Sunshine Week: Davis City Council Survey

Last week being Sunshine Week, I decided to see how responsive the Davis City Council Members would be to an email. I wasn’t sure exactly how they would respond, but I got responses from all five members of the Davis City Council. Here is my initial email and then will be their responses in the order in which I received them:

The following is an audit to test your responsiveness to constituency email. All answers and responses are “on the record” and will be use verbatim and unedited in a future People’s Vanguard of Davis story and all non-responses will be mentioned and noted.

  1. What is the most common way that constituents communicate with you?
  2. What is your preferred way for constituents to communicate to you?
  3. In general, how often do you check your city email account?
  4. What is the most outrageous/ funniest story you have about constituent communication?
  5. How do you think the city can better meet the needs of transparency of government actions?
  6. What measures would you be willing to support in order to meet those stated goals?
Stephen Souza:

1. Email

2. Email

3. 4 to 6 times a day.

4. Most of the communication I get from community members comes from emails and are about serious matters. I have had several communications sent to me with good jokes and there was one where the City Council was confused with the School Board and our duties concerning construction of one of the schools.

5. The city by law is already very, very transparent in all matters except property, labor, legal and personnel matters until they come to a resolution and then the outcome is announced and they too become transparent. Everything said and written is public. There is very little that is private when you are a publicly elected official.

6. As I have said above we our by law very transparent. We have one of the most responsive city clerks office to public records requests, as you know David, the best cable broadcast station in the area, one of the best web pages in the state and now we have a radio station that has been used and will be used more often in the future. One of the things we could do is to televise more of our commission meetings. I will seek more input and look at what other governmental bodies have done to see if there is more that can be done to let the sun shine on our actions.

Don Saylor:

What is the most common way that constituents communicate with you?

One of the most rewarding parts of my public service in Davis is the opportunity to hear from, exchange ideas with, and interact with community members on matters affecting their lives and the community we all love. I feel fortunate to live in a community with so many insightful and caring people. Members of the Davis community contact me in a number of ways. E-mail is probably the most common, followed by phone calls. Hard copy letters are probably the least common.

Many members of the community ask to meet to discuss issues or concerns in detail; I cannot recall any such requests that I have not been able to accommodate.

I am frequently approached by community members in public places, such as Farmers’ Market, community events, grocery shopping, or at coffee shops. I make it a point to allow time for these interactions wherever I go. These unplanned interactions often provide great insight into the life of the community.

What is your preferred way for constituents to communicate to you?

I am open to all forms of communication and various approaches have different benefits. E-mail is a very efficient way for community members to express their views, request a meeting, ask a question, or raise an issue or concern. E-mail communications can be sent, read and responses given at times that are convenient for the senders. I read every e-mail that comes to my city e-mail address. This also allows for sharing the actual words of the community member as appropriate to request assistance . E-mail communications, however, are not a substitute for face to face interaction on complex matters.

Often the issues of concern to a community member can only be understood by seeing the area first hand. I find that one of the most

effective and enjoyable forms of communication is a site visit to a neighborhood, an intersection, a park location or a backyard. Whenever possible, I conduct site visits to gain a better understanding of the issue. These visits have taken me to locations in our community I might not have otherwise encountered and have provided me with an ever
increasing tangible sense of our community.

In general, how often do you check your city email account?

I check my City of Davis e-mail address several times each day.

What is the most outrageous/ funniest story you have about constituent communication?

I take every communication with community members seriously.

How do you think the city can better meet the needs of transparency of government actions?

I am totally committed to transparency in all government actions and I personally support ongoing extensive activities to inform and engage community members in governmental decisions. One of the strengths of our community is active participation in our government and our public life. I appreciate the opportunity to share with you some of the ways that community members can access information about our city government.

As a Council Member, I am committed to the letter and the spirit of all open meeting laws and to assuring that the business of the public is done in public. All meetings of the City Council are conducted in an open posted public meeting, unless the subject of the meeting is explicitly exempted by law due to the subject matter (personnel, litigation, collective bargaining negotiations, property acquisition). Any closed session discussions are monitored carefully by the City Attorney to assure that the scope and content of the posting is accurate and appropriate for closed session discussions and that the actual discussions in these meetings are conducted legally.

About 95% of all City Council meetings are televised and broadcast on cable TV and via streaming video on the internet live and on archive (http://www.cityofdavis.org/media/). Since I was elected to the Council in 2004, every meeting of the City Council where an action was taken has been televised. The small handful of workshop meetings that have not been televised have been held in locations other than the community chambers or have been special roundtable discussion sessions. All these meetings have been posted and members of the public have been invited to speak and allowed to videotape the proceedings as they desired. No actions have been taken in any of these meetings and all meetings posted for action have been televised and included public comment periods.

