Mayoral Candidates Faulconer, Alvarez Answer Transparency Questions
Monday, January 27, 2014
Photo by Angela Carone / KPBS
The Public Insight Network is a national tool managed by American Public Media that gives news outlets a way to find sources, survey and connect with their audiences. More than 40 questions were submitted by KPBS listeners and readers, and KPBS staff selected the most relevant ones.
Faulconer and Alvarez provided written answers to the questions, which are published here without editing.
1. How will you provide for public participation in your administration and your policy decision-making?
FAULCONER: I believe there are actions we can take to improve the ways in which the City works with residents. The City’s website, a key destination for members of the public to access government information and opportunities for participation, can be confusing and difficult to navigate. The website is organized in a way that serves internal departments, not the general public. To enhance the public’s ability to access documents and other information, the website should be reorganized and overhauled.
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Additionally, we must update City technology to meet the communication needs of the 21st Century. For example, more people are using mobile devices and cell phones to access the internet, but the City’s current website isn’t compatible with mobile web browsing. This is especially true in our low income communities; low income families tend to access online data through apps and mobile web browsers more frequently than with desktop computers or tablets. To engage the public and encourage participation, I will propose revisions to the website to ensure the City has an active and improved presence online.
ALVAREZ: A healthy public stakeholder process is critical to the success of any policy decision made by the city. I know that as a City Councilmember, considering all information and listening to all public testimony before deciding how to cast my vote has led to better decision-making. I also hold regular open office hours allowing anyone to come into the office to talk about issues affecting them.
As Mayor, I will bring a perspective to City Hall that has been missing for a very long time — the community perspective. I will work cooperatively with community members and stakeholders to ensure that all voices are heard and included in the crafting of all policies. The Mayor should be open and accessible to the citizenry. As such, I will make sure that I visit and send staff to as many of the local community councils and community planning groups throughout the city as possible, so that I can consistently hear from all members of our communities on a regular basis. Additionally, I’ll maintain active social media accounts for the Mayor’s office, keep an up-to-date and accurate website and conduct regular open office hours.
2. For open community software projects there is usually a public TODO list where people can submit feature requests or bug reports. What do you think about such a citywide reporting and tracking public website?
FAULCONER: It’s important that the City’s website reflects the same values of transparency and accountability San Diegans expect from their government. I am open to any proposal that enhances public access and increases performance at City Hall.
ALVAREZ: I think it’s worth looking into and exploring. Crowdsourcing this type of information has proven very successful in other areas. For instance, one data set people might not know about, that was impressive to me, is the San Diego Tree Map project which is a crowd-sourcing effort started in 2010 designed to fill the gap left by fewer urban forestry programs. The project is based on OSS, and allows the public to provide the information needed to better understand the role our urban forest plays in our ecosystem. Anyone can contribute to the project and so many of us can benefit — quantifying the pollution removal capacity of certain areas, encouraging citizen participation, and inventorying our urban canopy in a cost-effective way.
The concept of open source government is fairly new but there are already good models for us to look to - San Francisco, even the federal government has shifted its Open Data portal, www.data.gov, from proprietary software to open source. I look forward to incorporating more of these innovative open data/source/government initiatives when I’m Mayor.
3. What should become of Edward Snowden? Do you view him as a patriot or a traitor?
FAULCONER: I’m primarily focused on leading City Hall and making the public’s information available to the public.
ALVAREZ: Snowden’s fate will lie with a far higher power than the San Diego Mayor’s office. A more interesting discussion for me, is the extent to which our federal government should be able to monitor private conversations without our knowledge or consent.
4. What would be your administration's policy about communication with the press? Would you allow city employees outside of the mayor's office speak to the press? How many communications staff would you have in the mayor's office, and would they have to run all press requests by you?
FAULCONER: I believe City Hall can deliver the best services and information to residents when it speaks and acts with a unified voice. My communications staff will be the primary point of contact for members of the media and will work with department directors to ensure they can interact with reporters when they are the best source of information, such as regarding day-to-day operational issues. The communications staff and City departments will work together to ensure accurate and reliable information is shared with the public. Specific staffing decisions will be announced in the first days of my administration.
Additionally, I believe that proactively making data available online can make it easier for journalists and the public to find the information they seek. I will work with the City Council to enact a comprehensive open data policy to put public information on the City website in easily accessible and user-friendly formats so it can be analyzed by interested San Diegans.
ALVAREZ: In managing the City, it is critical that city employees whose job is to provide information to the public deliver accurate and useful information to the community. Most city departments have Public Information Officers or executive staff who are in that role outside of the Mayor’s office. It is also vital that the Office of the Mayor have adequate communications staff to provide timely and responsive requests to the media and clearly understand the policy positions, upcoming events, and key issues in order to be available to questions from the public.
A mayor should not micromanage the flow of information. However, it is important for the Mayor himself to be open and accessible to members of the press and it is my intention that I would make myself available for interviews and Q&A sessions with members of the local media to the greatest extent possible.
