“Listening for the new told lies
With supreme visions of lonely tunes
Singing our space songs on a spider web sitar
Life is around you and in you
Let the sunshine, let the sunshine in The sunshine in”
—Age of Aquarius
Imagine for a moment you had been there when the sunrise revealed the sails of Columbus’ ships off the coast of what was to become America. Or you were in Dodge City the first time a car lumbered along bellowing smoke down the dirt streets that had been the homes to horses and cows. Or imagine you were taking in the early morning sun on a beach in New Jersey at the turn of the century when you heard the sputtering of the Wright Brothers’ engine and then saw it glide through the air like a bird.
These were seminal moments – the end of an era and the start of another, yet so fragile is the moment that we can miss the significance. The new America was just another way to get to market more quickly. No one could have dreamed of what future it held. The new car was noisy, expensive, and hardly a meaningful substitute for the faithful horse. And a “flying machine” was a novelty that surely was intended for an Icarus type fate.
I’m suggesting we have such a moment now, in, of all places, our own City Hall, and while it may not make repercussions on the same magnitude as the discovery of America, it will surely change the lives of our citizens in the coming years.
Apart from the occasional moment (e.g., the medical marijuana dispensary debate, the request for a south county animal shelter) the Lake Forest City Council meetings have been as interesting as watching paint dry. But that is changing. The last council meeting could have been billed as “the Clash of the Titans”. The main card was the Planning Commission applicants where the new Turks (Voigts, Robinson, and Nick) unseated the Herzog appointees and put in their own (Tea Party) sympathizers. Along with the OC Register and the Patch, I covered this dramatic change. But what hasn’t been covered was the under-card, which took place a few hours later, long after the Council by law should have adjourned.
In the wee hours of the night, nearly 3 ½ hours after the public meeting began, newly elected Councilman Nick asked the Council to consider, at their next meeting (Feb 5), improving access to City records for the public. Specifically he asked for the Council to consider
• Sunshine ordinances
• Putting everything (not prohibited by law) that is available to the public online, “without any exception”
• Creating a “registry for lobbyists”
His fellow new Turk Councilman Dwight Robinson was favorably disposed to the idea but wasn’t exactly sure what “sunshine ordinances” were.
Peter Herzog, who used to command the council along with the “Gang of 3” (2 of whom are now gone) chimed in. He complained that the “staff can’t do it”, apparently forgetting that our City staff are very well paid indeed and many of them make in excess of $100,000 a year on salary alone. Then he claimed, on the one hand, he wasn’t familiar with sunshine ordinances and on the other hand, he thought they caused a lot of problems. In any case, he assured everyone that there were no problems in Lake Forest, so what was all the fuss about? Besides, he argued (Lawyers always like to give you a lot of reasons in the hopes that at least one of them will be valid), there were “too many things on the agenda” and we needed to take care of “necessary business”.
(I assume by “necessary business” he meant awarding the types of contracts and favors that result in council members receiving thousands of dollars in campaign contributions, but I could be wrong about that. See my previous blog and make your own decision).
Councilwoman McCullough came to Herzog’s defense (a strange event given their history and the fact that at one time she wanted to get a restraining order issued against him), and said that she “didn’t want to overload our staff.”
It was left to our new mayor, Scott Voigts, to play the diplomat and suggest that the issue be placed in the Council package so they could review the issue, and at a later time, be brought before the Council. (Nice job, Scott)
Like you, I’m not privy to Board packages, so let me give you a brief summary of what I think Councilman Nick was asking for.
Sunshine ordinances were designed to open local government to the people. They make it easier for people to see what’s happening in their city government and to have a voice in critical decision making. They involve such things as making public with whom city officials are meeting, requiring lobbyists to register, putting FPPC filings online, having fewer closed sessions and requiring more information about closed sessions, etc.
Several cities have enacted sunshine ordinances – San Francisco, Richmond, Oakland, San Diego, Vallejo, Milpitas, etc. Closer to home, Brea and Santa Ana recently passed sunshine ordinances. As far as I can tell, no city that passed a sunshine ordinance has repealed one.
For more reading on this subject –
Of course you don’t have to pass a sunshine ordinance to open up government, and in a previous post I listed many ways this could be done. And without sunshine ordinances other cities (e.g., Irvine, Laguna Hills, Laguna Niguel) have opened up their books to the public. The virtue of a sunshine ordinance is that it has teeth – failure to follow through can result in punishment.
Looking at the upcoming agenda for Feb 5 it’s clear that the issues of sunshine ordinances and transparency are not on the table yet. But Councilman Nick has done our community a great service by raising the question and we can only hope that at least two more people on the council will have the courage to support him.
(BTW – if you missed the Jan 15 Council meeting you can watch it at
Nick’s comments begin at 3:27 and the entire discussion lasts about 10 minutes. If you have the extra time you can watch my comments at 2:53)