I've always held librarians in the highest esteem. This is probably due
to the wonderful way our Pacific Grove librarians treated me as a youngster.
I remember them always pleasantly greeting me, setting aside their other
work and helping me find whatever I was looking for. That is a model for
how other Pacific Grove city offices should treat public requests to read
or copy information held by our city. Unfortunately, our city is not run
by our gracious librarians.
Democracy Includes Rights
Democracy exists when the public influences the important decisions
of their lives. In a genuine participatory democracy you have two rights.
Starting participating in Pacific Grove politics while in high school
decades ago, it is my continuing experience that if you cannot find
at least one violation of our state open meeting law or California's
Environmental Quality Act at each Pacific Grove council meeting --
you simply haven't looked hard enough. I believe the attitude of city officials
of Pacific Grove to public concerns, public participation, public oversight
and state public interest laws can be summed up in a single word -- hostility.
The right to a fair decision based on facts and reasons, after
you have been allowed to exercise your right to participate
in a fair and thorough process. This includes being able to adequately
review all relevant documents held by the government.
While there are a few wonderful exceptions, in general Mayor Morrie
Fisher, the Council (Shenk, Stidham, Costello, Renz, Gasperson),
City Manager Ross Hubbard, City Financial Officer (Controller) Peter
Woodruff, City Attorneys David Flesichman & Michael Jenks,
and many staff simply --
But this is not a new phenomena - it has been going on for as long as I
can remember (though usually with a few good exceptions). Secret government
in Pacific Grove is more like a culture or an institution. However, Pacific
Grove is not alone in this, Monterey County is not far behind - remember
the huge Public Records lawsuit won by Michael Stamp against the County
do not want us knowing what they are doing,
do not care, or want to know, what we think about it, and most of all --
do not want us interfering in any way with their decisions -- which are
made in private -- prior to City Council meetings.
Whose Town is it?
Unlike our librarians, our city officials act as though they own our
town and the documents held at city hall; that it is their personal private
property - rather than the public's. Perhaps most amazingly they barely
try to hide it. You've surely heard about the City refusing Councilwoman
Goldbeck's request for overtime records. That's hardly the tip of the iceberg.
Here are just a few other recent examples.
It is also outrageously common in Pacific Grove for those in power to disregard
laws painstakingly crafted by our Legislature and signed by our governors,
as "silly little technicalities" to use the words of former councilwoman
Michelle Knight. At the time she was denigrating our state Conflict of
Financial Interest law preventing her from getting water for her mansion
until she resigned from the Council.
Beginning in Mayor Koffman's term and now continuing with Mayor Fisher's
administration the city has refused to make public a document explaining
public records policy. In recent years the city has refused to allow public
review of the City Budget, Sewer Repair Cost Consultant's Report, Raccoon
capture records, and sewer smoke testing dates and locations.
Mayor Fisher's 2003 attempts, and ex-Mayor Koffman's persistent but
so far failed attempts to put public comment at the end of Council meetings
-- after the media have left, and after the recording for Saturday morning
television has stopped and potentially after four council people have left
- losing a quorum and ending the meeting without any public comment.
Ex-Mayor Koffman's failed attempt to reduce the number of votes it would
take to approve new development (July 15, 2002)
Ex-Mayor Koffman holding private meetings with developers (Monterey
Herald May 23, 2002)
Ex-Mayor Koffman threatening Councilman Dan Davis when he tried to put
an item on the Council agenda.
The current council's unashamed antagonism to valid agenda items placed
by councilwoman Goldbeck.
President John F. Kennedy said -
"Those who make peaceful revolution impossible,
make violent revolution inevitable."
Kennedy could well have been referring to open meetings and the strong
zeal citizens have for voting out elected officials who trample on public
participation at meetings.
In a genuine democracy, you and I give authority to government to make
decisions about our world. We do not need to beg the condescending local
politicians to allow us to participate. Consider this preamble to a California
Open Meeting law - California Government Code Section 11120 -
"It is the public policy of this state that public agencies exist
to aid in the conduct of the people's business and the proceedings of
public agencies be conducted openly so that the public may remain informed."
"In enacting this article the Legislature finds and declares that
it is the intent of the law that actions of state agencies be taken
openly and that their deliberation be conducted openly."
"The people of this State do not yield their sovereignty to the
agencies which serve them.
So how do we fix this?
The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public
servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what
is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so
that they may retain control over the instruments they have created."
Pacific Grove's hostility to public participation and the public interest
might be tempered with a Sunshine Law like the ones
adopted by the voters of San Francisco, Oakland and several other California
Pacific Grove voters can adopt a Sunshine law which includes serious
enforcement provisions and can require that the city provide far more public
participation than the minimum required by our state Open meeting Law called
the Brown Act and the Public Records Act.
So lets - let the sunshine in.
A slightly shorter version of this was originally published in the PG
Press Oct 1, 2003. They "invited Mayor Fisher, two councilpeople, the city
manager, the city attorney and a private citizen to contribute an article
supporting the city's record concerning Sunshine laws. All declined."
David Dilworth is Executive Director of Helping Our Peninsula's Environment, founded in 1998,
is a non-profit, tax deductible, public interest group teaching Environmental
Science and Law and Public Participation to local citizens and advocating
for protection of our Monterey Peninsula's natural land, air and water