5. Do you ever use your personal email account to communicate about city business and what's your policy on staffers doing so? If someone requested such emails, would you release them?
FAULCONER: The policy in my mayoral administration will be the following: All emails related to public business covered under the California Public Records Act, whether they be on a City or personal email account, are subject to public disclosure.
The California Public Records Act defines records as "all communications related to public business." (It does not include personal messages or messages that relate to campaigns) If a message is created using a government cell phone or computer, it is presumed to be public. If a message is created using a personal device or software, you would use the following test: personal messages that are unrelated to city business would remain private and messages related to public business covered under the Public Records Act would be subject to public records requests.
To enforce this, my administration will encourage employees to use official email and devices for all City business. When public requests are received on private email accounts, City employees would be instructed to reply with, “Please email me at (JohnDoe@sandiego.gov) and I will respond.”
ALVAREZ: City business conducted over personal email is still considered city business and therefore is required to be provided in response to any public records act request. Just because city officials or employees are not using city resources to discuss the business of the city does not recuse someone from providing such documents in response to a request from a member of the public.
6. Voice of San Diego reported that recently you both failed to follow the public records law in response to a public records request. Why should we trust you to follow it now?
FAULCONER: Bringing trust and transparency back to the mayor's office will be a key focus of my administration, and I will recommend policies to make all City departments more responsive to public records act requests. In 2013 I released my “Transparency First” plan to increase openness, honesty and transparency at City Hall. Two key points from my plan include appointing a group of open government experts to a Transparency and Open Government Task Force to review City public record procedures and related policies. I will use recommendations from this group to help keep City Hall accountable and ensure ongoing compliance with the California Public Records Act. I will also create a robust open government team dedicated to enacting these transparency reforms. This will include streamlining City operations so the Open Government Director works directly with the office of the City Clerk, City communication staff, the public records coordinator and IT department to ensure all transparency initiatives are carried out on a daily basis.
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ALVAREZ: The VOSD article reference points out that although I fully responded to their PRA request, I was 3 days late in providing those responses. Timely responses from public officials are critical, and the public deserves to have access to information and documents at City Hall. I have always strived to meet the spirit of the public records act and have consistently provided members of the public with documents they have requested, including the case you mentioned. As Mayor, I will continue to work cooperatively with all members of the public who request information to provide them with the most responsive documents as possible. In fact, I have proposed language to amend our City Charter to make San Diego a leader in open government standards, which, if approved by the City Council will be on the June 3, 2014 ballot.
7. Do you support City Councilman Mark Kersey's open data proposal? Why or why not? Would you support allocating the $1 million the IBA has suggested his proposal would cost?
FAULCONER: I am a strong supporter of Councilmember Mark Kersey’s open data policy. As mayor, I will work with him and the rest of the City Council to bring a policy to fruition and create a more open and transparent City government. I believe there is an enormous potential at City Hall to use public data to not only increase public access, but also improve management decisions. If the data show there is a relationship between increasing crime rates and broken street lights, City leaders should to be able to easily access that data to make informed decisions to improve the lives of San Diegans. I support directing the resources necessary to enact an effective open data policy, including revamping the City’s website, creating a more effective data module that can clearly communicate information to the public, and a Chief Data Officer that would oversee the implementation of the policy.
ALVAREZ: Yes. In tandem with my open government and transparency ballot proposal, a strong open data policy will help provide San Diegans with the information and tools they need to be best informed about what is going on at City Hall.
Openness and transparency are core values for me and will guide my work as San Diego’s mayor. Citizens have a right to know what their government is doing. And, beyond keeping government honest and on track, making public data easy to access makes it more useful for everyone — citizens, businesses, academic researchers, and government agencies. Right now, the City’s website is poorly designed and hard to navigate. Many cities are ahead of us on Open Data and their successes can guide our implementation. We know from cities like New York and Portland, Oregon, that the information gleaned by evaluating Open Data sets can help us find creative solutions to thorny problems. If we do this right — and under my administration, we will — San Diego stands to benefit far more than the $1 million estimated annual cost.
8. Currently city meetings agendas and minutes, as well as city documents like the charter and municipal code, are released as PDFs, making them difficult to search and impossible to query. Do you support moving to a more modern solution that allows easy querying and reporting?
FAULCONER: Yes. More City data should be presented in searchable, user-friendly and machine-readable formats.
ALVAREZ: Yes. Allowing city documents to be more user friendly to the public is common sense and as Mayor, I would require that documents such as the annual budget be posted to the city’s website in a format that allows the public to easily search and query. This is a key provision of the open data proposal I evaluated and supported in committee last year.
9. Would you restore the position of Director of Open Government? What would you look for in that person?
FAULCONER: Trust in government is essential to the success of a democratic society. A Director of Open Government could play an important role in enhancing the City’s ability to create an open and transparent environment. I will look for an Open Government Director who has the ability to manage the implementation of this vision, and work directly with the office of the City Clerk, City communication staff, the public records coordinator and IT department to ensure all transparency initiatives are carried out on a daily basis.
