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Measure N Debate: Sunshine or Dark Headache for the City?

Will Measure N allow for more Dixon city government transparency or be costly, opening the opportunity for city council meeting filibustering? Read the opinions hashed out at the public forum Wednesday night.

Lively debate transpired Wednesday night at the Measure N public forum.

A room filled with more opponents than supporters fired questions at proposition author Ourania Riddle and her consultant Terry Franke, who is from Sacramento. Opponent representatives, retired City Manager Warren Salmons, and retired City Clerk Janice Beaman, were also at the podium to defend their positions. 

Measure N is known as the Open Governance Act and the Sunshine Act. The measure states, "[it] is intended to supplement the Ralph M. Brown Act and Public Records Act with rules to allow the public greater access to City legislative bodies and to records of City departments and officials."

Within its nine pages it covers reform of City Council general procedures, removal of time limits on public speakers at council meetings, indexing and digitizing City records, making City personnel applications public record, guidelines for the Mayor's State of the City Address and creation of a new oversight committee. It also outlines legislative enforcement of the chapter.

The forum was conducted by the Governmental Affairs Committee, a charter of the Dixon Chamber of Commerce. Opening statements were heard from both parties, followed by prepared questions, written audience-submitted questions, live audience questions and closing remarks.

Share your thoughts on Measure N below this story. 

Riddle began by explaining that the purpose of the act is to "reaffirm the government as of the people, by the people, for the people," that it would allow citizens to be better informed of city's information adding more transparency."

Salmons opened by explaining that the City hired an outside consultant who estimates passing this measure will cost $410,000 initially, followed by $216,058 annually to maintain it. There will be the need for an additional part-time employee to digitize and index the 4 million pieces of records the city has collected since 1873.

"Measure N is over 4,000 words long, 33 sections, is poorly worded, complex and confusing," says Salmons, "only half has to do with public records and the rest will dictate how the Dixon government should operate."

Beaman said it has been a long-time goal to digitize City records; as City Clerk she brought the item to Council several times and the council considered the cost a lower priority. 

The question was asked, "Where will the money be cut from?"

"The money has to come from somewhere, and it will come from the general fund," Salmons responded, "would this community like to spend the money on digitizing documents rather than public safety, our children, and maintaining roads and parks?"

Francke said the cuts would be open for the council to decide, suggesting "maybe they will cut libraries to 15 minutes a day, I have no idea what the council will choose." 

Riddle argued that no city services would need to be cut, but said he couldn't answer it in a quick two minutes. 

This question was asked at the forum: Will future city job applicants be visible to the public?

"Yes," answered Francke, "the public is entitled to know who is applying for city jobs, applying for information from records or commission or a committee."

Salmons argued, "So if you are applying to the City as a lawn mower to cut grass, anyone in the public can see your application, or even more important, I'm working as an engineer for a different city, I apply and it is public record so my current job can view the public record of my application. Dixon will loose its competitiveness as a City."

Audience member Seth Jacobs asked about the impact of lifting the speaking time limits at city council meetings to get to their agenda, while also limiting the council meeting to restricted hours. He asked how often the meetings ever end before 10 p.m. 

An audience laugh preceded Beaman's answer: "2:30 a.m. is the latest meeting I have attended, it is normally 11:30 p.m. to midnight with current time constraints."

Riddle supported the measure, saying, "Citizens should be given the same time to speak as the council members receive; everyone's time should be respected." 

"We are trying to allow inexperienced speakers enough time," Francke said in agreement. " [Having] citizens filibustering should not be an issue."

Laughter roared through the meeting hall.

Salmons responded, "Amen to that respect part, the Council has adopted time limits because a few minutes is enough," continuing to explain that removing limits will allow for filibustering and wasted time, which could inhibit the Council's ability to do business. 

Although Riddle agrees the current council is diligent about allowing citizens the time they need to speak, Dixon's city council regulations only allow three minutes. Measure N will require the time to be completely unlimited in case future council members are less accommodating.

