In campaign season, open government and transparency become favorite buzzwords of those running for office.
Once they’re in power, the concepts can tend to become less attractive to them.
While we’re still in the campaign phase, we wanted San Diego mayoral candidates Carl DeMaio and Bob Filner to make specific open government promises. We asked both of them to fill out a 10-question survey on public records, electoral transparency, communication with city departments and public access to the Mayor’s Office.
Both candidates are promising greater access to public information than current Mayor Jerry Sanders. Here’s a summary of what they’ve both agreed to do, followed by an analysis of their individual ideas and links to their full survey responses.
They’ve pledged to:
Impose No New Fees
They said they would not impose any new fees on public records, including those that Sanders had proposed in May for data collection.
Publish Meeting Calendars Online
This would allow the public to see who they’re meeting with without a formal records request, as is now required for Sanders’ calendar.
Release Records Without A Deputy’s Review
Currently, a Sanders deputy reviews many records requests before they’re released to the public even though it’s not required by law. Both said they wouldn’t have a deputy review the requests, which should deliver records to the public faster.
Not Allow Secret Votes
In the run-up to the Convention Center expansion financing election, the city wouldn’t release information about the number of votes controlled by each hotel company. That kept the public from knowing the power that major companies had in raising San Diego’s hotel-room taxes.
These only became public to a limited extent only after a protracted fight. DeMaio and Filner said they wouldn’t allow similar situations to happen again.
Be Personally Accessible
They pledged to be available to the public directly through town hall-style meetings or open office hours.
Protect Open Meetings Laws
Despite a recent state waiver, both said they would continue the city’s compliance with state open meeting laws.
Hold City-Affiliated Organizations Accountable for Records Laws
The city has a number of affiliated organizations, such as business improvement districts and the Convention Center Corp., that aren’t directly under its control. These kinds of organizations don’t have the best recent history on public access issues. The candidates said they would intervene if necessary to make sure they’re compliant.
Republican City Councilman Carl DeMaio’s Plan
DeMaio’s open government plan not only aims for greater transparency, but also for promoting his broader platform.
DeMaio wants more competition among the private sector for city business and less spending on employee compensation. He believes that making contracts and bids for city work and employee salary and benefit information easily accessible online will help.
“Transparency for transparency’s sake obviously is important,” DeMaio said in an interview. “This is the people’s government. The public has a right to know. But with transparency you can actually correct some of the problems that we’ve had in the past.”
He said he’d continue to push for more transparency ideas once he’s elected. Right now, city candidates only are required to disclose campaign contributions above $100. DeMaio wants every contribution disclosed and said he would push for immediate, instead of periodic, campaign disclosures. He also said he will publish performance standards for city departments online regularly.
DeMaio said he’d continue publishing his calendar online, something he’s done since he was elected in 2008. When he first announced his open government plan in March a press release said DeMaio published his calendar, “so that the public can see exactly who he is meeting with about city issues … “
As DeMaio has ramped up his mayoral campaign, however, this has become less relevant.
Over four weeks in April, for instance, the calendar has “Hold for Carl” 37 times with no description of what DeMaio is doing or who he’s meeting with. Sixteen of those blocked off at least eight hours at a time.
DeMaio said that “Hold for Carl” was shorthand his staff used when he was doing campaign work, personal business or needed time to read or write. Asked about the proliferation of “Hold for Carl” on his calendar, DeMaio replied: “Every meeting I have with people on the outside regarding city issues, that’s on the schedule. Because if I’m discussing city issues with someone I want to make sure that I provide all that transparency.”
If that’s true for April, then it looks like DeMaio didn’t meet with anyone about city business with the exception of people inside City Hall. Aside from “Hold for Carl,” the calendar only appears to list public events, internal meetings and media interviews.
• DeMaio’s open government proposal.
• DeMaio’s responses to Voice of San Diego transparency survey.
Democratic Congressman Bob Filner’s Plan
Filner’s transparency plan relies on a new city Open Government Department and the person leading that department.
He’s tapped former Democratic City Councilwoman Donna Frye, who is on the board of a statewide public records advocacy group, to be in charge. The department, Filner said in the questionnaire, will assist the public, council members and city staff to receive information quicker than they do now.
“The Mayor’s Office has a responsibility to ensure the public has an opportunity to obtain information and participate in government decision making so that they have faith in our government,” Filner said in the questionnaire. “Otherwise, any decision made becomes suspect and the public loses trust.”
And unlike many of his policy proposals, Filner has identified a way to pay for his new department. He said the money would come from the Mayor’s Office’s budget, which was $5.8 million last year. Potentially, Filner said he would save cash by cutting some mayoral press aides. (Sanders now has at least four.)
Filner also committed to being available three Saturdays a month for walk-in, one-on-one meetings with members of the public, providing open government training for all city staff and beefing up the city auditor’s access to employees and records.
Filner said in the questionnaire he would put his schedule online on a weekly basis, but not internal memos. The memos are public records. Filner didn’t respond to an interview request to explain why he didn’t plan to publish them.
Update: After this story published, Filner’s campaign sent a statement saying said he would publish online memos from him and his top deputies. Filner originally had interpreted the question to mean draft memos, the campaign said. We’ve also updated Filner’s questionnaire.
• Filner’s open government proposal.
• Filner’s responses to Voice of San Diego transparency survey.
Liam Dillon is a news reporter for Voice of San Diego. He covers San Diego City Hall, the 2012 mayor’s race and big building projects. What should he write about next?
Please contact him directly at email@example.com or 619.550.5663.
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