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BLOG: The Deafeningly Quiet Controversy Over Measure N

A look at the factions for and against Measure N, and the political climate that surrounds the controversial measure.

The Measure N battle here in town has attained the level of a shouting match, with tempers flaring, sides taken, signs slugging it out, but without sound. A non-resident driving into town would only notice quiet streets, kids playing soccer in the park, and hot-air balloons silently drifting overhead.

I wasn’t here for the Dixon Downs battle, but I suppose the battle was even more deafeningly quiet then.

As with the presidential election, the truth got left behind miles ago.

The Measure N battle came home to me yesterday when I found that the Independent Voice newspaper delivered to my driveway had been deliberately torn up and scattered in the gutter. One of the newspaper pieces I found was promoting Measure N and read, “… the gang of ex-city officials … “

In a story elsewhere in the IV, there were complaints about the removal of signs promoting Measure N, which I can believe after the newspaper incident.

All’s fair in love and war (and politics), I gather. There’s a certain hooliganism in down and dirty politics, attracting the weak of brain and the strong of emotions. I remember when I lived in the Bay Area, the traffic reporter for the PBS radio station in San Francisco was embarrassingly photographed removing political  signs he didn’t agree with.

Also, yesterday I received (inserted within the Dixon Tribune, as I recall) a “No on Measure N” flier. It tied itself to the ubiquitous “No on Measure N” signs around town by claiming that Measure N would cost too much (“government waste”). It claimed that the measure would cost Dixon $350,000 to $400,000 during the first year. I think that figure was primarily arrived at by Measure N opponents claiming that the city would have to “digitize and categorize all records … (to include) 4 million pieces of paper.”

Nowhere in the language of Measure N is a requirement to digitize all records! I just read through the measure again to make sure. So I will give an “F” report card to Measure N opponents for not telling the truth. What Measure N does require is the indexing of all public records held by city hall (similar to how the library has a computerized list of all its books), so that people seeking information will know what’s available and not available for public viewing. Indexing should have been done in Dixon long before this, sunshine ordinance or not.

So, using dubious figures about how much Measure N would cost, the flier also uses the tried-and-true tactic of saying that the cost would take money away from fire and police services. Please!

Moving on to those who created Measure N – I believe that their motives are very well-intentioned. They are basically people who want to have full, advance knowledge of what their city government is doing because they don’t automatically trust it to do the right thing. They want to be involved in making sure the city is well run, and run to the benefit of all its citizens and not just a few. The sunshine ordinances created and passed in California cities recently mostly address abuses in the past which have resulted in roadblocks to public information access, secret meetings, and extremes such as the city of Bell, with its illegal financial shenanigans. We should be happy that Dixon has a coterie of citizen watchdogs willing to take the time to make sure things are run right.

On the other hand, to be succinct, Measure N has some flaws. I don’t like unlimited speaking times for the public at council meetings. I don’t like the (almost funny) requirement that TV screens be placed behind council members to show what they’re using their smart phones for, though I do agree there’s potential for misuse of communications devices. I don’t like the fact that staff members wouldn’t be allowed to brief elected officials concerning pending legislation outside of meetings (if the officials requested such briefings) – after all, members of the public can express their own viewpoints to officials as well.

I don’t think two days is enough time for city staff to produce documents and so on for public viewing considering how busy they are, but I think the current 10 days is too long. I’m in favor of producing documents for viewing within five working days.

I don’t like the fact that the people on Measure N’s compliance commission would be randomly chosen (names drawn out of a hat). That’s not quite so random, because certain segments of the political scene in Dixon could flood “the hat” with candidates, biasing the selection. On the other hand, I don’t want the city council selecting the commission, because they would tend to choose people who were loyal to them and their interests. I don’t have an answer to this problem. You would want educated people serving on it without an axe to grind.

