In April of this year, when Molly Stump was chosen as Palo Alto’s new city attorney, we were encouraged that the inherited local governmental process of decisions made behind closed doors would change. Ms Stump professed to be in favor of open and transparent government.
We are still waiting for signs that her perspective has gone viral within the rest of Palo Alto’s city government. The inherited manner of doing business within government (AND in business) involves small groups of individuals attending a series of meetings to come to a determination about a perceived problem.
Too often, it’s easier to think of creating laws that “protect me” from social problems rather than laws that contribute to solving social problems.
Take, for example, the ordinance to ban living in vehicles within Palo Alto City limits. City records obtained through the California Public Records Act request by attorney Aram James revealed that a series of meetings were being conducted on this topic. Homeless in Vehicles – Enforcement aspects
Other documents received from the city attorney’s office contain email addresses of community members inviting them to attend a “Living in Vehicle Meeting” on June 30, 2011.
How those community members were selected is unclear. Presumably, these are the individuals who initiated the meetings to propose an ordinance. What is clear is that transparency had not yet been considered for these meetings.
This raises a question about transparency in government. Should local government meetings be open to the general public from the beginning of a proposed ordinance, or should meetings be held erstwhile in private until the idea and language of the ordinance is ready to be presented to the public, at which time invitations to attend meetings will be extended?
Of course, the latter sets up a scheme in which an ordinance is ready to be sent through to fulfill the wishes of its proponents, making it much more difficult to reshape Allowing the public to openly participate from inception and throughout the process may completely reshape or even kill a proposed ordinance early on.
The debate on homeless in vehicles opens to a wider debate on government procedure. While Molly Stump’s views on open government hadn’t been able to influence the process for the proposed ban on living in vehicles, let’s encourage our city council members to break with history and make open and transparent government a reality with future ordinance proposals.
Results of Attorney Aram James – California Public Records Act – Key Document Disclosure
August 30th, 2011 – Update on Palo Alto’s Planed Vehicle Ordinance
The September 12th date is fast approaching would you send a brief outline for publication as to recent developments and or progress? This would be greatly appreciated.
On Aug 30, 2011, at 8:49 AM, “Williams, Curtis” <Curtis.Williams@
We will not be presenting anything to the Council or the Policy & Services Committee on that date. Instead, we are scheduling a community forum on September 15th (Thursday) to discuss the issues and brainstorm solutions.
We expect the meeting to be held at the University Church in College Terrace (1611 Stanford Avenue) at 7:00 p.m. We will finalize the date, time and place by the end of the week and put an ad in the Weekly, post and distribute.
The earliest we could possibly get to Policy & Services is at their October 11th meeting, though it could be later. Thanks for checking in.
Editors note: Mr. Williams has been extremely open and candid on all vehicles ordinance planned discussions. This is a fine example of open government and transparency and model to follow.