Every time we have a change in regime change in politics, local or national the incoming politicians promise transparency in government. In this regard Modesto is no different. But promises from candidates are many times forgotten as soon as the votes are counted.
Sometime the promises are just so much hot air and sometimes the recently elected have no idea the challenges they’ll face trying to make staff holdovers understand their true commitment. After a short conversation with Mayor Brandvold I came away with his desire for more openness in Modesto’s government. At the time I expressed concerns about this NOT happening because of City Attorney Adam Lindgren.
After a somewhat longer conversation with the City Attorney we feel our concerns were well founded. The topic was the recent Ethics Workshop held in council chambers with Council members, the Modesto Police Department higher ups, and the decision makers on city staff.
Workshops, especially Brown Act Workshops, (meaning three or more members of the council are scheduled to attend) have been a touchy issue for years. The City liked to schedule the workshop meetings in smaller venues than the council chambers. Whether it’s the small room under the stairs in the basement of 1010 10th or on the second floor, room 2005, these rooms aren’t setup for video recording.
Attorney Lindgren reminds us that in the past (already a resistance to change or an desire to maintain status quo?) the city hasn’t recorded and then made available to the public ANY workshops. For the record we’ve protested this decision repeatedly. Why is this important you ask? The groundwork for many of the decisions the Council will be making comes from these workshop/meetings.
Just one example is since December of 2013 and Bill Zoslocki, Jenny Kenoyer, and Tony Madrigal taking office more than 14,000 pieces of correspondence (read emails) have been kept from public scrutiny. We wondered if this was due to the ethics training they received from the City Attorney so we made a Public Record Request. At first we were told even the most recent one would not be available to the public. This seemed strange since they had created a ‘lending library’ of copies for any city employee to sign out that missed the training. But we wanted to be able to compare the instructions they received recently to the ones they received when they first took office.
The City Attorney’s office finally relented and agreed to give us a copy of the most current disc but the only other disc that could be found (surprise, surprise) is from 2012. Notice that’s from before the current occupants of the council seats were present. Adam actually said the city doesn’t have to give or make available to the public copies of workshops. Lets think this through. Brown Act meetings, workshops, paid for by the tax payers that are none of the citizens business?
Lets compare this to the Modesto Irrigation District. The MID has ALL of their workshops scheduled for after regular meetings, which the public can attend, can participate in, and are streamed live and available to be watched 24/7/365 online. Now that’s transparency.
In Modesto the City Attorney says (paraphrased) these are workshops and they don’t need to be recorded and if you can’t make the meeting that’s just too bad. This includes all of Modesto’s workshops from Finance, Community and Economic, to Parks and Rec, to the Utility Dept.
Is this Transparency? We don’t think so. Do you?