By Anne Lowe

OPEN GOVERNMENT – A Berkeley sunshine ordinance initiative petition has gathered enough signatures to ensure its place on the November 2012 ballot, but the fight is by no means over for supporters who want to see it become law.

On May 18, Berkeley City Manager Phil Kamlarz issued a report to city council members that said the sunshine ordinance would cost $2.1 million to implement. In addition to the costs, his office said the ordinance would redirect “staff resources away from current functions in order to meet new obligations,” and the ordinance could also “significantly affect the level of service that the city is able to provide to the community.”

Dean Metzger of the Citizens’ Sunshine Committee responded to Kamlarz’s claims in a seven-page rebuttal Monday. In the rebuttal, Metzger contends that Kamlarz’s report is “seriously flawed” because it fails to identify the conditions that led to the need for a sunshine ordinance; the estimated costs, he said, were also “no more than speculation based on a misreading of the proposal.”

Metzger uses excerpts of the city report that claim making copies of agenda packets would cost the city an additional $1.3 million per year to prove his point that the city’s figures were exaggerated.

The City Manager contends that the City would have to buy a new copier, and hire another employee, and, on top of that, pay $.19 per page for 3,365,000 additional pages of material.  These assumptions are hugely flawed. For one thing there is no requirement that agenda packets be in hard copy form:  if recipients prefer electronic versions of longer documents (and most will), there is no printing cost at all.  Even if hard copy is requested by all thirty recipients, the going rate charged by commercial copiers for large lots is no more than $.025-.05/page, all inclusive.
Nor would the inclusion of “Supporting Materials” in agenda packets come close to three million added pages.  “Supporting Materials” are defined in Section 1.30.050 S as “all Public Records…which are provided to members of a Legislative Body for their use in considering Agenda items for a particular Meeting”.  In other words, the documents to be added to the agenda packets are those that under the status quo have already been or in the ordinary course would be provided to the Council before it acts.  The only thing added by the Sunshine Ordinance is that these materials will now be equally available (usually on line) to the public.

Metzger also contends that Kamlarz does not accurately describe the contents of the proposed sunshine ordinance. The city-issued report claims, among other things, that the proposed ordinance could “considerable lengthen proceedings” because the public would have the right to alert a legislative body of potential violations of sunshine ordinance requirements.

He offers no support for this speculation. Indeed, any council member may make a point of order under the status quo, while members of the public often do so during the existing public comment period.  Contrary to the Summary, the ordinance does not require any immediate investigation by the City Attorney, or action by the legislative body.  The ordinance simply confirms the status quo, which has not led to any of the horrible results predicted by the City Manager.  In addition, should the “Public Alert” system uncover a violation, for example a noticing error such as recently occurred in the City of San Francisco, the City would save a significant amount of money by taking immediate corrective action.

Metzger said the city report is “a simple advocacy piece” because it does not describe both sides of the issues surrounding the proposed sunshine ordinance. “The Summary is in fact the best evidence we have that the City of Berkeley is in need of a Sunshine Ordinance as proposed by our initiative,” he concluded.