co-sponsoring community organizations.

Public Disclosure of Proposals Before Closed-Door Negotiations With City Officials

“Representatives of our reform effort are expecting to meet within the next few days with city officials in closed door meetings to discuss our reform proposals in detail, to explore common ground and to, hopefully, reach agreement on the adoption/endorsement of a set of reforms that are mutually acceptable to all parties,” Powell said.

“Before our representatives go behind closed doors to negotiate these proposals, however, we feel we have an obligation to first release our reform proposals to our forum attendees, our supporters, the media and the public at large,” Powell added.  “The public deserves to know exactly where we stand at the beginning of these negotiations so that they can assess where we end up at the end of them,” Powell concluded.

Plan B: A Ballot Initiative

“We’re pursuing these reforms on two different, but parallel, tracks.  Given the significant time and effort it takes to qualify an initiative for the November 2016 general election ballot, we’re entering into negotiations with city officials in pursuit of a mutual agreement while we’re concurrently taking the steps necessary to qualify our reform proposals for the November 2016 ballot,” said Powell.  “It is our great preference that we reach an acceptable agreement with city officials, but we’re doing the necessary ground work to bring our reform proposals before Sacramento voters in November 2016,” Powell added.

“Given the growing number of claims asserted against councilmembers, the city auditor’s recent finding of nepotism in the Department of Utilities, the city’s efforts this year to mass delete 85 million e-mails, the alleged use of city staff and resources for political purposes and the shrouding of city e-mails via the use of private e-mail accounts, the need to establish accountability in city government through effective ethics, transparency and redistricting reforms is acute,” Powell concluded.

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To view/download a copy of the Media Release 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

Fire Alarm … Ambulance Reform Would Challenge Firefighters Union

By Craig Powell

In some sense, the city’s fire department is a 20th century relic operating in a 21st century world. And with its entrenched practices staunchly protected against change by what’s acknowledged to be the city’s most powerful union, Fire Fighters Local 522, the fire department has been essentially immune to efforts by city officials to drag it into modernity. Few have even tried to reform it; none has come anywhere close to succeeding.

To his credit, freshman Councilmember Jeff Harris has stepped up to the plate and is making cost-saving reform of the city’s ambulance service, operated by the fire department, a major priority. What’s more, he may very well succeed where most haven’t even bothered to try.

Why is the fire department so resistant to change? Fire chief Walt White is only the 21st chief in the department’s 165-year history. And he’s the first chief in city history to be appointed from outside of the ranks of the fire department. Organizational change is not exactly a prevailing value in the fire department. White didn’t have to travel far to take the job. Before joining the fire department last year, White spent his career with the Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District, a nearby district with a long history of paying firefighter salaries that are among the highest in California and a district board dominated by members elected with the financial support of Local 522.

Apart from history and tradition, the status quo in the fire department is vociferously defended by Local 522, whose political action committee typically brings in $150,000 annually and whose cash balance stood at $330,000 at the end of last year. It showers money on candidates for city council. When Angelique Ashby ran for the council in 2010, Local 522 not only gave her campaign $6,500; it spent another $26,826 in an independent expenditure campaign on her behalf. Such outsized political “investments” buy influence and power.

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