Ordinance Aims to Increase City Government Transparency

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Correction Appended

In an effort to increase transparency and shine light on city government proceedings, the Berkeley City Council approved an open government ordinance Tuesday despite some concerns that the ordinance lacks clarity on how it will be enforced.

The first reading of the Open Government Ordinance passed unanimously and will be implemented after the council approves a second reading. If the ordinance passes the second reading, the council will hold 24 meetings each year - one more than last year - and agendas will be distributed 11 days prior to each meeting.

Councilmember Gordon Wozniak said the new ordinance will allow the public to better monitor city council and access public documents.

"We need some sort of review process to hear citizens' complaints and to assess whether there are things to change or fix them," Wozniak said.

As it reads currently, the ordinance would designate the members of the Fair Campaign Practices Commission to serve on the Open Government Commission, which will act on behalf of the public to address citizen complaints in regard to transparency in city government.

Dean Metzger, chair of the Citizens' Sunshine Committee - the group that wrote the Sunshine Ordinance, which will appear on the November 2012 Berkeley ballot - said that while making the meeting agendas available earlier is "a really positive move forward," the Open Government Ordinance does not keep the council accountable.

The main differences between the Sunshine Ordinance - which was put on the ballot after the council failed to meet with the committee on multiple occasions - and the Open Government Ordinance are the commission structure and means of the ordinance's enforcement, as well as a difference in which government proceedings are deemed confidential.

"All (the committee) can do is advise the city council that broke the rules," Metzger said.

Under the Sunshine Ordinance, a commission, called the Sunshine Commission, would be created with new membership solely committed to sunshine, according to Metzger.

However, Wozniak said the passage of the Sunshine Ordinance in 2012 would require "an enormous effort in terms of additional staff time" and further set back the goals of open government. He added that the Sunshine Ordinance requires all meetings to adjourn earlier, which would require a lot of effort from city council and city staff.

At the council meeting Tuesday night, several council members altered the language of the ordinance.

One component of the drafted ordinance required the council meetings to begin at 6 p.m., but Mayor Tom Bates said the earlier time was too strict and amended the ordinance to maintain the meeting's 7 p.m. start.

The amendments to the ordinance were passed 7-2 with Councilmembers Jesse Arreguin and Kriss Worthington voting against the change in start time in addition to other amendments proposed in Bates' recommendation.


Correction: Friday, February 18, 2011
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that if the Berkeley City Council passes the open government ordinance on the second reading, the council will hold 26 meetings each year. In fact, the council will hold 24 meetings if the ordinance is passed.

The Daily Californian regrets the error.

Contact Katie Bender at [email protected]

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