http://pleasantonweekly.com/print/story/print/2013/06/21/guest-opinion-what-transparent-government-means


Pleasanton Weekly

Opinion - June 21, 2013

Guest opinion: What transparent government means

Issues are vetted in public process to make city's decisions

by Cheryl Cook-Kallio

When I was new to the Pleasanton City Council in 2006 a former council member complimented me on a vote, but also said, "I wish you had said more about how you arrived at the decision." I was being careful not to talk too much. Her comment caused me to reflect on what transparent government means.

Council members, as a group, are prohibited from talking about agenda items outside the public process. The Brown Act allows for two of the five to talk but seeks to prevent a series of conversations with each other that could influence a vote prior to the public conversation. Written and email correspondence, as well as information submitted by stake-holders, are all part of the public record. The entire council then must make sense of this in full view and on the record of what is before us. Any agenda item should be vetted as part of the public process, hearing a staff report, inviting public comment, and then engaging in a critical thinking conversation that hopefully results in sound decision making.

This critical conversation becomes even more crucial with a new council. We all receive the staff report a week or so before the meeting. This gives us time to review it. Often we will hear from interested parties and have individual meetings; I will visit the site, by myself or with others. Seeing the project site helps me better understand the issues, however each council member approaches the gathering of information differently. All of these bits of information come together at the council meeting when the real discussion takes place. It is imperative that we ask the questions of staff and then listen to the public and each other to enable that give and take. There are three reasons why a council member asks a question. The first is to clarify information. Equally important is to ask questions or make comments to make sure the information is reflected on the record. Lastly, it helps our community understand how we balance competing interests to arrive at a decision that serves the best interests of Pleasanton.

Sometimes it may feel like we are spending too much time on something. However, the decisions we make have the potential to affect thousands of people for generations. Sometimes our decisions cost millions of dollars. It helps all of us to hear our thought process out loud, especially with a new council. In the long run it will help this current council to better serve the citizens of Pleasanton. It is what we were elected to do.

--Cheryl Cook-Kallio has served on the City Council since 2006. She is currently in her fourth term as vice mayor.

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