Friday, August 23, 2013

Berkeley City Council Nixes Open Government Plan: 'What Do They Have to Hide?'

By Doug Oakley
Staff Writer
Bay Area News Group

BERKELEY -- A city councilman who wants the public to see who local elected officials are meeting and what they are doing daily will reintroduce a rule requiring their calendars be posted online after it was defeated in a vote last month. 

With the City Council chambers nearly empty after 11 p.m. July 16, the council voted against the open government proposal on grounds it would be too much work and amount to "micromanagement." 

With Mayor Tom Bates and Councilman Darryl Moore absent, the public calendar item backed by Councilman Jesse Arreguin was defeated in a vote of four abstentions to three yes votes by Arreguin, Kriss Worthington and Gordon Wozniak. 

Arreguin said he will reintroduce the measure in the fall. 

"Those were poor excuses because they didn't want to disclose who they are meeting with," Arreguin said Thursday. "What do they have to hide?" 

Arreguin said residents who want to know who Berkeley's politicians are meeting with or what they are doing can file a public records act request "but that's time consuming and difficult and people often don't get the documents they want." 

During debate on the item that would be similar to San Jose's requirement that City Council members post their calendars online, council members complained that it would take too much time to separate their personal calendars from their professional calendars. 

Councilman Max Anderson said the requirement would be "just a little bit too much micromanagement for my taste." 

"I hope the public trust of us isn't that low," Anderson said. "It is a layer of work. The benefits are questionable." 

Councilwoman Linda Maio complained the requirement would force her to take the time to go through her calendar and delete all her personal appointments before posting it online. 

"It's not that I don't support open government, but will the public get something out of this?" Maio said. "It is another layer of work for us." 

Arreguin called the arguments "a cop out." 

"We have staff who we pay to run our offices, and there is no reason they couldn't do that work," Arreguin said. "It would be 15 minutes of work a week. And this item doesn't imply a lack of trust. It just makes sure people know what we are up to." 

Arreguin's item would require council members to disclose city-related appointments, public events, speaking engagements, and meetings with people like developers, lobbyists, consultants and business people. It also carried a list of 10 exemptions including personal appointments, meetings that would violate attorney-client privilege, personnel issues, and meetings with whistle-blowers. 

Wozniak who voted in favor of the item said he thought council members who were against it simply couldn't wrap their minds around the technological aspect of separating their personal and professional calendars. 

"I think it was more along those lines that it didn't pass," Wozniak said. 
Contact Doug Oakley at 510-843-1408. Follow him on Twitter at

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