Measure N is a very comprehensive and broad document, which contains a long laundry list of transparency requirements. A lot of work and review went into creating it, but I believe that it was created in a bit of a vacuum. More effort might’ve been put into getting local feedback from all quarters on its provisions and effects before finalizing it.

I think that its authors assumed broad grassroots support for it, but they didn’t realize that certain portions of it would be open to attack.

On the other hand, I think that the involvement of the prospective movie studio concerning this issue has a certain fishy smell about it. Dixon will be just fine with or without a movie studio.

If Measure N fails to pass in the upcoming election, there will still be a positive result. Citizens have become better informed about the need for transparency, and will not accept being shut out.

For example, the other day I was in city hall looking at some architectural plans for a city project. A staffer stood by to make sure I didn’t run off with them, and I asked if I could photograph several pages. I was told, “No, because they’re copyrighted. We’d have to have permission from the architect.” I went home and researched copyrights on the Internet and found that this particular set of plans wasn’t covered by copyright (also, I thought that Dixon had paid for the work, so it should have ownership rights). I so informed the staffer later on, directing him to a government Web site, and obtained the right to photograph.

When I had first come in, he had made a comment about not needing a Measure N to see the plans. So you can see there are nuances to transparency!

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Bil Paul October 15, 2012 at 04:36 PM
Actually, it appeared that someone had picked up my IV newspaper and kept tearing it up and dropping it in pieces in the gutter as they walked further down the sidewalk.
Bil Paul October 15, 2012 at 05:04 PM
Susan Salmons -- I would like to read any reports prepared by the city attorney or other hired consultants providing an analysis of Measure N. Are they on the city's web site -- or elsewhere? I checked the city's Web site and couldn't find anything.
Susan Salmons October 15, 2012 at 05:22 PM
It was done by an outside consultant. City Council meeting of 8/28, agenda item #11.2 "Impact Analysis".
Randy Davis October 15, 2012 at 06:36 PM
I'm sorry, but the photo and story are much to do about nothing. Maybe it was done by kids with no knowledge of Measure N or perhaps done by those favoring Measure N to try and make Measure N opponents look bad. Unless you know, there is no story here.
Gary Erwin October 15, 2012 at 06:51 PM
And that is why it's a "Blog" and not a story written by staff member. Anyone can sign up and become a blogger. Sometimes the blogs are great and sometimes they fall flat... The great thing is that Bil has the freedom to write what is on his mind. It is up to us to read it and come to our own conclusions.
Mary Ann Courville October 15, 2012 at 07:12 PM
Mr. Paul, I have an extra copy of the report -- Agenda Item 11.2 from August 28, 2012. It is approx. 80 pages. I am attending the Chamber Forum on Measure N tonight...Oct. 15th. I will be happy to provide you a copy. The cost were provided by a consultant: SourceHOV-Deliverex. A summary of cost is in Attachment "C" of the Council Agenda packet. 11.2
Randy Davis October 15, 2012 at 07:17 PM
Gary, Bil has the freedom to write the blog, and the Patch has provided everyone else, including me, with the ability and freedom to respond to the blog.
Mary Ann Courville October 15, 2012 at 08:04 PM
Just one more note: The inserts of No on Measure N in the Dixon Tribune were paid for by campaign funds from the Dixon Positive Action Committee. Ask the Independent Voice who paid for the full page advertisement that has run twice in their newspaper. Their answer will be very surprising to you.
C. Duncan October 15, 2012 at 08:14 PM