All agendas and staff reports are published on the City’s web page prior to the meetings (http://www.cityofdavis.org/meetings/); this is typically done on the Friday before a Tuesday meeting. In addition, the City web site contains archival links to a wide variety of detailed
staff reports, agendas for Council and Commissions, major documents (such as Environmental Impact Reports and economic studies for major projects), and useful information on city services and contacts.

The minutes of meetings of the City Council and all City Commissions are also published on the city website so interested persons can track the actual actions on subjects of concern to them.

Interested community members may subscribe to a city e-mail service to have agendas of the City Council and any of the Commissions e-mailed to their personal addresses on the day the agenda is posted (http://www.cityofdavis.org/email/index.cfm).

Major issues are often addressed in the quarterly hard copy publication called “Focus” that is mailed to every household in the community.

With the 19 Commissions and Task Forces assigned to specific policy areas within the City’s jurisdiction, it is rare for any topic to come before the Council that has not first been aired at public meetings of another body. I have actively supported the training of all Commission members in the provisions of the Brown Act to assure that Commission processes are also conducted legally.

All meetings of the Council are preceded by a news release in the Enterprise listing all the items on the agenda. Often there is also an article that describes and discusses the agenda highlights.

What measures would you be willing to support in order to meet those stated goals?

From time to time we hear that an interested group has not been aware of a matter before us that concerns them. I am interested in finding ways to enhance awareness of issues by affected stakeholders at an early stage of issue development. Whether an individual or group believes an eventual decision is appropriate or misguided, all affected parties should be aware of the unfolding processes. While we do a lot already in this area, there is always more to do. We can make better use of our e-mail blast capacities and community groups like neighborhood associations to get the word out on emerging issues.

A second issue that I am concerned about is assuring that all community generated concerns are considered and have a clear response. With the volume of communications received by Council and city staff, sometimes individuals have not been given a clear sense of how their issues are addressed. Whether or not a community concern is resolved as requested, there needs to be a clear response on what has happened and how the community member might proceed if not satisfied. City Manger Bill Emlen is currently working on an approach to monitoring the response to community concerns.

Lamar Heystek:

1. Via e-mail.

2. In person. I’m usually at City Hall after 3:30 p.m. on weekdays. I try to call City staff to let them know I’ll be in so that anyone who may want to see me can call in advance and meet me at City Hall. Anyone who calls City Hall and wants to meet with me can leave a message so that I can try to make it over if I weren’t already planning on it.

3. Daily.

4. Let me get back to you about that one!

5. As many Commission meetings as possible should be televised. All Council meetings (whether they are joint meetings with other bodies or not) should also be broadcast. We are not maximizing the effectiveness of our government channel if we are not broadcasting this kind of programming to the fullest extent.

6. I would support budgeting more money to this end.

Ruth Asmundson:

1. What is the most common way that constituents communicate with you? – by telephone (530-753-7884) or by email (rasmundson@cityofdavis.org)

2. What is your preferred way for constituents to communicate to you? – email

3. In general, how often do you check your city email account? – every night as much as possible but I can’t respond to all at once. I average about 80 emails a day coming from Davis and other parts of the world. In general, when an email is addressed to all council members, the protocol is for the mayor to respond on behalf of the council.

Sue Greenwald:

What is the most common way that constituents communicate with you?

Answer: By e-mail and stopping me in the street.

In general, how often do you check your city email account?

Answer: Many times a day.

What is the most outrageous/ funniest story you have about constituent communication?

Answer: The numerous folks who have asked me if I am married to you.

How do you think the city can better meet the needs of transparency of government actions? What measures would you be willing to support in order to meet those stated goals?

Answer: Some of the most important questions that we have dealt with have not been put on the agenda for adequate discussion. For example, the Target EIR, fiscal impact report, zoning and development agreement all should have been put on the agenda, far in advance of the final council decision, for separate, in depth discussions. Unfortunately, this did not happen. All of these items, as well as everything else relevant to the Target decision, was rammed into two council meetings right before the vote. In fact, If I hadn’t made an issue, there would have just been one all night marathon meeting to discuss all of these Target-related items.

I am doing my best to assure that the most important issues are placed on the regular calendar for city council meetings (not on the consent calendar). One example of this has been my ongoing insistence on scheduling the wastewater and surface water projects, and their associated rate increases, on the regular calendar for full discussion.

