Every election campaign is the same. Same big money from out of town, same special interest groups, and the same variety of falsehoods that range from the amusing to the absurd. The election for Mayor of San Jose will bring much of the same, and candidates will promise the world on a silver platter, and have you believe that they are personally responsible for raising the sun and hanging the moon. The words “I” and “Me” will be used often, as some candidates seem to believe they have a monopoly on good ideas, even though this is never the case. The Mayor and City Council form a legislative body, and good ideas come from all of their members, with collaboration and cooperation often producing the best results.
Sometimes, however, inappropriate ideas that are not worthy of our time and attention, such as issues that require the discussion and debate of foreign policy, are brought forward by my council colleagues. This is a source of great frustration for me. The city council is not the United Nations or the congress, and has a limited ability to influence international policy or coerce foreign leaders into heeding our advice, no matter how noble the cause or intention. Instead, we should focus our time and efforts in a laser-like fashion on improving neighborhoods and the quality of life of San Jose residents. Making sure that potholes get fixed and sewer systems function properly may not be as sexy as telling a foreign country what to do, but if elected your next mayor, I would choose to prioritize issues that have the greatest LOCAL impact.
Often times posturing on these issues is common for those seeking a career in politics. I strongly believe that these futile discussions would not happen if the general public were watching, as city elected officials would run the risk of embarrassing themselves in front of their constituents at the mere mention of items beyond the purview of city government. Citizens of San Jose must be given increased ability to bring issues of local importance forward, and to encourage this, I believe we need to move city council meetings to the evening.
Most San Jose residents typically lead very busy lives, working during the day and tending to household and family needs well into the afternoon. Thus, the ability to attend a daytime San Jose City Council meeting is limited. While meetings are ostensibly “for the public,” many of those in attendance at daytime council meetings are lobbyists or other paid representatives of special interest groups. I proposed moving meetings to the evening back in 2012, however this concept did not receive backing from the city council. Some of my council colleagues seemed to think that the average citizen has little interest in the topics discussed during these daytime council meetings, but I beg to differ. Making sure your voice is heard is one of the single most important ways that residents can shape the future of San Jose. When citizens speak before a legislative body such as the a city council it helps elevate and prioritize the issues that are most important.
Another way for San Jose to offer influence and greater transparency to its residents is to conduct union negotiations as public meetings. By opening up the meetings to public attendance, it would allow taxpayers, employees and the media to see what is going on first hand. This would be a huge step in the right direction for greater transparency in governance. The current closed door process is costly in terms of time and money, and contributes to misinformation, which then results in ill will and animosity all around. Why continue with the same process that drives people nuts? Public negotiations would open up the process so that we could avoid posturing, brinkmanship and emotional pain. This would help restore trust for those who have become disillusioned. I believe it is important.
Continuing on the transparency theme, I believe the city could also do a better job of displaying its finances in real time. As the situation exists today, you can drudge through hundreds of pages online in search of the one aspect that interests you. It is not user friendly. It could, however, be as easy as online banking. Residents could have access to a dashboard, where they could see account balances and monitor how they ebb and flow with each expenditure, just as they do with a household budget.
These are just a few common sense ideas about how we can construct local government to serve residents better.
I have extended this quest for greater transparency to my own campaign by not accepting endorsements from corporations, labor unions, special interest groups or former elected officials turned lobbyists.
(this article published in the Almaden, Cambrian, Rose Garden and Willow Glen Resident Newspapers)