Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Recap from Public Input Meeting on Increasing Transparency in Salisbury City Government

Meeting held Feb. 21, 2008
Councilwomen Campbell and Cohen

1. What issues concerning open government are of interest to you?

a. The policy about raising questions at council meetings and the public is interested in the answers. (Cohen noted new tracking by city clerk/response by administration letter effort.)

1. Post answers online.
2. Not all questions are answered to satisfaction of constituent.
3. Also has been a problem in the County.
4. Question asked in a public forum should be answered in a public forum.
5. Constituents unhappy that when they write all of the council, they only hear back from Campbell and Cohen, not all members.

1. Council or Administration should answer right at meeting when possible; when not possible, recap and answer at next meeting (Q&A’s)
2. Provide complete answers to all questions.
3. Online is an okay idea, but it isn’t available to many who don’t have computers.
4. Why not use the kiosk is front of City Hall? Could post Q&A there.

2. Open Meetings/PIA – What are the impediments to Open Govt.?

a. Tools (not right ones, not enough staff, etc.)
b. Embarrassment (“people will find out our mistakes and give us even more grief”).
c. Corruption
d. Constituent voiced opposition to requiring official minutes and recording of this meeting if third council member showed as an “act of intimidation” since it’s not a council meeting to conduct business, but an informal exchange.

3. Burdens on the Taxpayers

a. People want to understand, what is the philosophical justification (of the decisions each council member makes, why they vote as they do)?
Example – Zoo: It’s on City Property, but should City Taxpayers pay at the current level.
Example – Playgrounds: Lake Street partnerships, new funding for Doverdale (Shields)
i. Charge for zoo parking; downside is forcing parking to residential streets as happens with university.
ii. Tri-County funding for operations.
iii. Volunteerism and private donations for parks (establish a program).
iv. Form group like the San Diego Citizens Budget Project (Campbell).

4. General Brainstorming About Meetings & Flow of Information

a. Zoo Commission meets at noon, not a convenient time of day for citizens to attend.
b. Are meetings announced well enough?
c. Audio of meetings online.
d. Would the Daily Times run agendas as public service announcements?
e. Put meeting notices on the Homepage of city website.
f. Change site design of city website for easier navigation.
g. Constituent knows of software for $30 for handling audio/video online.
h. Add link to Planning & Zoning meetings and agendas.
i. Make committee minutes available online.
j. Fuller information about boards, committees and commissions online.
k. Are we doing a good enough job of making it convenient to apply/notifying public so they’ll know when there will be an opening on committees, boards and commissions.
l. Alternative for those who want to participate outside of city system/citizen-based task forces on various issues (Cohen-expanded version of San Diego project).

5. How are decisions made by council? (Understanding deliberations involved.)

a. Work sessions give insight – put audios online or get video on PAC14.
b. Brenda Colegrove mentioned she and city administrator are exploring video streaming on city website.
c. PAC14 has videostreaming now, so non-cable users can watch council meetings there.
d. Compliments went to city for having briefing books available for download, the landlord licensing registry online, the audit financials, and other materials.

6. Constituents have a sense of disenfranchisement because council members can’t speak directly to staff.

a. Council members should be able to ask questions of any department head and any member’s question should be supported by all members.
b. Sometimes there seems to be exclusivity (in access to information).
c. Council members should be able ask question of a department head and there should be a protocol that the answer is shared with administration and all council members.
d. Perhaps the protocol needs to be clarified as it was done in the Greenbelt model (differentiating between asking for information vs. “directing” staff-Cohen).

7. LLC’s and Other Entities Need to Disclose (Council expressed openness to concept based on getting additional information. Campbell has been actively researching what is done in other communities).

a. Any entity doing business with city (including related holdings corps. or trusteeships) should disclose owners/beneficial owners (Cohen is researching mechanism in context of other legal requirements. Apply to campaign financing as well?)
b. Constituent raised example of could have 3 LLCs owned by same principal involved in same bidding process, i.e., bidding against self to heighten chance of entering successful bid.

8. Financial Information and the Internal Services Department

a. Should Finance and Purchasing be split back into two departments?
i. Since staff has to be added, initial desired benefit of cost-savings isn’t met, so restore checks and balances with a split.
b. Why do we re-inspect HUD properties if their standards are more stringent? Skip inspections on these to free up manpower for inspecting other properties. (Shields)
c. Bring in outside analyst to review each department, not just Internal Services.
d. Constituents disturbed by information from audit and have many questions about numbers.

9. Desired Follow Ups

a. Have a follow up to this meeting – more questions, areas, and ideas to discuss.
b. Have a meeting with department heads, administrators and Mayor.
c. Have the whole council meet with constituents like this (town meeting, informal).
d. Share information from this meeting with rest of council, and what does rest of council think of tonight’s information. Let constituents know.
e. Pursue ideas and legislative changes brought up tonight.