Menlo Park City Council members Richard Cline and Andy Cohen sent a letter to the rest of the council calling for more transparency in how the city does its business. They've created a list of objectives to help make that happen, and labeled the goals an "Open Government Initiative." The first objective is to establish an Audit/Finance Committee which would review the city's fiscal situation on a monthly basis.
Here is the full letter:
To: Mayor Fergusson; Council Member Boyle; Council Member Robinson
From: Council Member Cline and Mayor Pro Tem Cohen
Subject: Adoption of an Open Government Initiative and Appointment of Finance Committee
Date: February 21, 2007
Please accept this request of city council to place on the agenda consideration of adopting an Open Government Initiative (OGI). The OGI would be a broad initiative to set in place programs that would enable our citizens to better access information, become involved more in the city itself and act as a tool to keep our city leaders proactive in working with our community to make decisions.
Considerations under the OGI would include but not be limited to:
• Sunshine Reforms Act -- tightening up of the meeting and posting process to allow for a longer time between posting the agenda and the actual meeting -- two weeks minimum.
• Sunshine Reforms Act -- set forth a mandate for city council and city management to give commissions proper lead time to make recommendations on a particular issue under the purview of those commissions (example: fields and the parks and recreation commission)
• Sunshine Reforms Act -- reform the community services (city council) agenda and procedures literature to limit the overuse of the consent calendar for issues more fit for regular business and put a hard stop on council meetings at 11pm. No exceptions. We cannot continue to make decisions after the community has gone to sleep.
• Re-design the city website to make information more accessible, easier to find and more timely -- and to allow real-time communications with the city council.
• Develop a mandatory schedule to hold regular city council meetings in Belle Haven.
• Appoint a finance/audit committee as oversight to the budget reporting process.
First things first.
As the first pillar of the OGI, we propose that our city council immediately appoint a Brown Act guided audit/finance committee made up of three council members. Residents could be added based upon qualifications. This audit committee will work with the finance director to put in place a structure to manage the numbers -- a set of rules to guide the reporting process and set in place a consistent platform to evaluate costs of running programs and how to present the data clearly. This will allow the committee to review the budget reports from the city finance office for accuracy, raise questions for the finance director and put the report through council to the public without bias. The committee can address future financial matters and make recommendations to council as appropriate. But this is not a policy making body. All policy will be set by the council.
The goals of this audit/finance committee are as follows:
• Creation of a consistent process around the presentation of the budget
• Better and more frequent communication to the community as to the city's financial picture
• Systematic reporting structure that will provide quarterly reports for the community and potentially move to monthly reports.
The proposed finance committee would report into the city finance director and to the city council if approved.
This type of committee has been suggested by many citizens of Menlo Park. And while there are many great projects that our council is pursuing right now, there no more pressing needs than getting our financial picture back into focus.
In light of a very busy council calendar over the next several weeks, we respectfully withhold the Sunshine Reforms and website evaluation requests under the Open Government Initiative until this item have been addressed.
Rich Cline, Council Member, Menlo Park
Andy Cohen, Mayor Pro Tem, Menlo Park