OPEN GOVERNMENT -- Government meeting laws forbidding deliberate secrecy and requiring formalized public notice and public comment periods may help the professional watchdogs like journalists and lobbyists, but optimum community participation in government demands some affirmative training and accommodation for the amateur majority, argues Greg Nelson in CityWatch LA.  The Obama Administration is showing leadership here, but Los Angeles isn't paying attention, he says.


After just six months in office, President Obama hosted the first
virtual town hall, started efforts to make it easier to get information
from the government, created an Office of Social Innovation and Civic
Participation, and began the widespread use of online technologies. 


Los Angeles hasn’t even thought about doing any of this, and seems
satisfied to have reached a technological plateau with e-mail, fax
machines, and voice mail.


The report concluded that governments need to embrace the fundamental value of equality of voice.


In Los Angeles, those who are able to attend City Council and
commission meetings at City Hall during the workday, have louder
voices. 


Evening meetings, online communication, and special working groups
could help level the playing field especially for those who because of
income, transit-dependency, family care, and language cannot
participate equally.


Maybe it’s a reflection of the fact that there is no representation on city commissions by the traditionally disenfranchised. 


A city ordinance requires the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment to
“arrange community empowerment education for top level city officials,
including elected officials and commissioners.”


Had this been accomplished by DONE, the city would be a step ahead of
the federal government in this area.  It’s not too late for Los Angeles
to make itself a national model.


DONE’s staff includes some brilliant people who bleed red, white, and
blue democracy and who could design training that should be mandatory
for commissioners and general managers, that explains why neighborhood
councils exist, and how to sit down and brainstorm solutions with the
councils.  They would love to see the department’s priorities shift in
this direction.


The training could tell the commission that the mayor’s view of public
participation goes far beyond giving one working day’s notice to come
downtown and engage in a one-way discussion for a couple of minutes.