Re the laughable pic above, the Yes on N phantoms leafleted my neighborhood with that piece of paper. I was sitting in my living room, front door was open, & my No on N sign was in the grass. Did they knock on my open door? No. Left the leaflet lying on my porch, as they did with neighbors.Hence, stuff happens, not because of political content, but because it is trash. Left like trash and treated like trash. The wind blows and kids are kids. And people have a right to dispose of trash on their property. The only thing citizens are better informed of during this Measure N campaign IMHO is regarding the small band of self-centered folks (thankfully getting smaller and smaller) who would take over our open government, run it in their own stead, dictate in big brother fashion, and stifle real democracy and true open government in the process. They do not care about the community of Dixon. They care only about their political agenda. Mr. Blogger Bill Paul, try to add a little substance to your fluff and puff. It gets really annoying after awhile, especially when you repeatedly turn it around on the people who comment on your fluff pieces. The big bad hidden reports you would like to read are on the City of Dixon website where they have been all along, readily transparent, same one Ms. Salmons referred you to and Mayor Courville offered a copy of - yes, 80 pages. Link: http://dixon-ca.granicus.com/MetaViewer.php?meta_id=26131&view=&showpdf=1 Happy reading. Cindy Duncan
Bil Paul October 15, 2012 at 09:50 PM
Well, I did read over agenda item 11.2 from the Aug. 28 city council agenda (actually this was the second time I've read it), which was a compilation submitted by city HR Director/City Clerk Steve Johnson. First of all, all who assume that I'm urging a vote either for or against Measure N will find no such statement in my blog. I'm trying to get to the essentials of the matter. I will admit that early on, I was quite in favor of Measure M, but now my stance is neutral. But one thing I want to drill in on is the contention of No on Measure N supporters that the measure would cost the city between $357,000 and $410,000 for the first year. Using these figures, the supporters' main campaign statement has been that Measure N promotes government waste. Where do these figures of $357,000 and $410,000 come from? Primarily from the contention that the city would have to digitize all of its paper records -- a statement coming from consultant SourceHOV -- which is in the business of organizing and digitizing records! As I said in the blog, Measure N simply doesn't require the expensive scanning and digitalization of all city paper records. SourceHOV stated that the cost of doing so would be between $253,000 and $296,000. So if you averaged out all these cost projections, you'd find that the cost of digitizing would be around 75% of the projected total cost of implementing Measure N over the first year. So the claim of exorbitant government waste is based on erroneous assumptions.
Bil Paul October 15, 2012 at 10:03 PM
Measure M, above, should be Measure N. It could be that Source HOV thought that digitalization of all city records was necessary because of the short time window that Measure N seeks for access to these city records (two days). As I said in the blog above, I feel that two days is too short, and would be in favor of five working days instead. This would take away any need for total digitalization, in my opinion. For people interested in the pros and cons of Measure N, attend the debate about it tonight (Monday, Oct. 15) in the city council chambers at 7 p.m. One of the fascinating things about Dixon is how fast the two sides of an issue form up and how hardened in their attitudes they become. Each of the two sides only wants to hear what conforms to their already-formed opinions and feelings.
Susan Salmons October 15, 2012 at 10:35 PM
One small point made - 2 days to 5 days. Sounds good to me, but I really don't know what is involved in researching records at the City. I've never done it. Every time something is changed in the ordinance it must go to the vote of the people. What will that cost again? How about just getting it right the first time.
Mary Ann Courville October 15, 2012 at 10:43 PM
http://www.berkeleyside.com/2010/12/14/citizens-sunshine-law-to-go-on-2012-ballot/ This will lead you to an article regarding the City of Berkeley's Ordinance that is also on the November 2012 ballot. The number one complaint is that the cost to implement Berkeley's Ordinance is over $2 million. I suppose that their cost are just as inflated ? Dixon's cost does not just include "digitize all of its paper records", there are costs related to software, equipment, and personnel to implement Measure N. See you tonight.
C. Duncan October 15, 2012 at 10:45 PM
Bill, If you favor five (5) working days for the City to produce records pursuant to request, instead of two (2) working days, you are not neutral on Measure N. Section 12.01.09 requires documents shall be made available with two (2) business days. You are a firm NO vote on the version before the voters. That is how it works. Very simple. It has to be defeated at the polls as written, and then we start all over. We cannot change any of the language or requirements now. Quit misleading people. This is not about feelings or even opinions for that matter; it is about fact. Cindy Duncan
