Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
Sunshine Week: Blinds Remain Partially Drawn on Transparency at Fresno City Hall
gvw_david_taub
By David Taub, Senior Reporter
Published 1 month ago on
March 11, 2024

Share

This is Sunshine Week, focusing on the openness and transparency of government.

Main Fresno City Hall meetings are open and easily accessible.

The Fresno City Council continues to make decisions in secret.


When it comes to open meetings and public access, the city of Fresno is one of the better local government agencies.

Meetings for its most important bodies — namely the city council, and planning commission — have easy-to-find and read agendas, allow for public participation in-person or remotely, and broadcast meetings live and easily archived on YouTube.

Openness, however, does not always mean transparency. As reported several times this past year, the Fresno City Council likes to keep its secrets secret.

During this Sunshine Week, maybe the city council will get the message.

Sunshine Week is the annual event sponsored by several good government groups, First Amendment advocates, and journalism organizations. The goal is to “shine a light on the importance of public records and open government.”

Fresno Still Makes Secret Decisions

The state’s open meeting law, the Brown Act, requires that most business be done in public and out in the open. There are some exceptions, which can be heard in closed session. Items such as personnel discussions, settling lawsuits, and certain land negotiations can take place in private.

However, once a decision is reached, it must be reported publicly. The Fresno City Council fails this requirement time and time again.

In the last year, the council voted in closed session to bail out the operator of Granite Park, paying $414,000 in delinquent PG&E bills. The city council used a technique that it thinks skirts the disclosure law — giving its legal team “direction” to make a deal or settlement. Since no vote was taken, no vote has to be revealed.

The council has used the tactic several times over the years to sidestep reporting lawsuit settlements. Settlements are a matter of public record — the city must reveal records of the documents and a vote count — when asked. However, instead of being open and transparent, the city forces the media and avid council watchers to know what to ask for and when.

Also, the city council tasked City Attorney Andrew Janz to write a letter to Attorney General Rob Bonta over concern about a measure placed on the ballot by the Fresno County Board of Supervisors. Measure A asked voters to establish that mid-year primary elections are when the district attorney and sheriff should be on the ballot. A state law moved those elections to presidential primary years.

It is questionable whether such an item should have been discussed in closed session in the first place. It is even more questionable for the council not to reveal its vote, or “direction.”

City Reverses Course on Secret Budget Decisions

Public pressure has forced the council to make budget decisions more transparent.

Several civic groups chastised councilmembers for making budget decisions in the dark through a three-member committee. City committees of less than a majority can meet outside the scrutiny of the open meetings law.

The pressure continued, with a lawsuit filed by the ACLU and First Amendment Coalition questioning the justification for keeping budget meetings secret. While the litigation is pending, City Council President Annalisa Perea recently said any budget negotiations and decisions will be made in public.

Sunshine Week 2024 Cartoon

Obscure Meetings Hard to Find

Several committees and commissions help the city conduct business. The planning commission is composed of the mayor’s appointed representatives to decide land use issues. Its decisions also go to the city council.

The city council also establishes several advisory committees. Two recently met on the same day, at the same time in City Hall with different results.

The women’s commission and the immigrant affairs commission met at noon on Feb. 29. Both bodies are subject to the Brown Act, and the meetings were open to the public.

Both bodies are somewhat obscure. They do not receive much media scrutiny or attention from the public.

Both had signs on the second floor pointing out which room each meeting was taking place. However, only one had its agenda posted online on a page with other city agendas. Only one — the women’s commission — was staffed gavel-to-gavel by the city clerk’s office.

Unless you knew from other sources about the immigrant affairs meeting, the odds of learning about it were off the chart. Based on the fact that this reporter was the only public member to attend, no one else apparently knew — at a time when immigration issues are front-page news.

The lack of city staff support rankled immigrant affairs chair Linda Barreto so much that she quit on the spot.

Technically — and I checked with David Loy of the First Amendment Coalition — not all city committee meeting agendas have to be posted online. A physical copy does have to be posted somewhere around City Hall.

The women’s commission meeting agendas are posted online, on the same section of the website as the city council, planning commission, and other major meetings. The immigration affairs agenda was posted on the clerk’s notices and publications sections of the website — mixed in with land-use notices.

If politicians care enough about an issue to appoint a commission, they ought to care enough to make it easy for taxpayers to know when and where it’s meeting.

Bottom line: The shades at City Hall remain partially drawn. Sunshine Week would be a good time to let the light in.

As the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once observed, “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.”

