Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Keys to the Kingdom

For the first time ever, the San Diego public has been awarded the Keys to the Kingdom.  The grantor of this unique gift to the people of San Diego is former council member Donna Frye and her Open Government project, developed during her three-month stint in the office of Mayor Bob Filner.

Finally, regular citizens and ordinary folk (you and I) have ready access to just about everything we wish to know about the ins-and-outs of City Hall.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to how you can get formerly-hidden public information, including ingress to the services and attention you expect and deserve from your city government.  Okay now, time to follow the bouncing ball.

  •  First, go to the city’s website at www.sandiego.gov.  Once there you’ll find the downtown skyline and Mayor Filner’s engaging smile -- amidst a cluttered hodgepodge of disparate offerings.  Ignore them all and let your gaze wander to an oasis in the middle of the screen that says Open Government.
  •  Then click your heels together three times.  An additional click of your mouse on the Open Government box will transport you instantaneously to a serene page where you can calmly pick the path you want to pursue. 
  •  Could be that the only thing you wish for is to be able to watch the City Council in action.  Or replay reality to check on how your council member voted a few months ago.  Let’s say you’re wondering what your neighborhood planning group is arguing about (presumably on your behalf).  Perchance you want to know what the city's 50 or so appointed Boards and Commissions are up to.  It’s all there at your fingertips -- click where it says Meeting Agendas and Minutes to begin your journey toward enlightenment.
  •  Information about the California Public Records Act?  The ‘open government’ Brown Act?  Easy as pie -- click on the Outside Resources link. 
  • Not everyone wants to know the size of San Diego retirees' pensions... but if you do, read on.I'm guessing you might also be curious about who has filed a lawsuit against the city.  And who among you wants details about city contracts and labor agreements? Or the progress of a neighborhood construction project?  Or which lobbyists are  selling their agendas to your elected officials. And who's been giving money to whom.  For access to this kind of information all you need do is click Required Document Postings on the wonderous Open Government page.
  • Want to know how to teleport your opinion to a City Council meeting when you can’t be there in the flesh? Get hold of your community planning group? Maybe even get appointed to one of those prestigious Boards or Commissions?  Simply click on where it says Public Participation.
  • Hunting for a particular CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) document?  Any interest in a Planning Commission hearing on new city laws to open microbreweries in your community?  Information on pending development projects on your street?  (Just checked for myself and I'll be darned!! one street one up from mine there’s an application for a "Map Waiver and Variance to demolish an existing duplex and construct three, 3-story, detached single family residences ranging from 1,929 square feet to 2,185 square feet on a 9,225 square foot lot…" hmmm…)  Click onto Public Notices.
  • Want to receive email updates from your Mayor or council member? City Attorney? Auditor? Park and Rec board? Ethics Commission?  A click on Sign Up for Email Updates will do it.  
  • Almost done... let’s say you have a library bill that’s overdue.  Or want to make good on your water bill.  Or renew a business tax permit.  Look toward the bottom of the uncluttered Open Government page and choose your heart's desire from where it says Make Online Payments.  
  •  What? still unsure where to find what you’re looking for? Graffiti removal? A catalog to the library system? A list of city bids and contracts? Zoning maps? Availability of a favorite park facility? Trash collection schedule? Desperately needed street service? Submit a police report? Fulfillment is yours when you go to Access Online Services.

The city's official Open Government site is a breath of fresh air, a burst of sunshine in the previously dark passageways of City Hall.  Through her down-to-earth sensibilities and longstanding commitment to the public, Donna Frye has successfully created a unique opportunity to navigate city functions, increase government 'transparency,' and make Open Government a hallmark of the Filner administration.  It's an affirmation that local government has an obligation not only to serve but also to actively answer to the public.