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Public offers input on sunshine, campaign finance ordinances

Submitted by on 1, September 13, 2010 – 4:45 am12 Comments

The Sunshine Task Force met Saturday.

About 50 people gathered at the Alameda Free Library on Saturday to have their say on a committee-created sunshine ordinance intended to make city government more open.

The draft ordinance, which has to be completed by the city’s Sunshine Task Force and which could be sent to the City Council for its consideration in November, reiterates open meeting and public document rules already codified in state law and would seek to enhance the public’s access to the city’s documents and meetings.

“I hope that moving forward, you will take ownership of this as much as we have,” task force member and City Council candidate Jeff Mitchell said. “There’s going to be trade-offs, there’s going be things that are not going happen.”

Mitchell said he hopes to send the ordinance directly to the council and that he believes the city attorney’s office may attempt to modify the ordinance or offer a competing one. Senior Assistant City Attorney Donna Mooney, who attended the workshop, said there’s nothing in the works, though she said her office will look at any ordinance the task force provides.

The draft ordinance would require more notice for public meetings and faster responses to requests for public documents, and would require the city to make video or audio tapes of closed session meetings and an index of city records that lays out which documents are public and which are not. Communications with members of official bodies would also be filed and readily available to the public.

The ordinance would also require the city to keep e-mails for two years. And it would require staff reports to be available for each item on a public body’s agenda.

Mitchell and others have recently questioned the city’s policy of destroying e-mails after 30 days, something city officials have said they do because they don’t have the storage space to retain them. Mitchell said that policy is illegal.

And others at Saturday’s forum questioned the lack of staff reports attached to council agenda items. City Manager communications listed on City Council agendas, for example, have lacked staff reports.

The ordinance would also establish a commission to oversee implementation of the ordinance and hear complaints from people who think it hasn’t been followed. Willful failure to uphold the ordinance would be considered official misconduct.

Participants in Saturday’s workshop offered a host of suggestions for making city business more accessible to the public. One oft-cited suggestion was to shorten council meetings, which routinely run into the wee hours of the morning.

“If have to speak to an issue I’m there until 2 a.m. Everyone else has gone to bed, you should be in bed. No one hears you speak. And these are not trivial issues,” Honora Murphy said.

Participants said they’d also like to see better access to materials and meetings online, access to city documents in other languages, broader notification about proposed building projects. But some also questioned how to balance a desire for more information with the resources the city has to provide that information.

“None of these systems exist in a vacuum. You have to think about who’s going to do this. How much priority should this be given? How many people does it take to do all this stuff?” Darcy Morrison asked.

Participants in the meeting also offered their input on a campaign finance ordinance the city attorney’s office has drafted, which the council is expected to consider in January. That ordinance would limit campaign contributions to $250 per donor and post donor lists on the city’s website a week before an election.

Brandon Kline, a board member for Common Cause, one of two speakers at Saturday’s workshop, said the city’s ordinance should focus on disclosure of contributions, since the city would have limited power to regulate contributions. He suggested the task force look at campaign finance ordinances in Los Angeles, San Diego and Santa Cruz, though Mooney said at the first two of those had been subject to litigation.

Richard Hausman asked whether the city could consider requiring candidates to give back or donate unspent money from prior campaigns. Mitchell also asked if the city could put any controls on the amount of money a candidate can spend to finance their own campaign.

In addition to Kline, Terry Francke of Californians Aware offered an overview of the state’s Brown Act, which governs records and meeting access, and he talked about sunshine ordinances in other cities. He congratulated Alameda’s City Council for starting the process for creating an ordinance here.

“I believe that you have an advantageous situation here in that first of all, the whole process was launched by the council,” Francke said. “It’s not as if other cities in the areas around you have crumbled under the burden of having to bear this. It’s all doable.”

A number of candidates for public office attended the forum, including City Council candidates Rob Bonta, Tracy Jensen, Jean Sweeney and Lena Tam, who called for creation of the task force; mayoral candidate Marie Gilmore; and school board candidate Mike McMahon.


  • It was a great meeting, with a lot of great ideas offered. I’d like to thank everyone who gave up a beautiful Saturday afternoon to participate. We had a great discussion.

  • Kate Quick says:

    A breath of fresh air in an otherwise dark and dank civic atmosphere. I was sorry to miss the meeting, as I had to be in the League of Women Voters State Board meeting in Sacramento, but I was very glad that our local League worked hard to make it happen, including encouraging the Council not to kill the Task Force (twice) and helping to fund advertising for the meeting, which the City declined to do. Congratulations to the Task Force members, the community attendees and to the Council Members who support this important work.

