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BLOG: The Deafeningly Quiet Controversy Over Measure N

A look at the factions for and against Measure N, and the political climate that surrounds the controversial measure.

The Measure N battle here in town has attained the level of a shouting match, with tempers flaring, sides taken, signs slugging it out, but without sound. A non-resident driving into town would only notice quiet streets, kids playing soccer in the park, and hot-air balloons silently drifting overhead.

I wasn’t here for the Dixon Downs battle, but I suppose the battle was even more deafeningly quiet then.

As with the presidential election, the truth got left behind miles ago.

The Measure N battle came home to me yesterday when I found that the Independent Voice newspaper delivered to my driveway had been deliberately torn up and scattered in the gutter. One of the newspaper pieces I found was promoting Measure N and read, “… the gang of ex-city officials … “

In a story elsewhere in the IV, there were complaints about the removal of signs promoting Measure N, which I can believe after the newspaper incident.

All’s fair in love and war (and politics), I gather. There’s a certain hooliganism in down and dirty politics, attracting the weak of brain and the strong of emotions. I remember when I lived in the Bay Area, the traffic reporter for the PBS radio station in San Francisco was embarrassingly photographed removing political  signs he didn’t agree with.

Also, yesterday I received (inserted within the Dixon Tribune, as I recall) a “No on Measure N” flier. It tied itself to the ubiquitous “No on Measure N” signs around town by claiming that Measure N would cost too much (“government waste”). It claimed that the measure would cost Dixon $350,000 to $400,000 during the first year. I think that figure was primarily arrived at by Measure N opponents claiming that the city would have to “digitize and categorize all records … (to include) 4 million pieces of paper.”

Nowhere in the language of Measure N is a requirement to digitize all records! I just read through the measure again to make sure. So I will give an “F” report card to Measure N opponents for not telling the truth. What Measure N does require is the indexing of all public records held by city hall (similar to how the library has a computerized list of all its books), so that people seeking information will know what’s available and not available for public viewing. Indexing should have been done in Dixon long before this, sunshine ordinance or not.

So, using dubious figures about how much Measure N would cost, the flier also uses the tried-and-true tactic of saying that the cost would take money away from fire and police services. Please!

Moving on to those who created Measure N – I believe that their motives are very well-intentioned. They are basically people who want to have full, advance knowledge of what their city government is doing because they don’t automatically trust it to do the right thing. They want to be involved in making sure the city is well run, and run to the benefit of all its citizens and not just a few. The sunshine ordinances created and passed in California cities recently mostly address abuses in the past which have resulted in roadblocks to public information access, secret meetings, and extremes such as the city of Bell, with its illegal financial shenanigans. We should be happy that Dixon has a coterie of citizen watchdogs willing to take the time to make sure things are run right.

On the other hand, to be succinct, Measure N has some flaws. I don’t like unlimited speaking times for the public at council meetings. I don’t like the (almost funny) requirement that TV screens be placed behind council members to show what they’re using their smart phones for, though I do agree there’s potential for misuse of communications devices. I don’t like the fact that staff members wouldn’t be allowed to brief elected officials concerning pending legislation outside of meetings (if the officials requested such briefings) – after all, members of the public can express their own viewpoints to officials as well.

I don’t think two days is enough time for city staff to produce documents and so on for public viewing considering how busy they are, but I think the current 10 days is too long. I’m in favor of producing documents for viewing within five working days.

I don’t like the fact that the people on Measure N’s compliance commission would be randomly chosen (names drawn out of a hat). That’s not quite so random, because certain segments of the political scene in Dixon could flood “the hat” with candidates, biasing the selection. On the other hand, I don’t want the city council selecting the commission, because they would tend to choose people who were loyal to them and their interests. I don’t have an answer to this problem. You would want educated people serving on it without an axe to grind.

Measure N is a very comprehensive and broad document, which contains a long laundry list of transparency requirements. A lot of work and review went into creating it, but I believe that it was created in a bit of a vacuum. More effort might’ve been put into getting local feedback from all quarters on its provisions and effects before finalizing it.

I think that its authors assumed broad grassroots support for it, but they didn’t realize that certain portions of it would be open to attack.

On the other hand, I think that the involvement of the prospective movie studio concerning this issue has a certain fishy smell about it. Dixon will be just fine with or without a movie studio.

If Measure N fails to pass in the upcoming election, there will still be a positive result. Citizens have become better informed about the need for transparency, and will not accept being shut out.

For example, the other day I was in city hall looking at some architectural plans for a city project. A staffer stood by to make sure I didn’t run off with them, and I asked if I could photograph several pages. I was told, “No, because they’re copyrighted. We’d have to have permission from the architect.” I went home and researched copyrights on the Internet and found that this particular set of plans wasn’t covered by copyright (also, I thought that Dixon had paid for the work, so it should have ownership rights). I so informed the staffer later on, directing him to a government Web site, and obtained the right to photograph.

When I had first come in, he had made a comment about not needing a Measure N to see the plans. So you can see there are nuances to transparency!

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Ian Arnold October 18, 2012 at 12:22 AM
Bil, If you read the section I cut-and-pasted, it appears to say that any agency doing business with the City must conduct meetings wherein an item of common interest to the City is discussed pursuant to Measure N. The Teen Center is a joint project of the City of Dixon, Dixon Unified School District and the Teen Center. I realize that the proponents have essentially said that the language doesn't reflect their intent and that they trust the citizens of Dixon to act responsibly, but the language says what it says.
Randy Davis October 18, 2012 at 01:49 AM
Section 12.01.32 of Measure N (Open Governance Commission) is not clear and possibly a violation of my rights. Should I be barred from serving on the Commission because I worked for the City 12 years ago. I think not. How can the requirements for the Open Governance Commission be more stringent than those for serving on the Council or the other Commissions? Also, what does a "close relationship" with elected or appointed officers, or present or former City employees really mean? Section 12.01.32 Open Governance Commission A. There is hereby created an Open Governance Commission, a permanent three-member volunteer citizen oversight body chosen from applicants who are not employees of the City, do not have immediate family members employed by the City and do not have such a close relationship with elected or appointed officers, or present or former City employees.
Steve Steiert October 18, 2012 at 03:50 AM
Randy, You are wise to point out the fuzzy language of section 12.01.32; of course fuzzy language could be used to describe many sections of Measure N. At Monday's Measure N forum, I asked Mrs. Riddle about the "random selection" of members of the open governance commission--without any type of screening--and on this point she was crystal clear: she felt "any citizen" is more than capable of competently serving on the commission. She went on to say that even a stupid person like me could serve on the commission (knowing my dubious character, I would say her comment is yet another reason to vote no on Measure N).
C. Duncan October 18, 2012 at 04:45 AM
I watched this forum at home on TV. Along these lines, Mrs. Riddle, the co-author of Measure N, also said: "It seems like we take verbatim what this Measure N says. We can do whatever we want. I don't understand why we have to scrutinize this ordinance." Vote NO on Measure N. Cindy Duncan
Mike Smith October 22, 2012 at 06:56 PM
Bil, "For example, the other day I was in city hall looking at some architectural plans for a city project. A staffer stood by to make sure I didn’t run off with them, and I asked if I could photograph several pages. I was told, “No, because they’re copyrighted." What happened when you tried to look and photograph a commerical blueprint? They currently do not disclose private blueprints so under Measure N the full set of plans and specifications would be a public document and must be available for public review. Most businesses do not want to show the world their operation... like a movie studio. Frankly, what business is it of anyone to see the floor plan of someone's custom home?

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