Quick comments: I want to sincerely thank each of the council members for taking the time to respond to this survey. I think it provided the public with some valuable information and insight. And I may do this again in the future on other topics.


—Doug Paul Davis reporting

Author

  • David Greenwald

    Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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City Council

24 comments

  1. David,

    While you cannot re-do such a “test,” it would have been interesting had you not told each councilmember that this was a test, that this would be published. Had you done it that way, you might have shown two things: 1) which members of the council respond to email in general; and more likely 2) which of the councilmembers respond to your emails.

    I have found — over the last 10 years or so — that some members of the council almost always respond to emails, while others almost never do. It doesn’t seem to matter whether my position on what I am writing about is in sync with the councilmember’s or not.

    I am pretty sure that other members of the public have had the same experience, where one or more members of the council never writes back. (I know they are busy, but I find that rude.)

  2. David,

    While you cannot re-do such a “test,” it would have been interesting had you not told each councilmember that this was a test, that this would be published. Had you done it that way, you might have shown two things: 1) which members of the council respond to email in general; and more likely 2) which of the councilmembers respond to your emails.

    I have found — over the last 10 years or so — that some members of the council almost always respond to emails, while others almost never do. It doesn’t seem to matter whether my position on what I am writing about is in sync with the councilmember’s or not.

    I am pretty sure that other members of the public have had the same experience, where one or more members of the council never writes back. (I know they are busy, but I find that rude.)

  3. David,

    While you cannot re-do such a “test,” it would have been interesting had you not told each councilmember that this was a test, that this would be published. Had you done it that way, you might have shown two things: 1) which members of the council respond to email in general; and more likely 2) which of the councilmembers respond to your emails.

    I have found — over the last 10 years or so — that some members of the council almost always respond to emails, while others almost never do. It doesn’t seem to matter whether my position on what I am writing about is in sync with the councilmember’s or not.

    I am pretty sure that other members of the public have had the same experience, where one or more members of the council never writes back. (I know they are busy, but I find that rude.)

  4. David,

    While you cannot re-do such a “test,” it would have been interesting had you not told each councilmember that this was a test, that this would be published. Had you done it that way, you might have shown two things: 1) which members of the council respond to email in general; and more likely 2) which of the councilmembers respond to your emails.

    I have found — over the last 10 years or so — that some members of the council almost always respond to emails, while others almost never do. It doesn’t seem to matter whether my position on what I am writing about is in sync with the councilmember’s or not.

    I am pretty sure that other members of the public have had the same experience, where one or more members of the council never writes back. (I know they are busy, but I find that rude.)

  5. Doug – Are you telling us, or actually, is Mayor Pro-Tem Ruth Asmundson failing to tell us, her views on having a more transparent city government? I didn’t see her response to question #4.

  6. Doug – Are you telling us, or actually, is Mayor Pro-Tem Ruth Asmundson failing to tell us, her views on having a more transparent city government? I didn’t see her response to question #4.

  7. Doug – Are you telling us, or actually, is Mayor Pro-Tem Ruth Asmundson failing to tell us, her views on having a more transparent city government? I didn’t see her response to question #4.

  8. Doug – Are you telling us, or actually, is Mayor Pro-Tem Ruth Asmundson failing to tell us, her views on having a more transparent city government? I didn’t see her response to question #4.

  9. Rich: I agree it would have been interesting and in fact, I contemplated doing it that way but decided that there might be some complications and ultimately decided that the survey itself would be the informative part rather than the test.

    Anon: Asmundson only answered those 11 questions.

  10. Rich: I agree it would have been interesting and in fact, I contemplated doing it that way but decided that there might be some complications and ultimately decided that the survey itself would be the informative part rather than the test.

    Anon: Asmundson only answered those 11 questions.

  11. Rich: I agree it would have been interesting and in fact, I contemplated doing it that way but decided that there might be some complications and ultimately decided that the survey itself would be the informative part rather than the test.

    Anon: Asmundson only answered those 11 questions.

  12. Rich: I agree it would have been interesting and in fact, I contemplated doing it that way but decided that there might be some complications and ultimately decided that the survey itself would be the informative part rather than the test.

    Anon: Asmundson only answered those 11 questions.

  13. For those interested, the full Don Saylor response is now on the main article, thanks to Don for the very thoughtful responses to my questions.

  14. For those interested, the full Don Saylor response is now on the main article, thanks to Don for the very thoughtful responses to my questions.

  15. For those interested, the full Don Saylor response is now on the main article, thanks to Don for the very thoughtful responses to my questions.

  16. For those interested, the full Don Saylor response is now on the main article, thanks to Don for the very thoughtful responses to my questions.

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