A city-sponsored economic development corporation is seeking approval to avoid disclosure rules because it says private-sector leaders are hesitant to serve on a board with public meetings.
The Sacramento Employment and Economic Development (SEED) Corporation has asked the City Council for approval to amend its bylaws to remove a requirement that it conform to the Brown Act, California’s law that ensures public access to meetings of local legislative bodies. The City Council is scheduled to vote on the request at Tuesday’s meeting.
SEED Corp. is a private nonprofit founded in 2007 to promote development and job creation. It is supported by Mayor Kevin Johnson, but it has largely been inactive since its inception.
“It kind of fizzled because staff couldn’t get private-sector people interested, and then the economy went south,” said Veronica Smith of the city’s economic development office, which has spearheaded new efforts on the project. “We are finally at a point where we can move forward with this entity.”
One of the biggest challenges for SEED Corp. has been attracting local community leaders to serve on its governing board, Smith said. Many of those she has approached are hesitant to take a position that subjected them to public scrutiny. Smith said the request to amend the bylaws will help in the search for board members.
Senior Deputy City Attorney Michael Sparks said the request is within the rights of the private organization.
“Legally, whether they choose to do it or not is completely a policy issue,” he said. “We are not weighing in on the wisdom of the request.”
Smith said the organization will voluntarily include in its bylaws Public Records Act rules, in part because city staff is involved in helping to start the organization. It has also requested one-time funding of $150,000 in the 2016-17 city budget for startup costs.
“We knew that removing the Brown Act would cause some concerns, so that’s where the Public Records Act comes into play,” she said.
Smith also said the financial and staff ties to the city have created confusion around the request to change the disclosure rules.
“There has been some confusion with SEED Corporation and the city’s role,” she said. “The transparency piece, I have gotten questions about. …‘Well, why is the city attempting to do business in the dark?’ This is an entity that is separate from the city.”
Councilman Jay Schenirer said that it is “a hard balancing act” to weigh the concerns of private-sector board members with government transparency.
“I certainly understand when you are putting business people on there and they don’t want everything they say to be on public record,” he said, adding that he was undecided on how he will vote on the proposal.
Other council members support the change. “Private-sector people … don’t want to be seen as being political,” Councilman Larry Carr said. “You can’t have those frank, open discussions that you need to have to work an issue out.”
Councilman Allen Warren, whose Del Paso Heights district will be home to the pilot program of SEED Corp., said the Brown Act issue was “more political than it is substantive. If you want results, let’s focus on results.”
Smith said that if the change is approved, SEED Corp. hopes to have a board in place by July and launch in the fall.
Anita Chabria: 916-321-1049