The State of Transparency in California: 2013

At the other end of the spectrum. State Controller John Chiang affirmed that one of his top priorities is to publish data that is otherwise reported to his office and filed away.IN THIS UPDATE What are the core issues shaping public access and engagement in state and local decision making in California? This update is offered as a high level overview of recent developments and longstanding questions. His effort to reveal the fiscal workings of governments included Public Pay—a website that informs Californians about how much their state and local representatives are being paid. we also offer our perspective on vital next steps to fostering a renewed system of governance that enables elected officials and public agencies to forge the best possible solutions and provide the highest quality of services. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY Despite the massacre of facts that typically occur in presidential election years. Voters experienced the first dividends of citizen-drawn legislative districts. Intended as a conversation starter on this critical issue in California. and state reimbursements to local governments’ public notice were requirements were a victim of budget cuts. and robust new tools were launched to track compensation of public employees. somehow the theme of “public transparency” survived and thrived in 2012. Senator Leland Yee was successful in bolstering the state’s transparency laws in key ways and assessing lobbyists to fund new reporting infrastructure. But his proposals to broaden online offerings and public access to additional agencies both failed in the Capitol. the scandal at the California Department of Parks and Recreation brought the entire state financial reporting structure under scrutiny. Last year also saw some emerging champions for transparency. A fresh round of scandals hit local governments in Los Angeles County. Yee’s proposals speak to the crux of California’s problem: an outmoded system. .

California must modernize the other. One place the discussion can continue is transparency.cafwd. At its most basic level. how decisions get made — is a contemporary information infrastructure and matching requirements for that information to be easily available to everyone. This document should serve as a starting point for that conversation. encourages elected officials to publicly discuss options and explain the reasons for their individual and collective decisions. public engagement strategies and improved reporting are all aspects of badly needed modernization of the State’s governmental culture. California’s Public Records Act and many of the laws governing public meetings and communication with and among elected officials predate the internet by more than 20 years. Enhanced online resources. . This transparency framework requires a layered approach to communication and cooperation with the public at all levels of government.The cornerstone of the State’s open government structure. and for the purposes of this update. What is truly important is what Californians believe transparency ought to mean in their state. the State’s infrastructure for communicating with citizens and among governments is based on outmoded legacy systems. On the other end of the spectrum. It is an incubator of development hardwired to venture capital funding. The Ralph M. Critical to improving California’s system of governance — that is. California leads the world in innovation of information and communication technology. broadly communicates those decisions. and why is it important today? Transparency means many things to many people. was passed before the invention of the Xerox machine. maturing best of breed hardware and software development. Brown Act. and publically tracks and reports results. To modernize At its most basic level. This all raises a critical question: what is transparency. a Transparent Government is one that advertises pending decisions (making key factors broadly available before meetings) provides ways for the public to ask questions and express preferences before and during the decision. California Forward asserts that Transparent Government is one that makes critical information easily available so that it can inform decisions — by voters as well as their elected representatives.

an immigration proposal. A provision of last year’s failed Proposition 31 (advocated by California Forward) would have required all legislative proposals be publicly available for 72 hours before an official vote.” and even that rule is routinely suspended. The harried nature with which state budgets – and indeed many laws – are passed in the Legislature is more or less a punch line in Sacramento. “three days in print” in Capitol vernacular. “Gut and Amends” are not the only process issue that erodes public confidence. which for most of the legislative session was a bill on air pollution. . But it is a pox on our democracy. Last minute and often major revisions to legislative proposals. One prominent example from 2012 was SB 901.CORE ISSUES IN STATE AND LOCAL TRANSPARENCY Well-documented problems with the legislative and budget processes linger. and in the final week of session was amended to be the California Opportunity and Prosperity Act. known as “Gut and Amends” are a longstanding. the practice obscures the public’s view into government. Whatever the merits of either proposal. The current requirement is that a measure must only be “in print. common and controversial practice in the Capitol. but they are emblematic of the culture that erodes public trust.

