We’ve all seen the signs of declining engagement in local civic affairs. Voter turnout in California municipal elections has been falling for years, particularly among young adults and some ethnic groups. Studies show that public awareness of the vital role local government plays in our lives is poor. Too many of us feel disconnected and even distrustful.
If Sacramento’s city government were a retailer such as Wal-Mart, alarm bells would be clanging in its executive suites over broad customer disinterest and growing dissatisfaction with its merchandise.
What can our city government do to help restore the public’s trust and broaden citizen involvement in civic affairs? It can make a serious commitment to honest and ethical governance, and demonstrate an enduring, customer-focused attitude by adopting robust ethics and transparency reforms.
The reform process begins at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Clunie Community Center in East Sacramento’s McKinley Park with the first in a series of important public forums on city ethics and transparency reform. The forums are hosted by Eye on Sacramento, the League of Women Voters and a large and rapidly growing number of neighborhood and community groups that span the spectrum of partisan, ideological and ethnic identities. For instance, how often do you see the Sacramento Taxpayers Association and Common Cause joining forces? It’s truly a kumbayah moment for Sacramento.
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Our effort is a follow-up to the strong-mayor proposal, which failed at the polls in November. While voters rejected an expansion of mayoral powers, Measure L also included, albeit in summary fashion, a number of smart government reforms that were widely embraced by both the measure’s supporters and opponents. They deserve consideration separate from Measure L.
At Thursday night’s forum, a panel of well-known experts in government ethics and transparency will critique a study presented by Eye on Sacramento and the League that surveys reforms other California cities have adopted in four key areas: an ethics code, an ethics commission, a transparency or “sunshine” ordinance and an independent redistricting commission that would remove City Council members from the disreputable business of drawing their own council boundaries. (You may view the report at eyeonsacramento.org or lwvsacramento.org.)
We’re also inviting council members to participate as panelists at each forum. At this forum, District 3 Councilman Jeff Harris will be a panelist. District 2 Councilman Allen Warren is scheduled to be a panelist at our forum on Feb. 26 at the Artisan Building on Del Paso Boulevard.
Council members and city staff are indispensible partners to a collaborative effort to enact reforms. But the real focus of our forums will be listening to Sacramento residents on what they view as important elements in a reform package. Our study is designed to merely start the conversation.
Following forums in each council district, interviews with city officials and other fact-finding, our research and drafting committee, led by local attorney Nicolas Heidorn, will start drafting proposed ordinances and charter amendments for future public vetting and ultimate submission to the City Council and city voters for consideration.
Come join us at our public forums for this special opportunity to bring citizen-driven ethics and transparency reform to city government. Make your voice heard.
Craig Powell is president of Eye on Sacramento, a local government watchdog group. Paula Lee is president of the Sacramento County chapter of the League of Women Voters.