Greg Coppes October 16, 2012 at 12:19 AM
Bill if believe 2days is to short then you are against it. Just as Ms Duncan just posted.
Mary Ann Courville October 16, 2012 at 07:43 AM
Case in point Mr. Paul. Let all say Yes to Measure N, even though we think the speaker time should not be unlimited, and the turn around time should be longer that 2 days, and we think TV monitors behind the dais is not needed. .. we can just change it....oh, that's right, we need to place the matter back on a ballot to fix it. And, how much does that cost to change one or two things?? Let get it right the first time. Say NO to Measure N. Then we can work on a more reasonable, legally defensible Measure, based on sound sunshine ordinance policies. The City of Berkeley took 10 years of work and meetings, 24 draft ordinances before they placed it on a ballot. Even now some in Berkeley are saying it is not worth the $2 million to implement the ordinance. It is time to step back and all of us to rethink our position.
Dane Besneatte October 16, 2012 at 09:57 AM
The important impacts resulting from Measure N are not that it has created a dialogue about how the city is operated, not because it has educated citizens about 'transparency' issues, not that it will result in better or more openness in city operations because it will not and has not. A dialogue has ensued but it is one of discontent, recrimination, accusation and denial. The few and minimal positive additions or expansions of current laws are far outweighed by the intentionally hidden but definitive rights, authorities, obligations and expenses which are blythely and catagorically denied by supporters despite the clear language thereof. No one should be fooled about the true intent of this Measure or the backers thereof. Consideration must be given to the history and record of supporters of Measure N in interactions with the city and city staff and their propensity to over state and fabricate misconduct (like the knowingly false claim of 10 violations of the Brown Act) and their unwillingness to acknowledge flaws and over broad provisions that happen to imbue them with powers and authorities not contained in any other such ordinance. The real issue is the deceit and misrepresentation about the scope and impact of the Measure by supporters and the overwhelming and unnecessary expenses, work requirements and expansion of authority hidden under the wool supporters are attempting to pull over our collective eyes. Its bad law borne of bad motives protending bad consequences.
Justin Cox (Editor) October 16, 2012 at 03:19 PM
Very well put. I could do a better job of explaining this to people.
Justin Cox (Editor) October 16, 2012 at 03:21 PM
Also well said.
JD Kluge October 16, 2012 at 08:25 PM
Bil / Susan As people that seem to have a good understanding of how Measure N will affect the City Council, let ask how it will affect the DSWA meetings ? Will they be under the same requirements as the council meetings (for the next 2 years anyway)? Sitting on the SID Board it would be useful to know how the DSWA meetings will be affected. If passed will we have to provide unlimited time to speakers? Will SID be under the same "transparency" requirements and provisions as JPA members? What about SID staff briefing the Board on DSWA items before the meeting? As a SID Board Member, I have worked closely with the City Council for the last 3 years. I do not see anything in Measure N that could not be passed by a City Council just as Good Business Practices. Council members should not be on the internet or their phones during open session (Do they really need a law for that?). If a public speaker is making a reasonable presentation on a pertinent topic, allow them extra time. If they are delivering a rambling rant hold them to time limit. That is the Mayor's call to make. Do you really need a measure like this (and all the bad stuff that goes with it) to make common sense business changes?
Ian Arnold October 16, 2012 at 08:34 PM
@JD Kluge: The relevant language taken directly from the text of Measure N is here: "Section 12.01.04 Application to Other Agencies To the extent not inconsistent with state or federal law, a legislative body shall require, as a condition of any agreement, amendment thereto or renewal thereof, with any other public agency, including a joint powers authority, that any meeting of a legislative body of that agency at which an item involving the common interests of the City and the agency is discussed or considered, shall be conducted pursuant to the Brown Act and this Chapter." As you can see, any DSWA meeting, any SID meeting wherein Dixon-related issues are discussed, meetings of the Teen Center Board of Directors, etc., would be required to comply with Measure N. If those agencies refuse to comply, does that mean the City must dissolve the relationship? (So we couldn't work with the County Board of Supervisors, ABAG, etc.?) As with so many aspects of Measure N, it's unclear and that lack of clarity is why I refer to Measure N as the Dixon Full Employment for Attorneys Act.
