Don Gosney: Richmond City Council Needs to Increase Transparency

Don Gosney

 blogimage.jpgThe agenda packet for Tuesday’s meeting is just shy of a thousand pages and the agenda is packed. We’ve also recently learned that an emergency item will be added to discuss the news reports about Richmond’s Housing Authority and the deplorable state of the residences offered to Richmond’s citizens. Common sense would tell us that this item alone should occupy a large part of Tuesday’s meeting.

One of those agenda items—Item I-7—has been placed on the consent calendar. Item I-7 approves an agreement involving Recyclemore, Richmond Sanitary Service and the City of Richmond. This agreement contains fee schedules that involve taxing the citizens of Richmond and adding to Richmond’s General Fund.

This is a complex issue that takes a full 183 pages of the agenda packet. It took many months to hammer out this agreement and took several months of reports to the governing bodies and joint powers authorities. At no time was this issue considered just a Consent Calendar item by these other bodies.

During this time, neither the public nor the Council has received reports from the City Manager, City staff or from those Council members who serve on the JPA. Nothing but dead silence about this for months on end.

As complex as this item is; as controversial as the terms of this agreement are; and considering the impact those issue will have on the people of Richmond and even the rest of West County, how could it be placed on the Consent Calendar as if it were something as simple as approving a contract for office supplies? This agreement will have an impact that, over the life of the agreement, will involve many millions of dollars.

Please keep in mind that this item is a part of a lengthy agenda packet of 966 pages that was issued at the beginning of a three day weekend. Even die hard Councilmembers and members of the public often occupy their three day weekends with activities other than reviewing 966 page agenda packets. Furthermore, since this agenda packet was released to the public on Friday afternoon, City Hall has been closed for three of the four days immediately prior to the Council meeting making it very difficult to seek answers to any questions the people or members of the Council might have.

Out of the 183 pages of this agenda item, all but 8 are the agreement itself. There is no Executive Summary or explanation indicating how this agreement differs from any existing agreement. There is no red-line version that has been offered to the public showing the changes between the old agreement and the new. Members of the Council and the public would have to locate a copy of the old agreement and go over the two agreements—both the old and the new—for a combined total of more than 14,000 lines—to determine what the changes are. This is an unreasonable expectation and would, by no means, be considered an effort to maintain transparency in government. Out of curiosity, if members of the Council had to locate a copy of the old agreement, where would you begin your search? I like to think I’m reasonably smart and I wouldn’t have a clue where to begin such a search.

Without a comprehensive report from City staff, without commentary from the City Manager and without any explanations from the Councilmembers who approved of this agreement on behalf of the City, how are the citizens of Richmond supposed to be able to provide comments and insight to the Council to help guide them?

I am advising you all that I will be pulling this from the Consent Calendar so it can at least be discussed. It is my hope, however, especially considering the unlikely event that the Council will even have enough time at this meeting to address it before the meeting must end, that the item will be pulled from this agenda and be brought back as an agendized item at a later time as a study item where a full staff report can be made with a fuller scrutiny by the full Council and the people. It would be a travesty and an injustice to try to slip this item by the people as a Consent Calendar item. Furthermore, when the first four and a half hours of the Council meetings are filled with the lengthy and protracted ramblings and political maneuverings Richmond is famous for, during that last half hour remaining before the mandated adjournment this Council seems to give the remaining agenda items a short shrift where they bring them up and try to vote on them without discussion and even without allowing commentary from the public. It’s as though getting through the agenda items before adjournment is more important than properly addressing the items and giving them their due consideration. This item is too important to be relegated to the dust bin of the meeting when most of the viewing public has either gone home or retired to their beds.

Please, withdraw this agenda item and bring it back as a full agenda item with the proper attention it deserves.

- Don Gosney, Richmond Resident

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