About the Beverly Hills Sunshine Task Force
Mayor John Mirisch formed the Sunshine Task Force upon election to “ensure greater transparency and public involvement in local government operations” in City of Beverly Hills. The committee includes former officials and politically-active stakeholders who share an interest in making the processes and products of local governance accessible to the public. We at Better Bike expressed our interest in the task force because we don’t always find City Hall particularly open to sharing information as advocate for mobility options.
We’ve created this page as a temporary repository for material related to the committee’s work until such a time as city staff organize and post it. (We also post Task Force meeting recaps on the main page.) Here we host reference material discussed at the Task Force meetings, highlight relevant organizations and potential contacts, and make available good governance reports and academic publications. We’ll add to the page as we come across new material. Feel free to make suggestions in the comments pane and/or suggest material to post.
Sunshine Review is an organization that grades local governments on transparency. Their motto, “Bringing state and local government to light,” summarizes the mission and their goal – “a customer service hot-line for government transparency and accountability” – suggests the utility. They publish a ‘transparency Report Card‘ which grades cities (for example) according to a 10-item checklist. Their checklist focuses exclusively on what it calls “proactively disclosing government data” via the local government website. By their measure, Beverly Hills receives a grade of only ‘C’ in 2013.
American Society of News Editors is the organization behind Sunshine Week, an annual celebration of good and open government funded by the Knight Foundation that supports legislative action to make the products of government accessible to the media and the public.
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press may sound like a members-only industry alliance, but in fact it can be helpful to the non-pro would-be journalist too. To the trade it provides legal advice and advocates on First Amendment issues. To the local digger, the organization’s legal guide helps to protect your right to access public records and push back when you
The Knight Foundation is an outgrowth of the newspaper media empire of the same name and is a major backer of programs that nurture innovation in the media (e.g., the annual News Challenge). It works with selected communities on “transformative” communities program initiatives to to inform and engage the public. (Long Beach is the nearest Knight Communities non-resident partner.) Read the foundation’s national strategy for an overview.
The Open Government Foundation (helmed by California Congressman Darrel Issa) is a tech-tools maker with a mission to pry open the darker corners of the state and federal government. Making it’s mark early with opposition to the ill-conceived federal Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) legislation, the organization embraces an aggressive approach (“We bring the sledgehammers”) to an ostensibly non-partisan tech-libertarian agenda of using public information as a “disruptive” means to force change upon against hidebound bureaucracies.
The Sunlight Foundation is another tech-centric organization that leverages the power of the Internet to “catalyze greater government transparency.” They’ve developed some very handy user applications to encourage informed participation as well as a suite of cyber tech tools (e.g., APIs) to empower organizations and web developers to access and repurpose government data. The motto: “improving access to government information by making it available online.”
Website Content for Local Agencies: A Checklist from ILG from the Institute for Local Government is a brief, bullet-list inventory of what a satisfactory local government website should contain. A starter for a report card, perhaps?
How the Public Perceives Community Information Systems (2011) from the Pew Internet Project. If you’ve come away frustrated with the Beverly Hills website because you couldn’t find the information you need, you’ll find comfort in the report’s findings from three American Cities. The emphasis is on communications between local government and citizens. The takeaway: “Those who believe they can impact their community are more likely to be engaged in civic activities and are more likely to be satisfied with their towns.”
Understanding the Basics of Transparency Laws (2009) in the Public Service Ethics series from the Institute for Local Government provides an overview (for stakeholder and official) of the public’s right to access information. Note the handy section on public meetings access – a framework for understanding California’s Brown Act.
Legislation, Policy Guidance & Misc Resources
President Obama’s Executive Order: Making Open and Machine Readable the New Default for Government Information. “Government information shall be managed as an asset throughout its life cycle to promote interoperability and openness, and, wherever possible and legally permissible, to ensure that data are released to the public in ways that make the data easy to find, accessible, and usable.” The emphasis here is on eliminating barriers by developing and implementing best practices through the federal government.
- Long Beach Community Foundation Vice President Julie Heggeness: (562) 435-9033.(Affiliated with a Knight Community partner.)
- Knight Foundation Vice President of Communications Marc Fest:
(305) 908-2677 or firstname.lastname@example.org
The public sector Ombudsman is a “guarantor of citizens’ rights” and a mechanism for “impartial and independent investigation of citizens’ complaints,” according to United States Ombudsman Association. The ombudsman is responsible only to the people and to the legislative body; success in the position is defined by autonomy and independence, the freedom “to investigate any act or failure to act by any agency,” and “discretionary power to determine what complaints to investigate and to determine what criticisms to make or to publicize,” according to criteria developed by the American Bar Association (which publishes “Organizational Ombudsman: Origins, Roles and Operations”).
Among Westside cities, only City of Los Angeles has considered creating a Public ombudsman position. In 2006, Councilman Zine proposed an ombudsman position that would “assist and direct constituents who visit Council Chambers and need assistance from the City.” As submitted, the motion stated: “To ensure that all constituents are heard, the City Council should direct the City Clerk, the Chief Legislative Analyst and the City’s Administrative Officer to coordinate with the Council President’s office to create an Ombudsman position to assist constituents with questions or problems and direct them to the appropriate City department.” [excerpt from file 05-0575-S1]. But the proposal expired in November of 2009 without council action.
City of Santa Monica has fielded the suggestion several times over the years. At a community meeting titled “Improving the Electoral Process” (2007) public support was expressed for staffing positions assigned to individual Councilmembers “or appointment of a City ombudsman” (according to city notes from the meeting). No general public ombudsman position was created, however.
But Santa Monica has created (in 2005) a Development Services Officer position to facilitate permitting and “act as an ombudsman in terms of public interaction” with the planning process. Subsequently in 2010, the City Manager assigned to that position the additional responsibility for assisting Santa Monica’s businesses with strategic issues – aka ‘Business ombudsperson.’ The city has fielded requests for other focused ombudsman positions, including a volunteer Section 8 ombudsman to assist tenants in resolving housing issues (recommended by a member of the Resident Advisory Board in 2002) and a “business start-ups” ombudsman, which was suggested by attendees to a city budget process in 2009. As recently as 2012, members of the public revived the idea during a community visioning process. Under the rubric of “Improve Communications with Local Residents and Community Members,” the public ombudsman would “interact with community members and address impact concerns.” No position has been created.
West Hollywood in 2009 created a temporary “one-stop ombuds/community relations office” to handle any permits and issues arising from the 25th Anniversary capital improvement projects (e.g., library) but otherwise has not created a general public ombudsman position. Culver City has evidently not discussed an ombudsman position at all.
Los Angeles County, on the other hand, has created an ‘Office of Ombudsman Community and Senior Services’ to provide a “professional, neutral, and independent, forum for people who seek answers and solutions to problems” – chiefly the focus seems to be on elder issues and long-term care.
It seems that scale is a consideration. City of Los Angeles population is four million and the County counts ten million. At the same time, discussing the position at all seems to align with overall principles of good government and stakeholder access, and from this scant evidence it appears that there is interest among at least some members of the public for another means of contacting local government.