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Sounding Board

Daily Transcript Question: What five initial actions should the new city administration take to restore confidence in an open and transparent government?

That really is the key -- transparency.

First of all it will never be accomplished through secretive meetings or clandestine task forces.

Be as public as possible. Let dialogue be encouraged, and feedback be heard.

Invite the public, hold forums, educate the citizenry, and foster an environment where San Diegans really take ownership of the problems and view them as solutions we can all partake in

-- Linda Merritt

President & CEO of the San Diego County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce


1. Conduct State of the City update briefings at least monthly with media Q&A segment.

2. Allow volunteer citizen participation in any internal city audits.

3. Establish independent citizen oversight committees to monitor earmarked expenditures of city funds.

4. Consider clarification of the role and responsibilities of the city attorney's office.

5. Quarterly budget reviews, conducted in open session, which detail the state of the city's finances.

-- Lisa Briggs

Executive director of the San Diego County Taxpayers' Association


I think the first thing would be to address the concern about closed-door city council meetings. There needs to be an effort to keep meetings held behind closed doors to a minimum. There is time when that happens, but it seems to have happened more in the last years.

I think it's important to set quantifiable goals on finance issues and report back regularly to the citizens of the city on the progress in addressing those goals. Initially it may be more to be an annual report. Maybe on a quarterly basis there would be a report on progress.

With the change to strong mayor, beginning early next year, it will be important for people to understand how the mayor and administration will operate. There needs to be a report with specifics to what this change will mean and how the new administration manages the city.

The final thing -- once there is a better handle on the financial situation, there needs to be a presentation made to the citizens on what the situation is. That presentation needs to be made by the mayor.

-- Joe Panetta

President and CEO of BIOCOM


In California and in San Diego, there are many requirements for transparency. I think that those qualities are like motherhood and apple pie. The fact is that there are things in the personal, financial and legal world that need to be addressed in closed session. For example, in lease negotiations, you need to have a candid discussion without tipping your hand.

I think transparency may come down to sound bites rather than being a real component of the kind of improvement we need to make in city government. I say that with a commitment to openness and transparency.

-- Julie Meier Wright

President and CEO of the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp.


It's been so long since we had one, we forgot what it feels like.

If you are a reform government council then you are not there to protect the people that made the mistakes. So you have an initial willingness to disclose everything. So you have no desire to go through the contortions of covering up.

That means that all of the funny business with moving the water and the sewer money around, you have to be prepared to open those books up.

You have to articulate what you are doing.

You say that we are to disclose everything that you find. There are no secrets from the public.

You reserve closed session only for litigation with non-government third parties. That means that closed session doesn't include what you're going to do with the pension board or the divisions of the city. All of the discussions and disclosures regarding the structural finance issues with the SEC -- you bring it out. You make an amendment that you're going to do that in public.

The mayor has a press conference once every two weeks -- a press conference where the mayor takes peoples' questions. That only happens where you are willing to take reforms.

The great thing about this election, we will know if the public is ready for reform pretty quick.

-- Pat Shea

Local attorney and former mayoral candidate


The following is in response to Tuesday's question: What five initial actions should the new city administration take to remedy financial problems?

First, we need to complete the 2003 and 2004 audit. The city cannot function without having a reliable foundation of knowledge with regard to its financial position, not to mention the effect the lack of an audit is having on its ability to obtain financing, its credit rating, etc.

Second, we need to do whatever is necessary to resolve the pension benefit issues -- all of them. Uncertainty is always detrimental to long-term financial planning for any entity.

Third, we need to perform a detailed analysis of our budget and make adjustments where necessary and feasible.

Fourth, we should consider ways to raise alternative sources of revenue in equitable ways, in addition to making budget adjustments.

Finally, we need to consider implementing a stronger internal control/review system over our accounting/budget system to avoid a repeat in the future.

-- Audie J. de Castro

de Castro & Mayer LLP, San Diego


The Daily Transcript introduces Sounding Board, a regular opinion page feature focusing on current issues. The Daily Transcript will engage community leaders in a dialogue and publish their comments. Readers' comments are also welcome. Send your responses to soundingboard@sddt.com.

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