WE ARE pleased that directors of BART acknowledged Thursday that they have a secrecy problem. The question now is, what will they do to fix it?
As we reported in an editorial Thursday, the transit system directors have been illegally operating in secret for years, conducting private committee meetings in direct violation of the Brown Act, the state's open-meeting law for local government.
The closed-door system has been expanded in the past couple of years under the past and current board presidents, James Fang of San Francisco and Bob Franklin of Oakland. The board now has 20 -- that's right, 20! -- such closed-door committees. It's so confusing that some board members don't know the names of the committees, or which ones they're on.
It's secrecy and bureaucracy run amok. It came to light this week when we discovered that one committee had been secretly discussing a parcel tax to raise about $1 billion for replacing aging train cars. As we probed, we learned that another committee has been meeting in private for at least two decades to discuss the budget. Most recently, directors were launching a new committee to secretly discuss redistricting. It's shameful.
Fortunately, hours after the editorial appeared Thursday, as the full board held its regularly scheduled meeting, there were indications that at least some members understand the error of their ways. Like with any addiction, admitting you have a problem is the first step toward correcting it.
But, when it comes to the solutions, the devil is in the details. So, here are a few suggestions:
First, all committee meetings should be conducted in public, in full compliance with the Brown Act. That includes advance notice and public vetting of all staff reports. (Personnel or legal issues important enough to be discussed behind closed doors should be handled by the full board in executive session under the terms of the Brown Act.)
Second, almost all of the committees should be eliminated. Most of the secret committees cover topic areas that should be brought to the full board, in open session, for discussion. There's no reason only a select group of board members should be considering them.
Third, to the extent the board members need to delegate issues to committees -- and it's questionable whether that's even necessary -- the three "standing" committees the board has should suffice. Those three committees are the only ones that are conducting their business in public. Three committees should be more than sufficient for an agency the size of BART. After all, this is a transit agency, not the state Legislature.
Fourth, if the board feels it needs those three standing committees, then it should operate them as committees. Currently, the district board has a silly system under which the standing committees meet as part of the full board meeting. All of the board members attend. The only difference from the full board meeting is that there is a different chairperson, thereby stroking the egos of other board members by allowing them to say they chair a committee. It's a farce.
We'll be watching and we will make sure to let the public know what transpires. Transparent and open government is not optional.