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.
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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?
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