Riddle explained that under current public record laws any person has the right to request to see any records during normal operating City business hours, and although she is quoted in the ballot statement declaring, "there have been 10 Brown Act violations in the passed five years submitted to the district attorney's office," she concedes there have been no complaints since 2007.

Beaman then quoted an email from Solano County District Attorney, Donald du Bain, to say there have been no Brown Act violations or lawsuits, though there have been complaints.

Measure N: 12.01.19 D states "Anyone who improperly hinders the offering of public records shall be guilty of a misdemeanor." 

Opponents insist passing this measure will create a more negative work environment for City employees. Following a six-year deficit, pay-cuts, furlows and tight budget issues, they say that adding the measure's stringent rules "could drive employees to the point of nervous disorder."

Riddle argues that the intent of that part of the measure is to prevent anyone from hindering the public's access to city records. She says it's a lie to say "we can't find it. It's been destroyed. We don't have it." 

"[Measure N] is not a threat unless employees are playing acute," Francke added.  

Riddle concluded by saying, "I believe government is excessive, oppressive and possessive. Voting Measure N will allow more transparency in the Dixon city government.  We have a right to know what influences their decisions. Visit www.dixonsunshine.com."

Salmons ended with, "Measure N is bad for Dixon. It will not make Dixon a better place; it will not resolve the sewer problem, sort out the water system operation, improve our streets or make us safer. Measure N will suck money from other higher priority city services."

Measure N is endorsed by the Dixon Chapter of the Solano County Taxpayers Association and is opposed by the Dixon Positive Action Committee.

A full copy of the ballot Measure N is available at the City of Dixon website.

What do you think? Having heard these opinions will you vote yes or no?

Want to say something about Measure N? Leave a comment below or post a blog directly to Dixon Patch. Just click this link and you're ready to publish! Email me at justin.cox@patch.com if you have questions. 