State-level information on pensions and even basic expenditures is scarce and often outdated once available. including the county. financial data on state and local government can be difficult to obtain. Facing these shortcomings is but the first step in bringing Californians closer to their government and our elected leaders closer to meaningful debate on core issues. is strong evidence that enhanced reporting and oversight is needed — and that oversight in part can be done by the public if the right information is available to everyone. it is difficult if not impossible to find out which of the many local governments that provide services get the money. While there is much to praise in state and local transparency efforts. data on campaign contributions that can influence decision-making. interpret and evaluate. school districts and a basket of special purpose districts.CORE ISSUES IN STATE AND LOCAL TRANSPARENCY A lack of valid data is preventing policymakers and the public alike from making informed choices. The rash of local government scandals. there is still an enormous deficit in the quality of available fiscal data: data on revenue. and. Californians should care about this since property tax is still the single largest tax financing local services. Californians are only now coming to understand what public workers earn on an annual basis. the city. From the property taxpayer’s perspective. Little if any actionable data is available on pension and debt obligations. complex funding mechanisms for K-12 education. are based on self-reported and unaudited data from the very entities being monitored. property tax distribution and other state functions limit true comprehension of the State’s finances to a handful of Capitol insiders and watchdogs. Depending on the number of local governments that provide services. along with the state parks controversy. . as in the State Parks Department or the City of Bell. the State Controller’s Annual Reports. More foundational. Perhaps the worst example of lack of information is related to property tax. a homeowner’s tax payment may be split among a dozen or more entities. Whether limited by outmoded reporting systems or intentionally withheld or obscured. the only centralized source for information on local government spending and revenues. expenditures and outcomes by agencies so the public knows if they are getting their money’s worth. At a high level.

this trend is in decline and many cost-effective. the lag on implementing modern tools and providing good quality data is perhaps the state’s biggest missed opportunity. Only a fraction of California cities make local campaign finance information available online. but it is the most expedient vehicle for engaging the public and encouraging honest evaluation of its performance. Home to Silicon Valley and several of the world’s most forward-looking corporations.CORE ISSUES IN STATE AND LOCAL TRANSPARENCY Innovations abound. online resources and critical data on major initiatives. It has been plagued by outages and is in dire need of modernization. The State of California’s online resources have been positively reviewed in reports issued by the Sunshine Review and Center for Public Integrity. California has a commendable history of incorporating technology and other best practices into its public engagement strategies. Some notable efforts aside. The State shut down its central transparency website in 2011 (asserting the information was available elsewhere). some of which dates to original launch in 1999. The state has nonetheless let certain tools languish. The State’s lobbying and campaign finance disclosure website (Cal-Access) relies on 13 different programming languages. and cities such as San Francisco have implemented tools at the vanguard of open data resources. Technology is not a cure for the accountability issues in California. And while cities of varying size have implemented a range of transparency tools online. smart solutions are being overlooked or ignored. are severely lacking. the campaign finance tools that are the norm at the state and federal level are almost entirely absent from the municipal and school district venues. This system is fortunately set to receive new funding. With the internationally renowned ecosystem of web developers and technology entrepreneurs in California. California’s public sector is lagging in the adoption of tools that were invented by the private sector right in its backyard. but adoption rates are slow. and eliminated others. such as criminal justice realignment. Looking beyond the State’s reporting. local government on the whole does not adequately or uniformly communicate key budget information. . From top to bottom. However.

zhtml?c=94566&p=irol-financials . Mary Graham and David Weil explore the burgeoning transparency movement in the public and private sectors and how increased availability of data and rising public demand for accountability are reshaping public discourse. single-spaced. What data is most important to share? In the 2007 book “Full Disclosure: The Perils and Promise of Transparency.” Harvard Kennedy School faculty Archon Fung. Private sector entities understand they must be accountable not only to their bond holders. which provides a set of best practices on budgeting to guide solid financial management? While there are jurisdictions that excel in one or more of these categories in nearly every corner of the state. publicly traded companies must disclose information on an ongoing basis to the Securities and Exchange Commission. county or school district budget: Availability: Is the jurisdiction’s Budget document online? Is it easy to find and organized in a straightforward. Analogous to this would be the annual reports of major corporations. logical way? Accessibility: Is there an explanation of the local agency’s decision-making process and how to participate in it? Is there a clear timeline laid out to city residents regarding the budget process? Is there a clear “Budget Policy Statement. including annual filing of the Form 10-K. and profiles of company leadership and the corporation’s strength in the marketplace. side by side. Certainly. action. the 2011 10-K report for the Coca-Cola Company is 238 pages long. The company also. on balance local government has significant ground to cover in these regards. Just one example. debt and other key issues? What opportunities are there for public input on budget priorities? How are these opportunities promoted. and because of the unique nature of public services. on the firm’s Investor Reports and to whom? Accountability: Does the budget document meet the criteria established by the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA). and response. The authors caution that “Whether and how new information is used to further public objectives depends upon its incorporation into complex chains of comprehension. or discern the critical steps in the decision making process. 1 1 Owing to layered legal and financial regulations. Among the core issues are the pitfalls of disclosure without definition. as each city and school district is unique. however. regulators and lawmakers. operating reserves.” To this point. The key questions to ask. issues a shareholder-focused Annual Review that is just 38 pages long and is rich with photos. then. As such. As such. both of these documents are easily found on the corporation website at thecoca-colacompany. Under federal securities laws.thecoca-colacompany. providing a comprehensive overview of the company's business and financial condition.Key Consideration: Performance Data is Useless without Proper Context.” a central document that lays out the jurisdiction’s policies on balanced budgeting. but also to shareholders and customers who are predominantly laymen. easy-to-comprehend graphs. public budgets tend to be more complex than those of small or large and listed. The distinction of the two documents is one of context and audience. so too are its budget practices. many community members may not possess the tools to understand finished budget documents. when considering a city. it is insufficient for a government agency to merely post byzantine budgetary documents or inscrutable data files that fail to inform even the most engaged of constituents. http://ir.