RELATED TOPICS:

DON'T MISS

Who Owns Businesses in California? A Lawmaker Wants the Public to Know

DON'T MISS

$11M State Grant Will Help Fresno’s Emergency Shelter Beds, Mental Health Services

DON'T MISS

City Council Finally Gives New NW Fresno Costco a Green Light

DON'T MISS

Prop 47 Reformers Send Nearly a Million Signatures to Sacramento

DON'T MISS

BTC Scammy Scams, Impact of Blockchain on Global Markets: Crypto The WonderDog Show

DON'T MISS

US Vetoes Full United Nations Membership for Palestine

DON'T MISS

Barbara Corcoran: 1% Interest Rate Drop Will Send Housing Prices ‘Through the Roof’

DON'T MISS

Cavinder Twins Are Returning to Miami for Their Last Season

DON'T MISS

California Sets Long-Awaited Drinking Water Limit for ‘Erin Brockovich’ Contaminant

DON'T MISS

Savannah Bananas Dominate Social Media, Sell Out Stadiums Nationwide Including Fresno

UP NEXT

City Council Finally Gives New NW Fresno Costco a Green Light

UP NEXT

Prop 47 Reformers Send Nearly a Million Signatures to Sacramento

UP NEXT

BTC Scammy Scams, Impact of Blockchain on Global Markets: Crypto The WonderDog Show

UP NEXT

US Vetoes Full United Nations Membership for Palestine

UP NEXT

Barbara Corcoran: 1% Interest Rate Drop Will Send Housing Prices ‘Through the Roof’

UP NEXT

Cavinder Twins Are Returning to Miami for Their Last Season

UP NEXT

Savannah Bananas Dominate Social Media, Sell Out Stadiums Nationwide Including Fresno

UP NEXT

Biden is Off on Details of His Uncle’s WWII Death as He Calls Trump Unfit to Lead the Military

UP NEXT

Big Names in Rap, Christian Music, and Comedy Headline Must-See Weekend Entertainment

UP NEXT

US and UK Issue New Sanctions on Iran in Response to Tehran’s Weekend Attack on Israel

David Taub,
Senior Reporter
Curiosity drives David Taub. The award-winning journalist might be shy, but feels mighty with a recorder in his hand. He doesn't see it his job to "hold public officials accountable," but does see it to provide readers (and voters) the information needed to make intelligent choices. Taub has been honored with several writing awards from the California News Publishers Association. He's just happy to have his stories read. Joining GV Wire in 2016, Taub covers politics, government and elections, mainly in the Fresno/Clovis area. He also writes columns about local eateries (Appetite for Fresno), pro wrestling (Off the Bottom Rope), and media (Media Man). Prior to joining the online news source, Taub worked as a radio producer for KMJ and PowerTalk 96.7 in Fresno. He also worked as an assignment editor for KCOY-TV in Santa Maria, California, and KSEE-TV in Fresno. He has also worked behind the scenes for several sports broadcasts, including the NCAA basketball tournament, and the Super Bowl. When not spending time with his family, Taub loves to officially score Fresno Grizzlies games. Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, Taub is a die-hard Giants and 49ers fan. He graduated from the University of Michigan with dual degrees in communications and political science. Go Blue! You can contact David at 559-492-4037 or at Send an Email

Prop 47 Reformers Send Nearly a Million Signatures to Sacramento

15 hours ago

BTC Scammy Scams, Impact of Blockchain on Global Markets: Crypto The WonderDog Show

16 hours ago

US Vetoes Full United Nations Membership for Palestine

16 hours ago

Barbara Corcoran: 1% Interest Rate Drop Will Send Housing Prices ‘Through the Roof’

17 hours ago

Cavinder Twins Are Returning to Miami for Their Last Season

18 hours ago

California Sets Long-Awaited Drinking Water Limit for ‘Erin Brockovich’ Contaminant

18 hours ago

Savannah Bananas Dominate Social Media, Sell Out Stadiums Nationwide Including Fresno

20 hours ago

Biden is Off on Details of His Uncle’s WWII Death as He Calls Trump Unfit to Lead the Military

21 hours ago

Big Names in Rap, Christian Music, and Comedy Headline Must-See Weekend Entertainment

21 hours ago

US and UK Issue New Sanctions on Iran in Response to Tehran’s Weekend Attack on Israel

21 hours ago

Who Owns Businesses in California? A Lawmaker Wants the Public to Know

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A California lawmaker wants to require business owners and landlords to disclose their identities under legislation aim...

3 hours ago

3 hours ago

Who Owns Businesses in California? A Lawmaker Wants the Public to Know

14 hours ago

$11M State Grant Will Help Fresno’s Emergency Shelter Beds, Mental Health Services

15 hours ago

City Council Finally Gives New NW Fresno Costco a Green Light

15 hours ago

Prop 47 Reformers Send Nearly a Million Signatures to Sacramento

Crypto the WonderDog Show
16 hours ago

BTC Scammy Scams, Impact of Blockchain on Global Markets: Crypto The WonderDog Show

16 hours ago

US Vetoes Full United Nations Membership for Palestine

17 hours ago

Barbara Corcoran: 1% Interest Rate Drop Will Send Housing Prices ‘Through the Roof’

18 hours ago

Cavinder Twins Are Returning to Miami for Their Last Season

MENU

CONNECT WITH US

Search

Send this to a friend