To consolidate, disseminate, and gather information concerning the 710 expansion into our San Rafael neighborhood and into our surrounding neighborhoods. If you have an item that you would like posted on this blog, please e-mail the item to Peggy Drouet at pdrouet@earthlink.net

Saturday, March 30, 2013

City Watch: Is Civic Engagement Illegal?

March 30, 2013

 (Mod: As anyone who watches or perhaps even attends our City Council meetings will tell you, it is a pretty frustrating process. We now have a situation where 3 obviously collusive individuals make all of the decisions for this entire community, which is unfortunate for a unique town such as ours as each of them is more closely tied to the destructive policies of Sacramento, Los Angeles County and the Edison Mafia than what the people actually living here want. The undermining of our long-standing citizen committee system in order to supposedly accommodate the scheduling convenience of "staff" being only the latest of many steps to take the people out of the process ... City Watch is this great site that covers the affairs of that large city down the road a bit, and they on occasion post something that should also be discussed here. I thought today I'd repost one of them today.)

Is Civic Engagement Illegal? (click here): Everyone knows the standard public meeting in America: formal agenda handouts, official presentations, and three-minute speeches at the microphone for citizens. It’s boring. It doesn’t work.

And it’s mysterious—because the past two decades have seen the development of meeting strategies and online tools to change all that, to make meetings truly productive and dynamic. So why don’t American public meetings change?

One major obstacle is legal. The country’s open meetings and records laws include many specific, rigid requirements for how elected officials communicate, meet, and make decisions. For instance, California’s Brown Act severely limits communication between elected officials outside of formal meetings. So a school district that uses an online tool to put members of the school board together with parents may very well be violating the law.

While there are often good reasons behind the laws, many of the rules are unclear, and changes in technology and society have made them even harder to interpret. Lawyers fear that if the standardized procedures are junked and citizens are allowed to participate directly in budgeting or planning decisions, either online or in person, any decisions they make will be under a legal cloud.

Since the old processes of citizen participation offer little real interaction or deliberation, citizen turnout is usually very low; lawmakers often refer to the few people who turn up as the “usual suspects.” On the other hand, if the community has been gripped by a controversy, turnout is often high, and the three-minute commentaries from citizens can last long into the night. (One of the more popular video compilations on YouTube is a set of outrageous three-minute statements by citizens and responses by public officials, culled from public meetings all over the country.)  [Peggy Drouet: The link to the YouTube video is not given here or in the City Watch article and I haven't been able to locate it.] But neither extreme is helpful.

Many local leaders understand that society and technology have changed, and they want to use new online tools and engagement processes. They also want to involve citizens more directly in budget cuts and other difficult decisions. “If we think we’re going to come out of this recession and expect everything to go back to normal, we’ve got another think coming,” Harry Jones, county executive of Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, once told me. “We need to reach out and reframe our relationship with citizens—the people who are the ultimate source of our revenues.”

Over the last two decades, Jones and many other local leaders have pioneered a new generation of participation practices. These include the use of citizens’ juries and other deliberative processes that allow large, diverse groups of residents to tackle hard questions. And there are a burgeoning array of online tools to report problems, generate and rank ideas on government policy, work in small action teams, and visualize options for public budgeting and land use planning.

The trouble is most of these efforts occur outside the scope of official citizen participation processes and the laws that govern them. This has created a host of legal headaches for public officials who want to engage the public but don’t want to face legal penalties or be subject to litigation.

Simply put, opening the doors to civic engagement requires new rules. Over the last year, a working group of scholars and local officials from around the country has drafted model state and local laws that would support more effective forms of public participation. These model laws would exempt new types of civic engagement processes from judicial review, as long as the processes were sound and followed principles of transparency and fairness, with records of engagement made public and processes open to rigorous evaluation.

In the 1980s and ’90s, laws on alternative dispute resolution were enacted to give Americans new alternatives to judicial proceedings. Something similar is required for public participation. We must free elected officials and decision makers to engage the public, even as we uphold the goals of transparency and accountability.

Reaching out to constituents, and making policy with their collaboration, is the essence of democracy. When our public officials try to do this, the law should be on their side.

Why is a Board of Education seat worth so much to them?

(Mod: In this week's Pasadena Weekly - click here - they tally up all the cash being lavished on political machine Board of Ed candidate Ruben Hueso. This in his District 3 runoff with Tyrone Hampton, a candidate that would make a far better advocate for the needs of the people in that district. And the question has to be asked, why is it worth so much to them?)

In the primary, Hampton, a local contractor who, according to his Web site, graduated from Cal Poly Pomona, raised only a few hundred dollars, with one $100 contribution coming from sitting Board President Renatta Cooper, the board’s only African-American member and, incidentally, a Democrat.

On the other hand, Hueso, a teacher with children attending public schools, lists a number of major out-of-town donors to his campaign. Although the district, which was carved out of some of Pasadena’s poorest neighborhoods and includes most of Northwest Pasadena, Hueso has collected more than $30,000 — $1,000 from the California Real Estate Political Action Committee, $1,000 from the local and ostensibly nonpartisan political action group ACT, and $14,000 from the campaigns of Democratic state Sen. Kevin DeLeon of Los Angeles and Assemblyman Ben Hueso, Ruben’s brother, from Encinitas. Hueso’s brother contributed $11,000 from his 2012 re-election campaign, according to the latest financial records filed with the Pasadena City Clerk’s Office. DeLeon gave from his 2018 Assembly campaign fund. Former state Assembly Speaker Fabio Nuñez, also from San Diego and running for state Attorney General in 2014, gave Hueso $5,000 with funds from that upcoming campaign. One of Hueso’s local supporters is Pasadena Board of Education member Ed Honowitz, who gave $250.

This week's Green Action Committee meeting was canceled due to the lack of a quorum

Is it just me, or do these people seem kind of entitled and lazy? They don't get their work in on time and  their only real accomplishment was "Green Accords," which they cut and pasted from some United  Nations publicity releases. Why heaven and earth are being moved by Mayor Moran and the City Manager is mystifying. Don't we have enough low impact people working on city business as it is?