Public will run the open government commission now, not council

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Councilman Peter Leroe-Muñoz

City Council is preparing to change the dynamics of their open government commission – which was created in 2009 to promote transparency from Gilroy staff – as they move to allow members of the public apply for the commission.
The open government commission’s mission is to act as a watchdog to City government, by checking into stalled or denied public records requests, and to advocate for further government transparency.
Council voted Sept. 17 to approve the modified ordinance, which says that by 2014, the commission will be run entirely by members of the community, rather than by City Council members.
Currently, the commission meets quarterly and is led by Councilman Dion Bracco, Councilman Peter Leroe-Munoz and Mayor Al Pinheiro.
The new commission will undergo a transition phase starting in January 2013, when three community members and two Council members will take on the task of its leadership.
By early 2014, however, no Council members will sit on the commission, leaving the job to five community members.
Councilman Perry Woodward said this change is what he’s hoped for since the open government ordinance’s inception.
“By taking the Council out of the open government commission, it truly serves a government watchdog role,” Woodward said.
According to Woodward, only pressure from the public will cause City Hall to become more transparent. He believes having Council member presence is too much like the “fox guarding the hen house,” and for true government accountability, the commission should be run solely by civilians.
Council will begin accepting applications for the new commission in November or December, Woodward said.
Concerned that because people are so busy with their day-to-day lives, Woodward said Council may have a hard time filling those spots.
“There hasn’t been a city scandal in a little while, there’s not some big watershed event to stir people up, so people might be passive until there is some other big moment,” he said. “But it’s important that City Hall continues to be made aware of their obligation to be transparent.”
Woodward said the time commitment for joining the open government commission is about four hours every three months.
Councilman Dion Bracco is hopeful that the spots for the commission will be filled, despite Council’s struggles to fill commission spots in the past.
“We normally have a hard time filling spots, but I’m hopeful because this is a commission that is unique and will pique interest from a lot of people,” Bracco said.
Bracco agreed with Woodward – the open government commission only works if led by the public, not the Council.
“This will give a good cross section of the community, and allow them to handle what they think will be released to the public,” he said. “Having community members run the commission will take us a long way in our original objective – to look for ways we can release information, not for ways we can hide it.”
In the December 2011 the open government commission brought a motion before Council to remove all anonymous campaign contributions for City government elections, which passed on a narrow 4-3 vote. The three meetings so far in 2012 have all been less than a half hour long, and have conducted no major business.

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