the project is designed to promote best practices and raise the bar for transparency in government budgeting and decision making. school and special districts. beyond the passive acts of merely publishing meeting and budgetary documents. public safety and other core issues. Ultimately. . offers engaging and contextual portrayals of these data points. counties.cafwd. transparency. While supporting a movement to redefine transparency toward a more active enterprise. must strive to provide context to these documents and figures they contain. educational achievement. California Forward launched a Transparency Portal in 2012 to identify and promote best practices in the communication of government activity in California to support transparency and accountability and encourage continuous improvement in governance models. California Forward is striving to fill the contextual void left by an abundance of raw data and a dearth of perspective on core issues including local finance.THE CALIFORNIA FORWARD TRANSPARENCY PORTAL California Forward believes that “Transparency” in California must mean more than access to public documents. and the highly trained professionals that manage them. With a focus on California cities. State and local government The Transparency Portal integrates public data on budgeting and key governmental outcomes. as well as identifies and highlights best practices in these efforts across California. municipalities.

this information should be available in formats that allow the public and policymakers to understand the real deal. State transparency laws should be updated to reflect the contemporary world and enable greater citizen engagement. only to see radical changes made in the 11th hour is unacceptable and common sense reforms are needed. Allowing a bill to travel through committee approval in one form. Putting an end to the “Gut and Amend” process would be a substantial step forward for the California Legislature. in public works and prisons. at minimum making the scanned pdfs accessible should be the norm in cities with adequate resources. in classrooms and courtrooms. EXPANDING DISCLOSURE OF CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTORS ENDING CLOSED DECISION-MAKING PROCEDURES . PLANNING AND OUTCOMES. the need – and demand – for expanded transparency has never been higher. in 2012 the commitment to inform the public did not match the imperative. less than 10 percent of California cities make campaign finance and candidate filings available online. At the local level. One of the root causes of California’s underperformance is a highly complex system that makes it hard for public officials to deliver and even harder for voters to know whether they did or not.Given the high stakes decisions before officials. While California may still lead by example. from runaway pension obligations to billion-dollar infrastructure investments. Whether it is city budgets or the arrest rates of re-offenders. Now the standard for state and federal government. Multiple legislative proposals are already making their way through Sacramento this year as a result of the outcry over the $11 million in “dark money” funneled from Arizona into two California ballot measure elections in November 2012. The public – and the officials in charge – must know where the money is going and what is being accomplished. and improve efficiency at the state and local level. Here are a few areas where California Forward is engaging: WHAT ARE THE NEXT STEPS? EXPANDING ACCESS TO RELIABLE DATA ON PUBLIC SPENDING. Ending the practice is a good first step in the long road to a process that often excludes even insiders and public interest advocates – let alone the general public.

Have more great examples? Want to Share yout thoughts on Transparency in California? transparency. While certainly not a comprehensive list. Cost is regularly cities as a barrier to this kind of transparency. but examples exist of low impact means for communicating basic information. in both the public and private sector. The City of Santa Maria is another strong example of a straightforward portal for this information. Public engagement strategies across the state are as diverse as its communities. The City of West Hollywood has a robust system displaying Campaign Finance Statements for all candidates. campaign finance forms and the FPPC’s campaign disclosure manual. at minimum making the scanned pdfs accessible should be the norm in cities with adequate resources. Less than 10 percent of California cities make campaign finance and candidate filings available online. including a filing calendar.cafwd.City Hall Success Stories Local Campaign Finance Let’s Keep Talking The following pages outline individual success stories in transparency from local government. contributions and Get engaged at: . these are just a few stories California Forward has been following the past year. The City of Irvine for example has created a campaign finance page that includes a PDF list of open campaign committees. Many of the state’s large cities as well as medium size cities such as Berkeley and Huntington Beach utilize third party tools to allow for both candidate filing as well as a public access portal for information on candidates. a listing of the city’s campaign contribution limits over the course of the last several years as well as a list of resources for candidates. incumbents and political committees regarding expenditures and contributions. Now the standard for state and federal government.