  • Adam Gillitt says:

    This is not a breath of fresh air, it’s another “club” set up for personal gain and to misdirect the general populace into thinking something is being done, when in fact the same crowd of people are working to protect their self-interests.

    There are candidates talking about open government out one side of their mouth while sharing city documents out the other side of their mouth like Lena Tam. Then there are candidates who feign interest in Alameda, but who are over 75% funded by outside-Alameda concerns, mostly lawyers for developers.

    Is this the kind of representation Alameda wants?

    Or do you want someone who is beholden to no political “clubs”, corporations or entities? Someone who truly believes that the role of an elected city official is to serve the citizens and bring their voice to municipal government?

    My current occupation is in technology- I design websites and provide social networking services. I understand how to establish technological systems to bring information to people and to bring people together to communicate about issues and share ideas.

    That is the whole foundation of my campaign, grass-roots involvement, and government for the people, by the people. I don’t think the highest bidder deserves the most attention; the people do.

    If you would like to know more about my campaign and the true openness and transparency in government I represent, please visit http://adamforalameda.com and consider casting your vote for me for City Council on November 2. Thank you.

  • ct says:

    Mr Gillitt,

    It sounds as though if you were elected to City Council, you would vote to dismantle the Sunshine Task Force. If this is true, what mechanism(s) would you propose to replace the work of the task force?

  • Adam Gillitt says:


    I would like to see our City’s technology brought up to date with systems that don’t delete email after 30 days. Our current document systems are antiquated and obscure and oblique to access: they should be far better organized and more accessible.

    Social networking technologies allow easy communication between people now so previous barriers to access have been removed. Even our President is using YouTube and Twitter to communicate; why can’t our City operate at a similar level to allow our Citizens to get involved and stay informed?

    So many useful modern technologies are available for free. They would not cost the City millions of dollars to implement nor take task forces years to review. But they would enhance the City’s capability to share information securely, and involve Citizens’ input at all levels of decision making.

    Once I am elected, and with the cooperation of the rest of the Council, I could bring together a plan to get the essential foundations of City technology to bring more transparency to Municipal Governmental processes and involve the voices of the Citizens to a far greater degree than they are now, within the first months of my term.

  • EastBay2010 says:

    If only two things are accomplished…1. Keeping ALL City communications forever (1TB of memory costs around 100 bucks so i don’t know why you’d limit it to two years) and 2. limiting City Council meetings until midnight, then the task force has done an outstanding job. City Council meetings lasting until the wee hours on a regular basis don’t prove that leaders are working hard, just that they are grandstanding for eachother and can’t work efficiently.

  • Mike says:

    I think it’s better to have the Sunshine Task Force than not to have it. Items like keeping city emails for two years, as is already required by state law, are critically important, yet our city is not complying. The other topic of providing all background materials related to agenda items is also a given. There is certainly lots of room for improvement and if the Sunshine Task Force helps bring attention to things needing improvement and helps get things done, then it’s a good thing. But it shouldn’t take these citizens getting our city to comply with state law about retaining correspondence like emails. That is a no-brainer and should be taken care of without citizens bringing it up.

  • ct says:

    Mr Gillitt,

    It would take more than technology to ensure that government officials are held accountable for their actions, so I still believe the work of the Sunshine Task Force is absolutely vital.

  • Adam Gillitt says:


    Do you have more than anonymous beliefs to support your position? Have you any substantiation to back up your position that a gathering of friends at the library to hear someone speak while serving coffee is the key to open and transparent government rather than creating actual systems that facilitate such openness and transparency?

    I think ending the cycle of keeping citizens out of our municipal government that maintains the veil of secrecy and keeps people like Lena Tam in office and money flowing to people like Rob Bonta is what is absolutely vital.

  • ct says:

    Mr Gillitt,

    If you think that the Sunshine Task Force is “a gathering of friends at the library to hear someone speak while serving coffee,” you are grossly misinformed.

  • Jon Spangler says:

    Mr. Gillitt,

    Perhaps you missed – or misunderstood – most of the content of the meeting? The people who gathered at the library were not all friends nor all allies. But we all share a vision of the importance of open and honest government–as well as open and transparent campaigns–and believe that our city’s policies should adhere to and exceed the provisions of the Ralph M. Brown Act and the California Public Records Act, without which all your technological suggestions or gadgets are useless.

    I suggest that you use some of your technology to find and read both of those existing laws as well as the 31-page draft sunshine ordinance, all of which would drastically improve city government if they were followed or enacted.

  • Adam Gillitt says:


    Your argument is as ill-formed as everything else you say.

    Let me paraphrase what you said:

    “…our police force should adhere to and exceed the provisions of the state and federal penal codes, without which all their officers and technology are useless.”

    Yes. the Brown Act and CPRA need enforcing, and I am proposing a way to do it.

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