Justin Cox (Editor) September 20, 2012 at 09:48 PM
Let's have a good conversation here. If you're opposed to Measure N, explain your stance in a way that helps supporters understand your side. Same goes for those who support Measure N. Think about cost, freedom of information, freedom of speech -- everything. This article is just a snapshot of the forum. The real conversation can happen right here. Please don't hesitate to weigh in.
Bil Paul September 21, 2012 at 04:28 AM
Fifth paragraph from the end of the article: What does "employees are playing acute" mean? It's a quote from Mr. Francke.
Lindsey Hickman September 21, 2012 at 05:00 AM
That would be up for interpretation, Mr. Francke said it without further explanation.
Chris Duncan September 21, 2012 at 05:36 PM
Hopefully this comment doesn't end up getting duplicated. Most people who speak at public meetings are already very nervous. They are not professional speakers. Placing time constraints on them just compounds the problem. Digitizing records does have an initial cost, but overtime it should pay off with a much more efficient and timely retrieval. In addition, record requests could be emailed and save the city the printing time.
Gary Erwin September 22, 2012 at 03:58 AM
Strike down measure N before it kills the studio deal. The Studio is the best offer that the town has had in over 100 years..... Don't go down in history as the spoilers of the century for our town.
The Great Libertarian September 22, 2012 at 04:43 AM
Actually, Bil, this article is typical of the slanted journalism and inaccurate reporting that I have pointed out over my career in Dixon as a columnist. Terry Francke said, " ... unless employees are playing cute" ... which means they are playing games in denying records when they know they exist. Another inaccuracy that I found from a quick glance is that Ms. Riddle did not say no violations had occurred since 2007, she said none had occurred during Mr. Besneatte's tenure on the council which started three years ago but that there were a number before that which were resolved by the DA and that was Dave Paulson not Don DuBain. Further, Ms. Hickman refers to Riddle as "he" when in fact her husband asked a question but was not on the dais. Perhaps she was referring to Mr. Francke but this is sloppy writing. I question the journalistic integrity of this publication by conveying that the audience was filled with hilarity but failing to mention the composition of the audience. The "shadow government" of Dixon finally showed itself in major support at a debate hosted by an organization that is made up of their members and opponents of Measure N. If Mr. Salmons thinks he has a career in "stand up", I suggest he try playing to an audience which isn't in his pocket. In the meantime, keep your day job ...
The Great Libertarian September 22, 2012 at 04:47 AM
Don't buy into ignorant IBEW comments in this direction. The studio individuals have been sent California State Government code 6244 which provides the exemptions from disclosure that Measure N can not and does not intend to override. Despite what people like Russ Cayler have said, the city can not legally disclose someone's social security number. It would be redacted. Yet the city attorney, who detests this ordinance, sat there silently when he knew the truth. Continue to ask yourselves, "What does the city and governmental officials have to hide?" Obviously more than they want you to know ...
Justin Cox (Editor) September 22, 2012 at 05:52 AM
I appreciate the points you've made. The "acute" quote has been fixed, with acknowledgement that it was had an error before. Same with the he/she reference to Riddle's quote, which I believe was a typo on my part, not the reporter's. As for not describing the composition of the audience: "A room filled with more opponents than supporters fired questions at proposition author Ourania Riddle..." That describes the audience effectively in my opinion. Calling this "slanted journalism" is overblown. I thank you (and Bil) for pointing out the errors that you did. It's important that we don't make those. But as you point out at the end of your comment, there were more opponents than supporters. This article reflects that. It's not slanted. And there's no slant at the publication in general. Keep in mind: If you write something, we'll publish it with your byline. Anytime, on any topic. It's actually encouraged, and it's a fine idea if you think the story isn't being told correctly: http://dixon.patch.com/blog/apply
Gary Erwin September 22, 2012 at 12:55 PM
Michael C. You are both for the studio and Measure N. Would you explin to us what roadblocks the studio sees and why you don't think they are an issue? I find it odd that you are involved on both sides of this issue.
Justin Cox (Editor) September 22, 2012 at 02:54 PM
Also, you're wrong in claiming the "no violations since 2007" inaccuracy. Here's a snippet from Donald A. du Bain to Ms. Beaman: "We have reviewed our files, including those retained by my predecessor, Dave Paulson, for any actions our office has taken on Brown Act violations. While we have received multiple complaints during the past five years, perhaps as many as ten, we are aware of only one action, which was a letter to a library, that was taken by our office. There have been no Brown Act lawsuits initiated by our office, but that is not surprising to us since, under the law, if a violation is found we must first request that the offending agency cure and correct the violation. If they fail to do that, only then can a lawsuit be filed. In what we’ve reviewed, we’ve found no substantiated violations."
Bil Paul September 23, 2012 at 05:28 AM
One thing that seems to have been left out of the Measure N discussion (unless it was brought up in the public debate but not reported upon) is what other cities have sunshine ordinances using similar language and their experiences with them. I'm assuming that much of Dixon's Measure N language was borrowed from other cities.
The Great Libertarian September 23, 2012 at 06:24 AM
