UPDATE: The Sacramento City Council ended up keeping the 10-day posting requirement for contracts greater than $1 million. Here’s an excerpt from the editorial Don’t Pull Back on Open Government in the March 12, 2014 Sacramento Bee:
Safeguarding open government is a constant struggle. Backsliding can happen easily if people aren’t vigilant…Yet there was a proposal before council members to kill the 10-day rule for big contracts – at least until The Bee’s editorial board starting nosing around and a local watchdog group raised a stink.
Tuesday night, the council said it would keep the “sunshine” rule, and several members spoke in favor of transparency. But even the prospect of backtracking was disturbing, and the timing was curious, to say the least. It only fed suspicions that the city is trying to ram through the downtown arena deal.
As watchdog group Eye on Sacramento pointed out in a Monday letter to council members, next month they are to consider the final financing agreement for the planned downtown arena. It’s a deal that could use as much public and media scrutiny as possible, given how important the project is for the city and how much taxpayers have at stake. Last March, the council was criticized for making a mockery of transparency by approving the current arena “term sheet” only three days after it had been made public.
The group Eye on Sacramento probably prevented the Sacramento City Council from repealing the policy without controversy. See the group’s alert letter, below.
One week before the annual “Sunshine Week” to recognize and promote open and accessible government practices, the Sacramento City Council has an item on its March 11, 2014 meeting agenda to repeal its policy that all agreements greater than $1,000,000 shall be posted on the city’s website and be made available to the public at least 10 days prior to council action (unless waived by a 2/3 vote of council).
See the staff report: Council Rules of Procedure.
The item is disguised on the city council meeting agenda as the innocuous-sounding “Pass a Resolution approving the Council Rules of Procedure.” I’ll admit looking at the agenda on Friday, March 7 but not recognizing this as anything significant. They fooled me.
The City of Sacramento did not fool Craig Powell of the watchdog group Eye on Sacramento. He sent this email to the city council and other Sacramento leaders this afternoon:
From: Craig Powell
To: Sacramento City Council and Others
Sent: 3/10/2014 3:38:40 P.M. Pacific Daylight Time
Subj: EOS Objects to Repeal of the 10-Day Sunshine Rule on $1MM+ City Contracts
Dear Mayor Johnson and Members of the City Council,
We are writing to express our strongest possible objection to the proposal before you tomorrow evening to gut the current city council rule that requires that all city contracts involving more than $1 million be posted on the city’s website and be made available to the public at least 10 days before the council takes action on such contracts.
This 10-day posting/disclosure rule is commonly known as the city’s “Sunshine Rule” and was adopted to assure that the public and the media have adequate time to review and provide feedback to you on the terms of major city contracts before you vote on them (Council Rules Chapter 7, Section E-2-d; http://sacramento.granicus.com/MetaViewer.php?view_id=21&event_id=2435&meta_id=412675 ).
The council’s adoption of the Sunshine Rule has been the single most important upgrade in city government transparency in the past 20 years.
Had the Sunshine Rule been in place when the city was considering approval of its 20-year exclusive, no-bid prime garbage contract with BLT Enterprises (now Waste Management) in 2010, it is unlikely that such an unfair and grossly burdensome contract would have been imposed on hapless city utility ratepayers. Because the Sunshine Rule was not in place at the time, the egregious city/BLT Enterprises contract was jammed through late at night during the final session of the term of the city council with zero public or media awareness or analysis. The Sacramento County Civil Grand Jury has castigated the city for both the atrocious terms of the BLT contract and the shady circumstances under which it was approved (Grand Jury, 2011-2012 Reports, page 39; New Tab).
The proposed draft of the new council rules proposes that the Sunshine Rule apply in the future only to city labor contracts – which are already covered by the current Rule since every city union contract involves more than $1 million. Gutting the Sunshine Rule would return us to the council’s bad old days when it all too often provided de minimis notice to the public and the media of the terms of large contracts that have a lasting and major financial impact on the city. That is simply unacceptable.
How can you expect the citizens of Sacramento to trust the city council and city government when you are taking active steps to hide from them the details of major city contracts? When you intentionally change the rules so you can provide inadequate public notice of the terms of major contracts you only breed public cynicism and suspicion over what it is you are trying to hide from the public.
For example, is it sheer coincidence that this move to gut the council’s Sunshine Rule is occurring just three weeks before you are set to approve a massive public subsidy of a new sports and entertainment facility, set for April 1st? Somehow we doubt it.
There has been no showing whatsoever of any need to water down the Sunshine Rule. The council already has a relief valve in place in cases of exigent circumstance: the council, by a 2/3rds vote, can choose to waive the 10-day posting requirement.
We can only surmise that some council members are seeking to gut the Sunshine Rule now in order to deprive the public and the media of a reasonable opportunity to review the several hundreds of pages of legal documents that will comprise the “arena deal.” We can only conclude that you don’t want the public and the media to have adequate time to review the documents, determine the impacts and provide citizen feedback to you, their elected representatives.
If you approve this rule change tomorrow evening you will be sending a clear signal that you want to keep the public and media in the dark for as long as possible about the final terms of the arena deal and deprive them of the time needed to adequately review the final deal and provide informed feedback to the council. No council member voting to gut the Sunshine Rule could ever again creditably claim to be supportive of transparency and openness in city government.
We beseech you: please show a higher level of respect for your constituents and reject this misguided effort to gut the city’s Sunshine Rule. Thank you.
Very truly yours,