City's transparency must be maximized

Government transparency is about providing residents with the information and opportunities necessary for their participation in the business of government. While cities like ours and many others across the state work hard to ensure that community members have the right to attend public meetings and provide their feedback on matters of public concern, we all stand to benefit from an elevated commitment to improving government performance. Opening government up to the people is a good first step.

This week is International Sunshine Week, a national initiative dedicated to educating the public about the importance of open government. As such, it benefits us to ask what we are doing to expand the public's access to public information and encourage their active engagement in governmental processes.

Here in Oakland, we have been working hard to do both. Recently, we partnered with Code for America as one of 10 municipalities to participate in their 2013 fellowship. As participants, our city employees will work with experts at identifying our weaknesses and developing new apps and tools to help us address those areas, while also increasing government openness and efficiency.

My colleagues, City Attorney Barbara Parker, City Clerk LaTonda Simmons, and I also recently sponsored a citywide ordinance aimed at improving political transparency by requiring that all political candidates and committees file their campaign finance reports electronically. The measure not only enables voters to see who is financing political campaigns in the city but also saves the city money by reducing the staff hours needed to file these reports manually.

There's no reason not to be more open and transparent, especially now in the digital age. I support open, transparent local government and I encourage you to do the same.

Libby Schaaf

Oakland councilmember, District 4

Thanks, Piedmont, for Measure A OK

With the passage of Measure A, approved by 77 percent of Piedmont voters, we would like to extend a heartfelt "thank you" to our fellow residents for once again demonstrating your strong commitment to keep our schools strong. Voters have just ensured eight years of stable, locally controlled funding for our school district.

Seeing and talking with friends and neighbors on the campaign trail has been tremendously rewarding for everyone involved with the effort, and we feel honored to have received the community's trust and support. The A Team volunteers who undertook the hard work of helping to reach out to everyone deserve a standing ovation. Piedmont is privileged to have a volunteer corps of such integrity and dedication working on behalf of the schools.

Investing in education helps our community, our children, and our future. The outstanding quality of our local schools makes Piedmont a desirable place for families to move and raise their children. At the same time, it protects our property values and builds community. Thank you, Piedmont -- your support and investment ensure that our town will continue to be known for its excellent schools.

Katie Korotzer and Doug Ireland

Measure A campaign co-chairs Piedmont

Crime with firearms has many reasons

"Ineffective parenting" certainly exists and causes innumerable problems when children are emotionally and physically abused.

However, the writer of the March 8 letter, "Loose parenting leads to tragedy," is on shaky ground when he uses that term in the same breath as he describes the process of parents recognizing mental health concerns in their children, getting needed help and encouraging them not to use firearms.

Please come to one of our support groups or family-to-family classes and meet parents who have done all that -- and much, much more -- yet their beloved child has nevertheless succumbed to the ravages and chaos of a mental illness.

The issues around violence, mental illness and gun laws are many and complex -- and most definitely do not lend themselves to simplistic "blame the parents" thinking.

Liz Rebensdorf

president, NAMI EastBay Oakland

Ethics panel seems unfunded mandate

Oakland's Public Ethics Commission recently held its annual retreat. Some of the commissioners are new and may have been discouraged by their responsibilities. I counted five major charges to oversee compliance with ordinances, regulations and to recommend council salary. These are not just little issues.

The list, but not salary, includes campaign reform, code of ethics, conflict of interest code, sunshine ordinance (open meetings and access to public records) and lobbyist registration. The largest component of ethics panel work is to adjudicate complaints rising out of the sunshine ordinance. These usually involve illegal meetings and failure to obtain a requested record.

"Oversee" means recommending fees to the council to administer these programs, recommending penalties for violation, issuing advice on duties needed to carry out responsibilities, prescribing forms to be used for administrative functions and developing training/informational programs for all of them.

Just in case there is spare time, "Perform such other functions and duties as may be prescribed." You will notice that the word "enforce" does not appear. That is because much is required, but nothing given to actually make meaningful changes.

I have long wondered what average human could possibly imagine carrying out all the above with a staff of one director and maybe an assistant. Was the legislation as enacted in 1997 serious? Or was it just put into the City Charter as wallpaper?

Certainly, Oakland is unique here. No other comparable set of laws in any other California jurisdiction is administered by two people. I do not accuse the original supporters of setting up the ordinance to fail. But one wonders.

If citizens are serious in demanding transparency and accountability, we should demand adequate funding for our Public Ethics Commission. Lacking that, it's just wallpaper.

Barbara Newcombe

Oakland