Keep an eye out

Bites on public and political websites, repurposing closed schools and anti-signature-gathering thuggery

Regular readers know that Bites is no fan of the constant, low-grade misuse and abuse of public resources that goes on at Sacramento City Hall. It’s corrosive. Like when people don’t use their turn signals.

This week, it’s city council websites.

Councilwoman Angelique Ashby’s official city council website is a spare and dull blue-gray page with a few links in small type. It doesn’t have to look good, because it’s designed to funnel visitors to her campaign page,

The latter site was created in 2010 as part of Ashby’s campaign for city council. It’s easy to tell. The main page is full of links to official District 1 press releases and photos. But with one click, you’re deep into the electioneering stuff, reading the candidate’s “campaign vision” or scrolling through her lists of political endorsements.

As Phillip Ung of Common Cause noted, “There’s a lack of a line drawn between the campaign and the council website.” While visitors to her official city site are told that clicking certain links will take them “outside of the City of Sacramento’s main web page,” they aren’t told they are being taken to a campaign site. And much of the information, like Ashby’s district press releases or photos or district news and events, can only be viewed by clicking through to the campaign site.

The U.S. Congress prohibits this sort of blending of public and political websites: The rule is that legislator websites “[m]ay not be directly linked or refer to websites created or operated by a campaign or any campaign-related entity.”

The reasons for this restriction should be obvious to any lawmaker, including Ashby. But there’s apparently no local rule against it. Such blurring of the lines is not illegal for California state legislators, either. “But they do so less and less at the state, because we keep calling them on it,” Ung said.

Bites recently spoke to Councilman Jay Schenirer for another story. Talk turned to the school closures that have affected the city’s low-income neighborhoods. Three of the seven schools closed by the Sacramento City Unified School District Board of Education Trustees are in Schenirer’s council turf.

He mentioned that he’d been “actively working” with certain organizations to repurpose at least one of the schools.

Charter school organizations?” Bites asked, not too subtly. No, he said, but wouldn’t reveal more, other than to say it “wouldn’t upset anybody in the education community.”

Maybe so. But the thing is, it’s not really Schenirer’s, or any politician’s, job to decide what happens with those schools.

The school board was supposed to form a citizen committee to make recommendations on what schools, if any, ought to be closed. It refused to do that. But it was forced by state law to appoint a citizen “repurposing committee” to decide what to do with the schools once the decision to close them had been made. That way, in theory at least, the reuse of these important public properties can be decided in public, by members of the public, with public input.

But now we’ve got Schenirer and probably other politicians running around trying to cut deals. Before the citizen committee has even held its first meeting. Which is exactly the sort of thing that got us into the school-closure mess to begin with.

Sacramento Taxpayers Opposed to Pork have a little more than 19,000 signatures collected in its effort to put any public subsidies for a new Sacramento Kings arena to a public vote.

We’ll have to take its word for it, at least until it actually turns in the 35,000 or so signatures it needs. But those numbers have Region Builders and other arena boosters a little freaked.

Last week, Region Builders said it was launching a new “education” campaign to stop STOP, a campaign that basically consists of harassing signature gatherers. “Help us track down anti-arena petition gatherers. Tweet their location,” Region Builders exhorted followers on its Twitter feed.

What could possibly go wrong?

Region Builders seem to have assumed the role of business enforcers. It has carried a club for Walmart, leading the effort to ditch the local big-box ordinance. It has tried to muzzle staff at Sacramento Area Council of Governments and prevent them from speaking up about development projects that violate regional-growth plans.

Now this bit of thuggery. It’s not new, really. Political groups of various stripes sometimes show up to counterpropagandize when they want to slow down the other team’s petition progress.

Bites isn’t so worried the arena believers will succeed in derailing the signature drive. It’s just that they have an awfully high proportion of excitable bros among their ranks. The idea that a few will show up at the neighborhood grocery to “educate” the little old lady with the clipboard just doesn’t sit well. Keep an eye out.