Mr. Cox, as your blog does not allow a response to your comments to my reply, I will simply say I am quite a bit more familiar with the facts than you are regarding Don DuBain and Dave Paulson. I have also read the entire message from DuBain to Ms. Beaman. The fact of the matter is DuBain has only been in office since 2011. During this time he has admitted to Ms. Riddle and myself that he knows little about the Brown Act and is not interested in enforcing it because of his limited resources best used in other areas. We offered to set up a seminar with Mr. Francke conducting it and he never expressed any interest. I stand by my statement of the contention of Ms. Riddle because I was present at a meeting of the wastewater committee when four councilmembers were present including then mayor RINO Courville who broke the law by speaking at this meeting without noticing it as a "council" meeting. The law prohibits a majority from addressing a committee. So Ms. Beaman is incorrect and we have the email document from Paulson proving it. I personally know of another two incidents involving Paulson so just because DuBain does not, doesn't mean they didn't occur. In addition, DuBain missed the point we were making in our rebuttal in that we said that actions by the then DA eliminated any need to litigate. The point is with proper intervention not all complaints even get to the cure and correct stage let alone to litigation. Perhaps I should draw you a picture ...
The Great Libertarian September 23, 2012 at 06:38 AM
Yes, I am for both. The studio is a huge opportunity for Dixon. However, I didn't figure on having to fight the IBEW, the proponent, and a few cranks to get this before the Planning Commission. The project proponent, Carissa Carpenter, got herself worked into a dither by Mike Smith of the IBEW who is siding with the same problematic people who brought Measure N into existence. If it were not for the bad old boys, Rotary shadow government and their extensions into the Chamber and DDBA, there would have been no need to demand rights for Dixon citizens to which they are already entitled. After speaking to her, and evidently after Carissa had interviewed with Brianna Boyd of the Tribune, I sent her the government code referenced in my comments above. Carissa then forwarded that to her two attorneys to whom I personally contacted and spoke in order to verify either their objections or continuing concerns. Both gentlemen told me the exclusions provided within GC 6254 addressed their concerns. As for my support of Measure N, I find it illustrative that reports of me being at city hall on Labor Day set off an investigation as to who let me in. In fact, I was not at city hall but it seems that certain people are very nervous that I might have been. I would suggest that they not destroy any more records ...
The Great Libertarian September 23, 2012 at 06:41 AM
This is correct but you missed the responses from those cities in the report on the impacts of those ordinances in their towns. Measure N's language is a consolidation of other cities' ordinances plus specific language addressing illegalities currently occurring in Dixon.
Gary Erwin September 24, 2012 at 08:17 PM
Vote No on Measure N, it is going to rip this little town apart and scare off business.
Mike Smith September 24, 2012 at 11:47 PM
Mr. Paul, that answer is in the city council agenda report and it lists the other cities. They do not come close to Measure N. Some have parts but no one city has all of the Measure. No one has reached out to the business community, while we think business and development are dirty words - that is where most of the jobs are - unless you work for government - then your in or own a business. I know it is stated very simply...
Ian Arnold September 25, 2012 at 03:17 AM
I actually have a proposal. First the background: I appreciate was Ms. Riddle was attempting to do with her Sunshine Ordinance. I had some issues with it, so I waited patiently during interminable special meetings to have my voice heard. After hours of arguing over the definition of "City of Dixon," I feel Ms. Riddle's frustration is perhaps justified. Had I been a city council member, I'd have suggested staff draft a proposal, maintaining the intent of Ms. Riddle's proposal, and presented it for public review and comment. That didn't happen. Instead, the proposed ordinance was bogged down and essentially died. At that point, it was rewritten and presented to the voters. I absolutely can't support Measure N. I believe it will render Dixon ungovernable. Is it possible for a few of us (Ms. Riddle, one or two current electeds, staff, activists) to sit down together and draft a measure that is acceptable? If so, can we then all come together and recommend a "NO" vote on Measure N, with the caveat that the City will adopt the compromise? With all of the issues facing Dixon today, Measure N shouldn't be the hot-button issue it's become. If the Measure N proponents are willing to work together, so am I. www.ianfordixon.com
Ian Arnold September 25, 2012 at 03:22 AM
I actually have a proposal. First the background: I appreciate what Ms. Riddle was attempting to do with her Sunshine Ordinance. I had some issues with it, so I waited patiently during interminable special meetings to have my voice heard. After hours of arguing over the definition of "City of Dixon," I feel Ms. Riddle's frustration is perhaps justified. Had I been a city council member, I'd have suggested staff draft a proposal, maintaining the intent of Ms. Riddle's proposal, and presented it for public review and comment. That didn't happen. Instead, the proposed ordinance was bogged down and essentially died. At that point, it was rewritten and presented to the voters. I absolutely can't support Measure N. I believe it will render Dixon ungovernable. Is it possible for a few of us (Ms. Riddle, one or two current electeds, staff, activists) to sit down together and draft a measure that is acceptable? If so, can we then all come together and recommend a "NO" vote on Measure N, with the caveat that the City will adopt the compromise? With all of the issues facing Dixon today, Measure N shouldn't be the hot-button issue it's become. If the Measure N proponents are willing to work together, so am I. www.ianfordixon.com

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