Susan Salmons October 16, 2012 at 08:59 PM
Thank you Mr. Arnold. Well said.
Bil Paul October 17, 2012 at 03:50 AM
I doubt if the teen center would come under the aegis of Measure N.
Susan Salmons October 17, 2012 at 05:35 PM
"Doubt" is a key word. So much is up to interpretation. Hence Mr. Arnold's comment about the "Dixon Full Employment for Attorneys Act".
Gary Erwin October 17, 2012 at 10:52 PM
If I am not mistaken Mr. Francke who was on the Dias as a proponent of Measure N the other evening stands to gain from potential suits generated from non compliance of Measure N. Mr. Franke is listed as General Counsel for Cal Aware http://calaware.org/ His Bio: http://calaware.org/about/board-staff-bios Cal Aware sues: http://calaware.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Press-Release.pdf http://calaware.wordpress.com/2012/02/03/calaware-sues-l-a-supervisors-for-brown-act-violations/
Ian Arnold October 18, 2012 at 12:22 AM
Bil, If you read the section I cut-and-pasted, it appears to say that any agency doing business with the City must conduct meetings wherein an item of common interest to the City is discussed pursuant to Measure N. The Teen Center is a joint project of the City of Dixon, Dixon Unified School District and the Teen Center. I realize that the proponents have essentially said that the language doesn't reflect their intent and that they trust the citizens of Dixon to act responsibly, but the language says what it says.
Randy Davis October 18, 2012 at 01:49 AM
Section 12.01.32 of Measure N (Open Governance Commission) is not clear and possibly a violation of my rights. Should I be barred from serving on the Commission because I worked for the City 12 years ago. I think not. How can the requirements for the Open Governance Commission be more stringent than those for serving on the Council or the other Commissions? Also, what does a "close relationship" with elected or appointed officers, or present or former City employees really mean? Section 12.01.32 Open Governance Commission A. There is hereby created an Open Governance Commission, a permanent three-member volunteer citizen oversight body chosen from applicants who are not employees of the City, do not have immediate family members employed by the City and do not have such a close relationship with elected or appointed officers, or present or former City employees.
Steve Steiert October 18, 2012 at 03:50 AM
Randy, You are wise to point out the fuzzy language of section 12.01.32; of course fuzzy language could be used to describe many sections of Measure N. At Monday's Measure N forum, I asked Mrs. Riddle about the "random selection" of members of the open governance commission--without any type of screening--and on this point she was crystal clear: she felt "any citizen" is more than capable of competently serving on the commission. She went on to say that even a stupid person like me could serve on the commission (knowing my dubious character, I would say her comment is yet another reason to vote no on Measure N).
C. Duncan October 18, 2012 at 04:45 AM
I watched this forum at home on TV. Along these lines, Mrs. Riddle, the co-author of Measure N, also said: "It seems like we take verbatim what this Measure N says. We can do whatever we want. I don't understand why we have to scrutinize this ordinance." Vote NO on Measure N. Cindy Duncan
Mike Smith October 22, 2012 at 06:56 PM
Bil, "For example, the other day I was in city hall looking at some architectural plans for a city project. A staffer stood by to make sure I didn’t run off with them, and I asked if I could photograph several pages. I was told, “No, because they’re copyrighted." What happened when you tried to look and photograph a commerical blueprint? They currently do not disclose private blueprints so under Measure N the full set of plans and specifications would be a public document and must be available for public review. Most businesses do not want to show the world their operation... like a movie studio. Frankly, what business is it of anyone to see the floor plan of someone's custom home?

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