Tuesday’s vote by the city of San Bernardino to file for bankruptcy and California’s suspension of the Brown Act – a state law that requires local governments to post agendas and disclose decisions to the public – may seem like separate issues, but a quick perusal of the details says otherwise.
Here at California Forward, we are paying attention to these issues not only because they are important but also because promoting transparency and accountability is a big part of what we do.
Both situations are indicators that California is continuing to sink deeper into the dark waters of inefficiency and incompetence, and it’s the state’s budgetary dysfunction that’s serving as the weight around our collective ankles.
When San Bernardino took the desperate step of filing for bankruptcy protection, it earned the dubious distinction of being the third city in California to do so in the last month, following in the footsteps of Stockton and Mammoth Lakes.
And in a state that raids the coffers of local government tax dollars, most recently through redevelopment funds, it’s little wonder that few experts expect San Bernardino to be the last city to crumble under the pressure.
With the bankruptcy filing comes news via the LA Times that San Bernardino has been under investigation for several months already for misconduct in the city government and falsification of documents to obscure the severity of the city’s financial woes.
The ties to the Brown Act are readily apparent at both levels.
Our state government has lost track of its duties and responsibilities. In a bid to save what’s estimated to be $96 million, the state suspended the requirement that cities, school districts, and other agencies operate transparently and disclose decisions to the citizens they represent.
Is the state purposely inducing amnesia on itself? The corruption scandal in the city of Bell wasn’t very long ago, and considering the front page headlines that the scandal made across the nation, it’s hard to believe that California would abandon the effort to be transparent and follow its own rules in favor of saving money
That this comes at a time when one of its larger cities, which just declared bankruptcy and possibly committed crimes that transparency laws like the Brown Act are supposed to help prevent, is just another addition to the bad soap opera that is California politics.
California Forward is a non-partisan organization that supports fiscal responsibility and accountability, but this can’t be at the expense of the governed. While spending money prudently and using tax dollars on programs that work are the basis of what California Forward stands for, eliminating the Brown Act for up to three years is the antithesis of a prudence: it’s forsaking the duty of the government to serve its people.
Luckily, it appears that California’s local governments realize this, as many have voiced their commitment to continuing to abide by the Act whether the state mandates it or not. Many cities within the beleaguered San Bernardino County have jumped on this bandwagon.
This is what California needs. The state has continually alienated its citizens for the last decade and recent decisions don’t signal any type of sea change in the near future. Local governments are the ones that will have to carry the accountability load.
The state government seems dead-set on finding out how deep these waters go, but California Forward will continue to support community efforts to help our state stay afloat in clear waters, not murky ones.