At least 10 cities in Orange County provide some level of translation. Her initiative “Open Up Long Beach” provides residents with increased access to the city’s every day affairs and includes opportunities to learn about what individual council members are working on. . and it appears the community was eager for such an opening to get involved and restore faith.City Hall Success Stories Public Engagement Long Beach Launches “Open Up Long Beach” In January of 2012 Councilwoman Gerrie Schipske of the City of Long Beach took public education and transparency efforts one step further. Vallejo Trailblazes on Participatory Budgeting Vallejo implemented one of the most aggressive participatory budgeting programs in the country in the wake of its bankruptcy. what committees they sit on and what projects they spearhead. The project combines an online resource with “Open Up Long Beach” community meetings. Vallejo is the first city in America to have its council adopt participatory budgeting city-wide with funds from a general sales tax measure rather than in just one district using discretionary funds. Anaheim Incorporates Spanish Translation at Council Meetings Anaheim announced in January 2013 that it would provide Spanish translators at its council meetings. and the demand for bilingual meetings and materials is growing across the state. Setting a new first gave Vallejo the opportunity to move on from a period of financial turmoil.

The application allows police officers to report remotely from the field. RC2GO allows residents to report graffiti. saving time and speeding communication. the tool offers new ways to engage with the city on key decisions. which enables direct access to tap into City data to build software applications. potholes or other issues to the city.” an online forum for civic engagement. the City of San Francisco announced the launch of a new mobile application to a list of already implemented technologies that have changed the way many of the city’s departments conduct business. Rancho Cucamonga Launches RC2GO In 2012 Rancho Cucamonga joined the ranks of cities that have launched smartphone apps. Launched in February. launched in February 2013 and allowing users to access. Run by Peak Democracy. This has led to the creation of data. . the Oakland City Council passed an open data policy initiative put forth by city councilmember Libby Schaff. electric vehicle charging and other items via the In addition.City Hall Success Stories . The City also provides information on recycling.openoakland. Oakland Advances Open Data In April. Online Tools and Data Sharing San Francisco Launches App for Police Department Last summer. Walnut Creek Launches Open Town Hall Walnut Creek launched “Open Town Hall. visualize and download City data. from Beverly Hills to Livermore. programmers will appreciate the site’s Application Programming Interface (API).

an opportunity for government to use technology to save time and money plus improve accountability to those they govern. intelligent software to improve government transparency.Spotlight on Innovation The following firms are just some of those operating in California and leading in public engagement and government transparency. promotes transparency. See: delphi.” Delphi’s platform streamlines the management of municipal financial data. and intuitive user . etc. efficiency. They are listed alphabetically and are not offered as a comprehensive list or endorsement of any product or service. Delphi is developing “user-friendly. quality of life. CitySourced provides a simple and intuitive platform empowering residents to identify civic issues (public safety. and performance. and improves policy decisions by offering unprecedented municipal benchmarking of performance outcomes. robust analytics. See: citysourced. CitySourced Los Angeles based CitySourced is a real time mobile civic engagement platform. environmental Delphi Founded by Stanford technologists and backed by prominent Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and investors.) and report them to city hall for quick resolution. visualizations to communicate complex data.

com Southtech SouthTech Systems is an eGoverment and eBusiness software development company with offices in Riverside. established in 1998. . NetFile accounts for more than half of all electronic filings of political disclosure documents and lobbyist statements in the State of California.” See: southtechsystems. The company has two flagship products. and broad public interest (not narrow special interest). See: peakdemocracy. It emulates the order and decorum of public hearings — making the forums insightful and civil yet compliant with free speech and other legal requirements. develops internet software that augments and diversifies online civic engagement in ways that can increase public trust in government. was the first company to e-file a campaign finance disclosure statement in California. NetFile’s Campaign system clients include several cities (including 3 of the largest in the state) and counties (including 5 of the 7 largest in the state). The company’s stated focus is to “equip government offices with costeffective and scalable solutions that utilize robust databases. NetFile launched a new product built using its expertise in electronic filing that enables local city and county governments to cost effectively set up their own Campaign E-filing and Administration systems. Open Town Hall / Comments is an online forum for dialogue on specific issues. Open Town Hall / Ideas 3. digitized document technology and electronic Peak Democracy Berkeley-based Peak Democracy. Califonira-based NetFile. It's modeled after the best practices of brainstorming workshops professionally facilitated to optimize for collaboration (not arguments).NetFile Mariposa. See it in action: netfile. Inc. In 2003. consensus (not polarization). California.0 is an online forum for ideation on general topics.

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