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If you contact Gerrie Schipske through this site on any matter pertaining to the City of Long Beach, a copy of your contact will be forwarded to her official city email as an official public record.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Why Are They So Scared of Transparency?

Tonight, with Mayor Foster’s behind the scenes urging, the seven other members of the City Council killed any consideration of several political reforms I put on the agenda.

The reforms – which are in place in several other cities (San Jose, Santa Ana, Los Angeles), would:
1. Make the Mayor and City Council members disclose if they are communicating with a lobbyist or contractor or developer at council before a vote on an issue impacting that lobbyist or contractor or developer. This would let the public know of communications that effect votes.

2. Make the text messages and emails generated by the Mayor and the City Council on their personal phones and computers public records if the contents are about official city business.

3. Ban political contributions from lobbyists, contractors, developers and those bidding on business with the city. The federal and state government and several cities have this ban in place.

Let me be clear. My proposal was to send these items to the Council Elections Oversight Committee so they could be discussed and worked out. This council wouldn’t even let the ideas be discussed.

What a contrast between this Mayor and the Mayor in San Jose, Chuck Reed who made open government a major platform of his administration. Mayor Reed posts his calendar on line as does his Chief of Staff and all of the Council members. Mayor Reed called and got the City Council to enact policy three years ago making elected officials' personal email and text messages about city business public records subject to disclosure.

How sad that several of the council members who wouldn’t let these items get further discussed are the first to tweet and facebook and email how much they support transparency in government.

Taxpayers deserve to know what their elected officials are doing and who they are communicating with. Playing the game that as long as the communication isn’t on a city phone or computer that no one should see it, is insulting to voters who understand that technology makes it possible for instantaneous conversations and that those conversations should be public.

What is so special about elections in Long Beach that we can’t step up and ban contributions to political campaigns and officeholder accounts from lobbyists, contractors, developers and those bidding doing business with the City? The federal and state levels and several California cities ban these contributions to prevent the practice and appearance of “pay to play.” Long Beach needs to do the same.

Since the Mayor would not allow discussion of the issue after it was killed and no councilmember dare speak why they were against these political reforms, the public was not given the opportunity to hear, just what they were all so scared would happen if we made these communications public and stopped the flow of political contributions. Democracy perhaps?

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Why We Need Political Reform in Long Beach.

magnifying glass
magnifying glass (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Heard through the grapevine that some are “freaked out” by my proposals to reform political contributions and private communications with lobbyists and contractors. The proposals will be on the Council agenda this Tuesday and I encourage you to let me and the other Councilmembers what you think about them.

Simply put, it is time that the City of Long Beach prohibit taking political contributions from contractors, potential contractors and anyone doing business or applying to do business with the City. The City also needs to proactively put in place requirements that electeds disclose text messages and emails on their private cellphones and computers that are related to the conducting of city business during a council meeting and any other time.

These proposals are part of my continued push to make local government more open, transparent and accountable. In the past, I have pushed very hard to register lobbyists and to prohibit gifts from them. I also proposed that City Council members disclose at the beginning of a vote whether or not he/she has had contact with anyone who has expressed an interest in the council agenda item. This is a requirement made for the State Coastal Commission and I pushed for it to be enacted for votes on the Medical Board of California, on which I serve. Unfortunately, the council rejected that proposal. 

I have also advocated for putting online the calendars of the Mayor and City Councilmembers. To date, only a couple of Councilmembers put their calendars on line. The public deserves to know who we are communicating with that may have an impact on our votes.

We wouldn’t be the first city council to put these reforms in place: The Mayor and City Council of San Jose have their calendars on line as well as their key staff persons’ calendars. The Mayor and City Council of San Jose are required to disclose before a vote if they have received a text or email during the council meeting on an agenda item. And most recently, the Mayor and City Council of San Jose are now required to disclose texts and emails from their private cellphones and computers if the contents are related to conducting official city business. This last reform came as a result of the City being sued and the court ruling that these communications are public records.

The federal and state governments prohibit political contributions from contractors and/or bidders on contracts. Many other cities prohibit contributions from potential and current contractors. It took the voters of the City of Los Angeles to put that requirement into law. But certainly our Council could step up and put them in place without a ballot measure.

Because the details of both proposals need to be worked out, I am recommending that they be referred to the Council Committee on Elections Oversight with a return to Council within 120 days.  I know we can do this.

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