By CImages-13arl DeMaio and DoImages-12nna Frye, Members of the San Diego City Council 

See Voice of San Diego for original story and reader comments

OPEN GOVERNMENT -- March 15-21, 2009 marks "Sunshine Week" all across
the countr
y. No,
we aren't predictin
g a week with perfect weather -- though we usually
are blessed with that in San Diego. We're talking about a week
dedicated to advancing the
cause of "open government" -- an issue where
we
are not quite as blessed. Open government is a simple concept that holds the public has a right
to know what government is doing -- and why. Open government is not
just about shining a light on what is going on inside government, it is
also about engaging and empowering the public to get more involved in
the processes of government.

By commemorating a Sunshine Week,
the goal is to better educate the public on what kinds of government
information they have a right to access -- and how to best access it.
More importantly, the focus on Sunshine Week is to push elected leaders
to reform government processes to make them more open and accessible to
the public. For example, the City Council majority voted recently to
increase the number of evening meetings to make it easier for the
public to participate.

Progress
has also been made regarding closed session meetings. In 2004,
significant reforms included requiring more detailed descriptions of
all closed session items, and that the public be provided the
opportunity to speak on all closed session items. The ultimate goal was
to ensure that closed sessions were the exception to the open meeting
requirements, not the rule. Although not required by law, a provision
was added requiring all closed session meetings to be transcribed. 

Later
that year, an open government ballot measure was approved by over 80
percent of the voters. This measure changed the City Charter by
shifting the burden from the public to the government to show there is
a real and legitimate need for secrecy before any requested public
information is withheld thus making it easier for the public to obtain
information. 

Last year, we launched a bipartisan "Council
Governance Project" to generate additional open-government reforms.
While we are making progress, more needs to be done. Here are a few we
think need to be implemented this year.

Contract Transparency:
The public has a right to know who is getting taxpayer-funded
contracts. We have proposed that all city contracts in excess of
$25,000 be posted in a searchable format online on the city's website,
and any contractor that has received in excess of $25,000 cumulative
from the city also be posted with links to all contracts awarded to
that contractor.

Budget Process Reform: City taxpayers
deserve to know what service levels they receive for their tax dollars.
In recent years there have been concerns that there is not enough focus
on using performance measures to define service levels -- and that
mid-year budget changes have adversely impacted service levels without
the City Council or the public knowing in advance. We have proposed a
"Performance Budgeting" ordinance be passed to provide a formal role
for the City Council in selecting performance measures -- and require
that quarterly performance results be posted online for the public to
track.

Improved Disclosure of Docket Materials: Timely
and complete access to public documents relating to a pending municipal
decision should be the centerpiece of an open government. Providing the
public with supporting documents to the docket allows for additional
review and scrutiny of the data, information, and arguments being
presented to councilmembers in support of a decision. Unfortunately,
there have been numerous instances where supporting information for a
docket item has arrived late -- preventing councilmembers and the
general public from having an opportunity to adequately review the
material before a decision is made. We have proposed new rules to
ensure timely disclosure of documents--and of course we stand ready to
raise objections when documents are not provided to the public.

Expanded Use of City TV:
City TV Channel 24 is an important resource that city officials can use
to keep the public informed on issues facing the community and possible
solutions and services available. At present the Office of the Mayor
controls the scheduling and use of City TV -- raising concerns about
the City Council's ability to effectively and equally use this
important public information resource. We have proposed to clarify
policies to ensure equal access to City TV for all elected
officials--and have suggested additional public interest programming be
offered using City TV.

While
we are from different political parties, we both are committed to
working together to advance open government in San Diego. If you want
to join in that effort, use "Sunshine Week" as your opportunity to
contact your elected representatives and encourage them to let the
light pour into every level of government.

Donna Frye and Carl DeMaio are
members of the San Diego City Council. What do you think? What could
the city do to be more transparent? Send in your thoughts here and set the tone of the discussion.