Native Authorities Expanded Public Remark Potentialities For Residents Throughout Covid. Will Politicians Flip Again the Clock?
T.Here is one reason why it is popularly called government.
And not government by politicians.
The California standard for open meetings dates back to 1953.
The big debate in our state now is whether it is time to use this standard virtually.
Norberto Santana, Jr.
A pioneer in the country’s burgeoning nonprofit news movement and an award-winning journalist. Santana established Voice of OC as Orange County’s premier news officer, exposing the truths in the governments of Southern California, and reporting on Congress and Latin America for more than two decades. Subscribe to You will now receive his latest columns by email.
Most open government advocates support this change – making it easier to attend a local government meeting from home by adding call-in, zoom, and email options for public comments.
However, it appears that many government agencies and their associations across California are opposed to calling for such an expansion of public commentary, with the cost being the main argument.
Throughout the pandemic, one of the biggest challenges facing local governments with closed town halls has been dealing with public comments.
But many cities have done just that.
A number of cities – such as Santa Ana and Irvine – have introduced call-in options for public comments and given residents the ability to zoom in to comment or send comments by email.
Nobody went bankrupt.
During the pandemic, the county’s low-tech option – with the exception of a few small towns – came from the Orange County Board of Supervisors.
At the direction of the district regulators, anyone wanting to comment on the district policies had to go to the civic center and stand in line – without any masking requirement being enforced.
While many local residents complained that regulators’ actions created a one-sided view of public opinion on things like masks or vaccines, regulators opposed efforts to introduce alternative, virtual methods of measuring public opinion.
It wasn’t until a CalOSHA ordinance was issued in the fall that county regulators began getting county counsel Leon Page to read emails from residents claiming a disability.
The comments Page read were generally critical of their supervisors, but Page’s reading was quite insightful and, in many cases, entertaining and funny.
They were soon cut down.
And while the county CEO Frank Kim bragged at several public press conferences last year that the Board of Supervisors was the only body to make its deliberations publicly available during the pandemic, the board’s history changed, as one large number of residents turned up.
Earlier this month, when hundreds of local residents spoke during a public commentary to express their concerns and fears about things like masks, vaccines, and the response to the coronavirus, Regulatory Authority Chairman Andrew Do limited each person’s speech to just 30 at a time Seconds what most citizens really offended spokesman.
Regardless of whether Orange County’s regulators like it or not, people have a right to speak – no matter what side of an issue they are on.
And whether it’s masks, vaccines, or the recent housing estate, public order at the local level can get tough.
However, there is nothing wrong with the public debate.
America is based on that.
That makes us stronger and freer.
Discussion and debate always bring better politics.
It takes more time, however, which always protects against fraud, waste and abuse.
I learned that what politicians often don’t like when taxpayers have time to ponder policy proposals.
Here in Orange County – whether it’s public finances, public health, the local general land use plan, or redistributing boundaries for local elections – the county regulators have historically maintained quite a low tolerance for public participation or opinion .
Like many politicians, they prefer to operate in the dark.
You are not alone.
I heard recently that a bill to expand public comment, AB 339, is pretty stuck in the legislature with no chance of getting out of committee.
Until the author has agreed to exempt the state legislature.
The bill is now back from the dead.
The deadline for the beginning of June has yet to be exceeded.
This has made practically every other type of politician in the state cry, and many public agencies and their associations complain that requiring them to actually communicate with the public they serve is an unfunded mandate.
This should make every Californian think.
“It is far too difficult for most Californians to voice their concerns to local policymakers. The tools that have allowed us to socialize during the pandemic should be expanded to create a permanent solution for Californians who can remotely participate in their government, ”said Kalyn Dean, Legislative Advocate for ACLU California Action that worked to push AB 339 in the state parliament.
Grassroots organizing groups also note that opening up meetings to livelier public opinion can also help more residents participate in government.
“Many communities often face geographic or physical barriers that prevent them from attending local meetings. Public participation in government decisions is a privilege, not a right, and it is up to the government to provide all Californians with equitable access and opportunities for public participation, ”said Olivia Seideman, civic coordinator for the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Citizenship Accountability.
The group Seidman works for helped draft the law to increase government transparency.
“In the 21st century, all Californians should be able to attend meetings remotely, and we look forward to continuing to fight for equitable access for all,” said Seidman.
It’s not just public opinion.
The business world is also affected by government secrecy.
As local reporters overseeing local contracts, we’ve seen time and time again losing bidders on public contracts come on the podium for public comment, detailing the details of questionable decisions for taxpayers based on their specific industry knowledge.
Here in Orange County, groups like OC Tax and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association have raised legitimate questions about asking public authorities to disclose more information about how federal aid is being spent.
So far, barbecues on the fifth floor of the OK supervisory board have been based on the reasons for the expenditure.
Now, here in Orange County, residents may not have to wait to see if AB 339 survives the battle of political knife fighters it faces in the state assembly.
Recently, Orange County’s newest county supervisor and former Costa Mesa Mayor Katrina Foley publicly called from the podium to introduce alternative options for public comment.
“I asked that public comments be accepted either by call-in or zoom-call, similar to the way cities are currently receiving public comments. I applied because a lot of people have communicated that they are uncomfortable coming to the county and my experience as mayor has been that you can get greater public participation if you have a call-in option offer, ”she said in a recent telephone interview.
Foley said she doesn’t understand the cost argument and said:
“I can’t imagine that it would be (expensive) for many cities to offer call-in services during the pandemic, and it never seemed very expensive.”
Now the idea of involving taxpayers in political discussions at an early stage always seems to trigger a setback in the internal bureaucracy.
So it will be interesting to see if Foley can make progress.
On Monday, when asked about the progress, Foley said only, “The chairman and I discussed ways to increase public participation for Orange County’s voters. He is open to suggestions. We will continue to discuss options. “
Something these policymakers should consider when discussing concepts like 21st century public comment is the standard of transparency that California residents gave them back in 1953 when lawmakers passed the Ralph M. Brown Act.
The law boldly states that officials should not meet in secret, should allow residents to comment, and that they should give advance notice of their deliberations.
The then lawmaker hired Michael Harris, a newspaper reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle who had just published an investigation entitled “Your Secret Government,” to write the preamble – just to make sure everyone understood the goal.
“The people of this state do not surrender their sovereignty to the agencies that serve them,” begins the preamble that Harris wrote for the Ralph M. Brown Act. “The people who delegate authority do not give their officials the right to decide what is good for people and what is not good for them. People insist on staying informed so that they can keep control of the tools they have created. “