Senators gauge public concern at Transparency in Local Government hearing

Senator Lou Correa

SANTA ANA— Senator Lou Correa held a hearing of the Senate’s Local Government Committee in Santa Ana Wednesday on transparency in government. I was unable to attend but the Voice of OC’s Tracy Wood was. From her report:

State Senate Committee Gets an Earful on Transparency

Sen. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana, said today he will introduce an omnibus disclosure bill making it easy for members of the public to learn how much local and state officials receive in pay and benefits.

Correa disclosed his intentions Wednesday following an afternoon-long hearing in Santa Ana on transparency in government held by the state Senate’s Local Government Committee.

The hearing and Correa’s bill are reactions to the pay scandal in the city of Bell. In Bell, former City Administrator Robert Rizzo, a majority of the City Council and other officials are accused of looting the city coffers to pay themselves millions in hidden salaries and benefits.

During hours of testimony, witnesses told the committee about how difficult it can be for the public to get ordinary public information, in spite of strong, decade-old state laws that require government agencies to make such information readily available.

Even major newspapers sometimes have to use lawyers to force public agencies to comply with the law, said Tom Newton, general counsel for the California Newspaper Publishers Association. The goal, he said, should be the ability of Californians to say “public pay is the public’s business.”

Read the rest of Wood’s story here.

From my perspective there needs to be allot more than disclosure requirements included in new transparency legislation. We have consistently found that cities and local government agencies routinely fail to follow public records and open meetings laws. There is little if any enforcement of such requlations  and virtually no penalties for violation. Absent a law with teeth, all we will have is another layer of paper, that says things should be done a certain way in order to make people feel like something is being done when in reality nothing has changed.

  4 comments for “Senators gauge public concern at Transparency in Local Government hearing

  1. Mike Tardif
    October 21, 2010 at 10:08 am

    Following is my testimony to the California Senate Committee on Local Government hearing.

    Thank you Chair Correa and Committee Members. I am a resident of Santa Ana – welcome to Santa Ana; here, is where my experience with local government lies.

    Regarding transparency and accountability by local elected officials, I believe that accessibility of residents to their elected representatives is an important factor.

    The City of Santa Ana has been described as a “Baby Bell” – I do not necessarily agree with that, but I do believe that there may be some similarities between how the Bell Council operated as compared to how the City of Santa Ana operates in the structure and conduct of council meetings.

    I have furnished each of you with copies of recent on-line news articles. The titles of these articles are, “Santa Ana Government – About as Transparent as a Brick Wall” (theliberaloc.com) and “The Secretive Start to Santa Ana City Council Meetings” (voiceofoc.org).

    Both of these articles go into detail to explain how the Santa Ana City Council goes out of their way to limit, constrict and discourage participation of residents of Santa Ana in City Council meetings.

    As an example, there is no set time for the public session of the Council meeting to begin. Residents do not know if their council meeting will begin at 5:15 or 6:30.

    Another example is that council meetings are not consistently held in Council Chambers – every other council meeting is held at a location other than Council Chambers.

    Council meetings should be held in Council Chambers at a regular time and a regular place in order to encourage Santa Ana residents to participate in their city government.

    To sum up, I believe that if you were to take some action – like putting some real teeth into the Brown Act – that you would strengthen the public’s ability to act as watchdogs over their local government officials. This would serve to help prevent future “Cities of Bell.”

    Senator Correa asked a couple of follow-up questions concerning the practice of other local cities in the structure of their council meetings and more detail concerning SA council meetings. He thanked me and indicated that my testimony was “enlightening” to the committee.

  2. mary
    October 22, 2010 at 7:58 pm

    IS there any video that show this event? how inconvenient was this event schelude I wonder why?. How many of the “little guy” peoplwas able to be there while the great mayority was busy ai order to put meal on their table!!!!!!! What a joke!!!!!!!!!!!!. Just another “get togethetr” between burocrats and group of interest!!!!!!!!!!.

  3. maryr
    October 23, 2010 at 3:40 pm

    Mr. Prevat I’m still waiting for a answer to my question:Was this “event” videotaped???????????. If the answer is yes, where can I get it?

    • October 23, 2010 at 4:28 pm

      Mary, I am not aware of any video from the event. YOu may want to call Senator Correa’s office to see if they know.

Comments are closed.