SAN JOSE -- Six years after San Jose required its elected officials and key staff to post their public calendars online, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors is poised to enact its own policy on Tuesday. But open-government advocates and even some supervisors say it's an essentially toothless policy proposal that needs to be rewritten.
The policy, for example, would apply only to the five board members, not their chiefs of staff or county appointees, as is the case at the city.
More importantly, critical information about board members' county-related appointments -- including the dates and the names, titles, affiliated organizations of those attending the meetings and a general statement of the topic of the meeting -- would only be recorded voluntarily or "encouraged," but not required to be posted by the supervisors in their online calendars.
That has left open-government advocates questioning the point of having such a policy at all.
Peter Scheer, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition, argued that instead of adopting something that really doesn't mean anything, each supervisor should pledge on the record at Tuesday's meeting that they would agree to adhere to a requirement to post all county-related appointments and relevant information.
That way, he said, the supervisors will have made a promise to voters that proves they believe in transparency concerning their calendar schedules, and those who decline will have to answer to voters.
"Each member should be standing up and making clear where he or she stands, and not hiding from the voters and avoiding accountability by enacting something that seemingly applies to all of them, yet obligates no one," Scheer said.
Advocates say that posting weekly elected officials' calendars online, as well as those of other key staff and decision-makers, helps the public know who those officials are meeting with and who may be influencing public budgets and policies.
Neither the city nor the county's proposed policy imposes a penalty for noncompliance, meaning it operates on an honor system.
David Vossbrink, spokesman for the San Jose city manager's office, which semiannually reviews all required online calendars to ensure they are being posted according to the rules, said the system has worked well over the years.
"It's provided a useful window for the public to watch what their elected officials are doing in office," he said.
Tuesday's meeting is the Board of Supervisors' first after its summer break and a recent special election to replace former District 2 Supervisor George Shirakawa Jr., who in March pleaded guilty to misusing taxpayer and campaign funds.
Board president Ken Yeager, who has been working on the online calendar issue with colleague Dave Cortese, said Friday he was surprised by the use of the word "encouraged" in the policy instead of the word "must."
"I strongly support the language being the same as the city's," Yeager said. "What county counsel wrote was not what I wanted or what I advocated for. I will certainly be arguing on Tuesday not to use the word 'encourage.' "
Asked if he would push to add other key staff to the policy, Yeager said he would have to think about it.
County Counsel Orry Korb declined to comment on the proposed policy.
Cortese, who was still a San Jose city councilman when the city adopted its public calendar policy and is weighing a run for San Jose mayor, said he had expected the county policy would follow San Jose's. He said he will support that change on Tuesday.
Supervisor Joe Simitian said he's an open-government advocate but remains opposed to the idea of posting elected officials' calendars online. He said he believes that publishing elected officials' calendars makes them less effective because it provides an unfair advantage to opponents of their policies who are not compelled to share their calendars. And he contends it could have a chilling effect on members of the public who prefer to meet privately with elected officials.
But Supervisor Mike Wasserman said "county business is public,'' adding that he would support a motion to strike the word "encourage" and replace it with "must" and ensure that calendar entries were complete. He said he would be willing to add more staff who are affected by the policy.
The supervisor elected to replace Shirakawa, Cindy Chavez, said she would like the county to follow the city's procedure regarding its online calendar posting requirements.
"I like the way the city has proceeded, and it's something I would want to pursue at the county," she said.
Chavez added that the county's policy should go even further than just requiring board members to post their calendars weekly. It should, she said, also include their chiefs of staff and board appointees.
She said the county "should adopt the same types of reforms we put in place" in San Jose, as well as others, including:
Contact Tracy Seipel at 408 275-0140.