Reporting

Video conferencing set to boost LA City Council transparency efforts

August 15, 2013 by Matthew Grant Anson


(photo credit: Calvin Fleming)

California Forward has long championed the importance of transparency in our political process, which is why when we see politicians going out of their way to open up government, we feel it’s our responsibility to highlight it.

This week, in a move to boost accountability, transparency, and engagement, Los Angeles councilmember Bob Blumenfield introduced a measure that would enable citizens to use video-conferencing technology to participate in meetings remotely. 

“For my constituents in the West Valley and many Angelenos across the City, a trip downtown in the middle of the workday is simply not feasible,” Blumenfield said. “This is a prime example of an easy way we can use existing technology to increase government openness and accountability.”

The idea of video testimonials has supporters elsewhere in California, including Assemblymember Phil Ting of the 19th district, which includes parts of San Francisco and San Mateo. 

“Government is only going to be as good as the information it gets. By using simple technology like video testimony we are going to get more information and we are going to hear a broader range of perspectives,” Ting told California Forward. 

“Most folks work during the day or don’t have the time it takes to testify in front of government agencies. So all too often we are just hearing from the same group of paid lobbyists or professional advocates. We should give more people the opportunity to be heard – which is why this is such an exciting idea.”

Prior to the measure’s introduction, the Innovation, Technology and General Services Committee – chaired by Blumenfield – convened to iron out some of the implementation logistics that would have to be handled. There are some factors presenting challenges to the idea, including the concern that the current Los Angeles network isn’t robust enough to handle an expansion of video security services. Additionally, adherence to the Brown Act is critical.

In terms of the Brown Act, California’s initially groundbreaking yet now antiquated transparency law, the hurdle isn’t expected to be as high as the technological one. 

“I looked briefly at the Brown Act issues related to this,” deputy city attorney Dion O’Connell said. “You have to make sure you allow equal access. There could be a surge of interest or people trying to sign up from far off places.” There would also need to be a way that the person speaking via video could have their information taken down to become part of the record, mandatory under the Brown Act.

Still, Blumenfield as well as councilmember Mike Bonin are optimistic that participating remotely will be possible. 

“I think we get, in council chambers in particular, we get a skewed representation of public sentiment from people that come and comment,” Bonin said. “I think that’s the most polite way to put it. I am happy to use my committee as a test and as a pilot for this.”  

Blumenfield’s measure falls right in line with California Forward’s continuing efforts to shine a light on California’s state and local governments, a quest chronicled in our Transparency Portal. That California Forward’s views on a need for open government are enthusiastically shared by government leaders is further confirmation of a rising tide of demands from the public for transparency and accountability from our elected officials.

“Policy debates at City Hall must happen in full view of the public and with maximum public participation,” Blumenfield said.”Based on this discussion, we’re moving in an interesting direction.”

A more transparent, accountable, and participatory direction.