Are Sacramento’s new ethics rules worth the wait?

In the last interview we heard from Common Cause and the League of Women voters, about a set of ethics reforms that are working their way through Sacramento City Hall.

If you listened, you may recall this interview was very positive, very upbeat about the new rules proposed on the use of government email accounts, ending closed door ad hoc meetings of council members, and creation of a new commission to investigate and take enforcement actions against ethics violators.

Paula Lee with the League of Women Voters told me:

“This really is incredibly remarkable. An independent redistricting commission, a sunshine ordinance, a five member ethics commission with enforcement power. It’s worth waiting for.”

For this interview, a different perspective. I spoke with Craig Powell of Eye on Sacramento, a local government watchdog group which has also been pushing for ethics reforms, and really at times doing battle with the city to try and get public records.

(To listen to the interview, click the play button in the player right below.)

After two years of little progress, Powell says the reform package is being rushed through without enough vetting. He says the proposed ethics commission won’t truly be independent, because commission members would be appointed by the mayor and the city council. The group is also proposing that the commission have the power to recommend removal of corrupt officials by the Sacramento Superior Court.

And Eye on Sacramento wants more aggressive disclosure of crime statistics and information about police wrongdoing. “The police department is notorious for being the least transparent department in the city. It’s just a culture they’ve adopted,” Powell told me.

The watchdog group also wants to “sunshine” proposed contracts with city employee bargaining groups.

This seems unlikely to me, in a city run by Democrats who are friendly to public employee unions, who in turn are not so friendly to the idea of doing labor negotiations in the public eye.

In fact, I don’t get the impression that Eye on Sacramento is going to have much luck getting these ideas onto the agenda in the next few weeks. It seems a shame they wouldn’t get some sort of public airing. Especially when we’re talking about creating a more open and transparent government.

There’s always the 2018 ballot, where Powell says EOS may try to get voter approval for a stronger set of reforms. No easy feat either.


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