Milpitas City Council 'streamlines' sunshine guidelines

The Milpitas City Council tightened procedures that provide public access to city business, saying that some of the practices did not provide greater access to the public and that changes were needed to save staff time. -DB

Milpitas Post
May 13, 2009
By Ian Bauer

Milpitas City Council unanimously voted April 21 to introduce an amended Open Government Ordinance, which they said is meant to give the public and press transparency to the workings of city government.

City officials previously said changing the ordinance would improve upon an ordinance adopted in April 2005 that featured provisions considered by the city as unwieldy, unduly time consuming for staff, or unused by the public.

Last month, when the Open Government Ordinance was brought forward for council review, Milpitas City Attorney Mike Ogaz explained that recommendations for changes “reflect adjustments to allow for smoother operation and better tailoring to suit the actual needs of the public.”

The city attorney added in some cases proposed changes would eliminate “onerous record keeping and documentation chores that take excessive staff time and really do not provide greater access to the public.”

The council’s approval included greater efforts toward record keeping handled by the Milpitas City Clerk’s Office, which would including continuing a yearly “tally and report” to the city council for documentation of all public records petitions.

The approval will also lean toward greater use of online record keeping. As approved, the city’s Web site will offer access to a directory for all city documents available online and provide the public with a general direction of records not available on the Internet.

Council members, the city manager and planning commission members will continue to fill in their online calendars showing past events and appointments, but it will now exclude social or personal events.
In March, the council unanimously gave their approval to other proposals to either change or keep provisions within the Open Government Ordinance. Among the provisions:

Shortening the timeframe regarding the availability of labor union memorandums of understanding from 15 calendar days to 10 days prior to council meetings where contracts are slated for approval.

Exacting a 10 cent per page charge for copies of agenda records and all documented records.

Eliminating the former Open Government Subcommittee and renaming it the Rules Committee.

Changing the response time for a public records request from seven days to 10 days.

Relaxing the requirement to issue a preliminary city council agenda six days before the council meeting, instead of eight days, purportedly to allow more flexibility for city staff.

Changing closed-door meeting transparency. City policy had been to make closed-session recordings open to public disclosure “whenever all rationales for keeping them closed” were no longer applicable and for some items, it was presumed the recordings were disclosable after two years. City officials now say these closed session recordings should never be disclosed.

Stop noticing, agendizing or recording proceedings of monthly city staff meetings because the public does not normally attend these meetings.

Deleting a requirement to formally list “sole source” city contracts or requests for proposals as this information can currently be found on the city’s Web site.

Recommending that state Form 700, a California Fair Political Practices Commission mandate statement of economic interests for elected, and appointed officials and city employees, be placed on the city’s Web site for council and planning commissioners. Currently, all Form 700s for city employees and elected officials are required for review by the city attorney and placed on the City Web site by the Milpitas City Clerk’s Office.

Coopyright 2009 Milpitas Post