Council Considers Changes to City’s Sunshine Ordinance

Council Considers Changes to City’s Sunshine Ordinance

The City Council reviewed several options to amend Article VIII of Chapter II of the Alameda Municipal Code to clarify enforcement provisions and provide other enhancements to the Sunshine Ordinance at its July 20 meeting.

In February 2020, based on staff’s recommendation, the City Council removed the null-and-void remedy from the Sunshine Ordinance and directed staff to work with the Open Government Commission (OGC) to review impacts of this decision and to find a replacement provision. A null-and-void action gave the OGC to power to force the Council to nullify an ordinance approval if the Council and city staff failed to comply with the Sunshine Ordinance.

During this collaboration, staff observed an uptick in the number of Sunshine Ordinance hearings and the difficulty the OGC faces in resolving such matters. Consequently, staff recommended moving toward a hearing officer model of Sunshine Ordinance complaint adjudication, in addition to making other updates and enhancements, including furnishing updated language for the now-excised null-and-void remedy.

On June 1, the Council declined to adopt the proposed ordinance, and directed staff to create an ordinance that includes only the updated remedies language for introduction and adoption.

The City Council heard a proposal from the OGC subcommittee; the newly installed OGC, consisting of the original OGC, three new members and city staff

The subcommittee’s proposal aims to reduce time to file a complaint from 15 days to 10 days, reduce time to hear a complaint from 30 days to 20 days and reduce time to issue written decision from 30 days to 5 days.

Also, under penalties for public access to meetings, the subcommittee proposes to remove monetary fines as a penalty for sustained violations and the commission may still order cure and correction, except where the body has already made a cure and correction, or the cure and correction would “interfere with the conduct of an election.”

The newly installed OGC wants to add a posting requirement to the city’s website from the adjudicator of Sunshine Ordinance complaints. The adjudicator would display their recommendations if a policy body should correct errors and the policy body’s response would also be posted.

Lastly, city staff proposes the new ordinance should maintain status quo until a final review by the OGC. Staff also proposed the new ordinance eliminates the provision that allows monetary fines for violations.

The removal of the null-and-void policy came after Alameda resident Serena Chen brought a complaint before the OGC in Oct. 2018 alleging that the city failed to comply with the notice provisions of the Brown Act when it passed two ordinances authorizing the sale of recreational marijuana. The OGC found the complaint credible and nullified the two ordinances. They were eventually passed in April 2019.