Editorial: Sacramento City Council steps forward on informing public

Published: Wednesday, Apr. 24, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 14A

The Sacramento City Council quietly took a significant step Tuesday evening toward more transparency and greater public input.

The council deserves credit for responding constructively to criticism that the public isn't getting enough time to review and comment on big financial commitments.

Council members gave final approval to changes in their rules of procedure, including a new decree that labor agreements and any contracts exceeding $1 million must be posted on the city's website and made available to the public for at least 10 days before a council vote. The new public notice requirement will start July 1 and can be waived only by a two-thirds vote of the council, in case of an emergency.

That means that if the Kings stay in Sacramento and the downtown arena deal moves ahead, the 10-day rule would apply to many of the legal agreements between the city and the investor group that reach that $1 million threshold.

In addition, negotiations are under way with police officers, firefighters and several smaller unions whose contracts expire at the end of June. Final agreements likely won't be ready for council action until well after the rule takes effect.

With an important fix, the new rule should help avoid the mockery of openness and full public debate that marred some recent council decisions.

The arena "term sheet," outlining the major points of the proposed deal between the city and investor group, wasn't made public until three days before the council endorsed it last month.

City Manager John Shirey says the term sheet would not have fallen under the 10-day rule because it was not a legally binding agreement. That's a loophole that needs to be closed.

While not technically binding, the term sheet was certainly a commitment by the city to invest at least $258 million in public money and assets into a new arena.

Lack of public input also tainted the city's current contract with its largest employee union. Last June, the council met to approve the deal with Local 39 a scant seven hours after the contract was made public.

While this new rule will also give council members more time to consider important decisions, as Councilman Jay Schenirer told colleagues this month, "the purpose of this was really for the public."

Confidence in government is such a valuable commodity that reforms like this are well worth the effort.

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