Sunshine weak?

Five days before a national call to government transparency known as Sunshine Week, Sacramento residents accused their elected representatives of shadowy dealings.

The idea to limit the public's access to proposed city contracts of $1 million or more from 10 days to two was all a huge misunderstanding, backpedaling city officials assured on March 11. City Clerk Shirley Concolino said her office was simply trying to erase confusion that came from posting documents online multiple times, occasionally drawing residents to discuss items that wouldn't be heard for another week. “This is a process issue,” she said, “and causing some confusion.”

Even though Concolino retracted the proposal at the outset of the hearing, that didn't stop attendees from blasting a City Hall that's soon to decide on whether to plunge $258 million worth of public money into a new sports arena.

“The idea … that the sunshine rule would be gutted just three weeks before the largest single transaction of this kind or any other by this city … was a stunner,” said Craig Powell, president of Eye on Sacramento, a taxpayer watchdog group that spread word about the item on Twitter a day earlier. Powell added that he was pleased with Concolino's recommendation to “put this in the box it came from,” but others remained critical.

“Like 10 days is really going to change the backdoor deal that’s been made with the Kings for taxpayer money and city assets,” scoffed Julie Mumma, an adjunct professor with Sacramento State University. “No secret deal? Right.”

Council members were quick to say they didn't support limiting the public's access to multimillion-dollar contracts, including Councilman Jay Schenirer, who last year proposed the sunshine policy. “I have complete confidence in the city clerk to figure this out,” he said.

In response to Powell's offer to help with any technical issues, Schenirer grinned. “Eh, we'll see,” he said.

But that wasn't the only notable change to come out of this discussion on the council's procedural rules. Following a motion by Councilwoman Angelique Ashby, the council agreed to move public comment on nonagenda matters back to the end of meetings, just before council updates. Ashby said she wanted to prioritize hearing from those with input on items the council was to vote on. “I think that is more transparent,” she said.

Taking the opposite view was Councilman Kevin McCarty, who invoked the absent Mayor Kevin Johnson in making his case. “When the mayor got elected, this was one of his priorities, to put public comment at the beginning of council meetings,” he said. “I just want to know, does he have an opinion one way or another on this change?”

“He's not here, so—” said Councilman Steve Hansen.

And with that, the council voted to adopt the revision. (Raheem F. Hosseini)