Monks, PLEASE, Bless This Mess!
The Tibetian Monks are visiting again, and during the Council meeting are hard at work in City Hall creating their glorious mandala sand painting in the atrium. They will endow a blessing of compassion on our City tomorrow...let's hope some of that good Buddhist mojo actually sinks in down at 301 W. 2nd St. before gifting the remainder of the sand to our beautiful river.
...The Mess Council Got Themselves Into
Except for Morrison and Spelman, other councilmembers haven't turned over public business emails conducted on private accounts, or explicitly said they didn't have any to turn over. Meanwhile, their attorneys are telling them they don't have to turn those over despite case law, Attorney General opinions and input from other government entities that say otherwise.
So while they (sans Morrison and Spelman) claim they are in the right not to disclose such emails...they passed policy today to instruct themselves to do otherwise. (Item #14)
Yes, we've seen this before. "I didn't do anything wrong but I'll pass policy to say I won't do it again." Hence the Wednesday worksessions in place of the 2-on-1 walking quorums.
Put a white suit, boots and cowboy hat on our Mayor and watch him go. "Ooooh! I love to dance a lil' sidestep..."
We Already HAVE a Law
It's called the Texas Public Information Act. The Legal Dept. said they researched and couldn't find any other entities passing this kind of policy for a model. That's not because Austin's being progressive (hardly), it's because no one else is confused by the law. They see no need to define what's already been clearly stated by the TX Attorney General: public information is subject to disclosure, no matter where it gets hidden.
This is all for show. "See? We're DOING something." (Shuffle, shuffle). Great. But you should have been doing what this resolution says all along. It's not complicated. It doesn't matter who, where, when, what device, what account the public business is conducted on or with...the person that is elected to office takes an oath that, when asked, will turn over all public business to the public. If it takes them a lot of extra time to scour all sorts of devices and accounts to gather that info, dredging through personal information to capture public business, then that's their problem. It's up to them to organize themselves to save time later. Doing what this policy instructs -forwarding emails concerning public business to private accounts to your public account- is just common sense. It shouldn't need to be debated for 2 hours and crafted into policy.
If we really need this new policy, then we really need some new leadership.
Public Business is the Public's Business. Period.
No if, ands or buts...if an elected official meets a lobbyist at the coffeeshop, the business discussed doesn't become a private, personal conversation because they aren't physically in City Hall. Same with phones, emails, chat systems, etc.
This policy is a disingenuous gesture, but IF (a big "if") this were good policy to begin with, Councilmember Spelman is to be commended for trying to make it actually have some relevance. He is still pushing for amendments as I type, fixing the "who" and the "when" questions that I was going to bring to the podium had I been able to afford to sit there for 5 more hours waiting to speak. "Who" is "who does this cover" and "when" is "how quickly do I have to forward these emails?" As in: "can I wait two years during which time maybe several open records requests won't pick up this info and I'm already out of office so who will care what shenanigans I was involved in?"
The other question not being discussed is ENFORCEMENT. What happens if someone fails to comply? Well, the law already says what happens...so again, that makes this all an exercise in futility.
The problem with this policy is that the ones still holding out on disclosure have NO intention of releasing previous emails from private devices/accounts this policy would cover from this point forward. So why would we trust them to do it right from here on out with self-specifying an enforcement mechanism?
Kennard's True Colors
Seems my long-standing question has been answered. Does our new Law Department head, Karen Kennard, subscribe to the David Smith Skool of Law or is she going to bring trustworthy legal analysis to the table for bettering our local government?
My eternal optimism failed me, yet again. We've heard this one MANY times before. "Council can't mandate things for the City and its staff to do...only the City Manager can." REALLY????
Let's take a look at our City Charter: "...all powers of the city shall be vested in and exercised by an elective council...which shall enact legislation, adopt budgets, determine policies, and appoint the city manager who shall execute the laws and administer the government of the city."
Eerie how you can look at this healthy, attractive black woman and see the face of an overweight white man on the edge of an aneurism superimposed upon it. But there it was, with echoes of KeyPoint-Gate, Smith's ghostly face hovering over hers conjuring up the lyrics to which Leffingwell leads his Follies in a shuffling farce.
She must have uncovered the DavidNomicon - the not-so-long hidden tome describing how to continue the horrific practice of subduing Council and their duty to excercise their Charter-given powers.
Stay tuned for the next chapter. As Molly Ivins described about the Texas Legislature, I unapologetically co-opt for our City Council: it's the finest form of free entertainment ever invented.