Four years ago, Tustin Councilmen Jim Palmer and Doug Davert formed a committee to explore different ways of streamlining city government and making more accessible to the public. Some of their ideas lead to the city broadcasting council meetings via the web and new efforts to reduce administrative waste.
Now, Palmer says, they’re putting the “candles on top of the cake,” by offering an idea to centralize the location of commonly requested public documents on the city’s website.
The idea of the web portal, Palmer said, is to make it as easy as possible to access commonly requested public records. Though the logistics of the portal have yet to be hammered out, Palmer’s hope is that a diverse collection of records will be accessible through a single click into a single web page.
Palmer’s list of documents includes expense reimbursement reports for elected and appointed officials, statements of economic interest, campaign statements, labor contracts, the 10 highest paid positions in the city along with salary and benefits, and more.
Palmer, who has been working on the portal idea with Councilman Doug Davert, said many of the documents on the list are already available on the city’s website, but they’re buried in different sections of the website and can be hard to find.
“This is how we decided to fix that,” Palmer said.
The portal will eventually come back for City Council approval as a city ordinance. Meanwhile, city staffers are looking into the legal implications of publishing some records that aren’t currently accessible, such as average city employees’ W-2 income.
There are other cities that have similar portals. Mission Viejo, for example, has a document search portal that can take users to campaign statements, ordinances and meeting minutes within seconds.
However, the Tustin portal — if designed to include all the documents in Palmer’s list — seems more comprehensive.
The timing of the step toward more transparency, given the recent Bell scandal, was not lost on Palmer, but he insisted the scandal did not expedite making the portal a reality. He said he waited until the summer to bring it up because the season is typically slow for official government business.
“I wish we would have completed this a few months ago so people would have thought we were being progressive,” Palmer said. “Now people will think we’re being reactive.”
— ADAM ELMAHREK