ALVAREZ: Implementing open government initiatives requires a champion and I see this as a full-time position. The most important thing a Mayor can do to ensure that City Hall is open and transparent to all San Diegans is to set the tone from the top down. As Mayor, I will provide clear and consistent direction to all city employees to be responsive to all requests for information and to comply with all important open government laws, such as the Brown Act and Public Records Act. My administration will be one that emphasizes the importance of open government and transparency and will lead by example.
10. Give three examples of ways you have supported more open city government and communications with city residents.
FAULCONER: I am proud of my record of creating a more transparent and open City Hall. Some examples include:
- I opposed proposals to make the public pay more for public information. In 2012, I strongly opposed a proposal to charge members of the public for City records and the time it takes for the City to compile records when requested under the California Public Records Request Act.
- I voted to approve measures to post information and City contracts online. In October 2012, I supported the Sunshine Act to create greater transparency for City contracts. The Sunshine Act requires that all City contracts greater than $25,000 be posted online in a searchable and well-organized format. It also requires employee compensation information to be posted online for the public to see.
- In 2012, as part of the effort to streamline the Capital Improvement Program (CIP) contracting process to get City projects completed faster, I voted to create a CIP website that would list all projects and costs associated with them. This initiative now also requires the Department of Public Works to create a semiannual state of the CIP report to be discussed at City Council twice a year and available on the City’s website.
- I voted to support the creation of an open data advisory group and I am a strong supporter of Councilmember Kersey’s open data policy initiative.
- I voted to support a Council Policy that created a formal public input process for all of the City’s neighborhood community planning groups to participate in the Capital Improvement Program development process.
- In 2014, I voted to expand public notifications for the right to appeal an environmental determination. Prior to this, it was the City’s practice to inform interested parties of certain environmental determinations, but the municipal code only required the City to post this information downtown at the Development Services Department. I was proud to ensure the public engagement process that the City had been practicing was made permanent in the municipal code.
ALVAREZ: I have always felt strongly about open government and transparency at City Hall. As part of an overall plan to bring increased openness to City Hall, I partnered with Donna Frye, President of Californians Aware, a non-partisan, open government advocacy non-profit to draft amendments to our City Charter to make San Diego a leader in open government.
The proposal would:
- Make all forms of communication in which city business is conducted applicable to public records act requests;
- Limit copy charges to the direct cost of duplication;
- Require the city to review on a regular basis any written policies that restrict public access to city documents;
- Require all city employees and city contractors to comply with public records act requests;
- Require any denial of information to be accompanied by a statement regarding how release of the information would harm the city.
These open government reforms are common sense and will complement the open data proposals being discussed by the City Council. Putting this measure on the ballot for public approval is another step in restoring the public trust in City Hall. As City leaders, we can’t just talk about open government- we’ve got to show San Diegans our commitment to open government is a serious approach to leading our city forward.
Additionally, as a City Councilmember I have held regular monthly meetings in each of the communities I represent to give local residents the opportunity to talk with me one-on-one regarding issues of importance to them. These meetings brought community problems to my attention that I was able to address, while other residents brought new and exciting ideas for partnership. These meetings have been extremely valuable to me for these reasons and I think it is simply good policy for our elected leaders to remain visible and active within the communities they represent.
Finally, I have made it a goal as a City Councilmember to make sure I am delivering as much pertinent city information to residents as possible. I have created a robust public outreach effort through my office that allows me to effectively communicate with various communities about issues important to them. This includes tele-townhalls, newsletters, an active twitter and facebook presence, and of course the availability of my staff in person, by phone and by email. Together, we ensure we are making people aware of what is going on at City Hall and what the latest developments are in their community.
11. How will you ensure that city departments inform the public on the specifics of how they prioritize projects?
FAULCONER: I am proud to have taken a leadership role in overhauling the City’s Capital Improvement Project (CIP) program and improving San Diegans’ ability to engage in the process of prioritizing neighborhood repairs and construction. As Chair of the Audit Committee, I oversaw an audit of the CIP program that found that the City could better utilize scarce resources if it increased coordination between departments and created a better criteria for selecting and prioritizing projects. To implement the audit recommendations and improve upon the existing prioritization policy, I recently joined my Council colleagues in creating a CIP prioritization policy to objectively score and select projects based on varied criteria such as impact to public safety, ability to create jobs, and other similar factors to ensure taxpayer resources are spent effectively and to increase transparency on how projects are selected. I will utilize this Council Policy to select projects in my administration.
ALVAREZ: I have always maintained that the City must do a better job in communicating with the public about how capital improvement projects are funded and prioritized. By engaging the community in an interactive stakeholder process that allows neighborhoods to be an active voice in project prioritization, the prioritization process can become clearer and demystified. As Mayor, I would require that the city hold regular meetings with community members to not only explain how projects are prioritized, but also receive input on how the community prioritizes each project. With regular community feedback on city projects, department staff will be able to ensure that the city is providing the services that the community most desires.
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