Jun 15 2014

Some City and School Meeting Locations Thwart Transparency

– Public access is limited when some School and City meetings on finances, budgets, zoning, planning, education, and others are held away from cameras and recording devices leaving only hearty individuals viewing important civic matters. –

Citizens, who want to know first hand how and why some civic decisions are formulated, will need to personally go to the many unrecorded, out of the way meetings.  Some are noted below. 

Transparency has been a great interest in Piedmont.

From the undergrounding of utilities, Blair Park development, sewer costs, Alan Harvey Theater design, parcel taxes, and so on, Piedmonters have expressed concern over the lack of access and transparency of underlying pivotal civic decisions.

During a recent Council Budget session, it was noted that hundreds of viewers have gone to the City’s website to view live streamed and prerecorded meetings on their home computers. Home viewers can also watch broadcasted meetings on their televisions via Comcast Channel 27. The City does not know how many home viewers use the service and, according to Comcast, data is not collected. Piedmont’s public broadcasting station, KCOM, generally reruns recorded meetings on Channel 27 and makes them available through the City website. 

Despite the availability of space and broadcasting equipment, meetings are often scheduled where public access is difficult and home viewing is impossible. 

Frequent locations of the less accessible meetings are: Piedmont Emergency Operations Center (EOC) in the Police Department, the Council Conference Room in City Hall and the School District Executive Offices below Millennium High School. These locations do not have broadcast equipment. 

Noted below are some of the City and School meetings that are only available to those present at the meetings, not home viewers.  

Examples of non-broadcasted meetings are:

– Piedmont Unified School District-

Budget Advisory Committee: The committee, under the direction of the School Superintendent and officially designated in the recent parcel tax ballot measure, makes recommendations through the Piedmont Unified School District Superintendent to the School Board on budgets and taxation.  The committee is an amorphous group ranging from teachers, school staff, parents, Board members, community members, and others who attend the publicly announced meetings.  School District staff members present to the committee information on the fiscal condition of the District and educational programs.  A member of the Board of Education is typically present at the Budget Advisory Committee meetings. The meetings are open to the public and are usually held in the School District Executive Offices.  There are no electronic recordings or broadcasts of the meetings.

  Measure A School Support Tax Subcommittee:  The members of the subcommittee are selected from the Budget Advisory Committee attendees.  Three residents are selected for the Subcommittee. The voter approved Measure A parcel tax requires the Subcommittee to review the fiscal condition of the School District and advise the School Board annually on the need and range of the Measure A parcel tax levy having a base of $2,406 per parcel. This year the Subcommittee recommended that the Board levy the maximum tax, a 2% increase on the base.  The Subcommittee provides the School Board with a written report on their recommendations. The Subcommittee meetings are not publicly noticed and are not open to the public. There are no recordings or broadcast of their meetings. 

– City of Piedmont –

Budget Advisory and Financial Planning Committee:  The committee members are appointed by the City Council and make recommendations to the City Council. Staff presents the fiscal condition of the City and the committee makes wide ranging recommendations to the Council on pensions, bond measures, budgeting, employee compensation, capital expenditures, fund reserves, taxes, and maintenance.  The committee has recently suggested a tax increase for sewers. Meetings are publicly noticed and open to the public. At the City’s recent Brown Act training seminar, the Acting City attorney instructed attendees that the Committee is a Brown Act body requiring notice and minutes. The meetings are generally held in the Police Department Emergency Operations Center (EOC) with no broadcasts or recordings.

City Council Budget Work Sessions:  The City Council annually meets to hear presentations from City staff on the upcoming fiscal year budget. The meetings are publicly announced and open to the public. The meetings are held in the Police Department Emergency Operations Center using a round table format. The sessions are pivotal to budget decisions.  No video recordings or broadcast of the meetings are produced.

Piedmont Planning Commission:  The Planning Commission will hold a “Community Meeting on the Housing Element” in a location known for close quarters and no cameras, the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) in the Police Department. The Planning Director and planning consultant announced that an “opportunity” for the community to voice their opinions on Piedmont’s proposed Housing Element was set for June 26 in the EOC.  The Housing Element could be controversial as it presents new regulations regarding increasing second units, adding affordable housing, building apartments on top of commercial buildings, assessing multiple unit zoning, and reducing taxes on affordable units.  There will be no broadcast or recordings of this meeting.

Capital Improvement Projects (CIP) Review Committee:  The CIP committee provides advice on how to spend millions of capital dollars.  The City Council appoints five members of the committee.  The other three members are: one, selected by and from the Piedmont Garden Club’s Piedmont Beautification Foundation; one, from the Recreation Commission; and one, from the Park Commission.   Money reserved by the City in the CIP fund has been used for numerous purposes including beautification projects, street and sidewalk improvements, recreational facilities, landscaping, and $2 million for underground utility problems. The meetings are publicly noticed.  An upcoming meeting on how to allocate $500,000 of WW Bond funds is to be held in the Council Conference Room.  There will be no broadcast of the meetings.

City Council Interviews of Applicants for Appointed City Positions, such as Commissions and Committees:  Annually, the City Council makes appointments to fill open positions on commissions and committees.  Although not specifically designated as financial positions, many of the members of the City’s various appointed committees and commissions routinely make recommendations with financial implications.  The sessions are publicly noticed and open to the public. The meetings have been held in the small City Council Conference Room. Public records do not include the names of applicants, and only those applicants who are appointed are publicly announced.  The Council’s interviews are not broadcast or otherwise recorded.

City Seminars on the Brown Act and Rules of Procedure: Two meetings in May to “train” elected and appointed officials on factors governing Piedmont meetings were held.  Notice was not provided of the meetings, and the meetings were not open to the public.   Councilmembers, commissioners, and appointed committee members were invited to the meetings held in the Council Chambers. During one of the meetings, a video was produced by the City and is available here.  No live broadcasts of the meetings were produced.

Meetings that can regularly be viewed by Comcast subscribers on Channel 27 and on home computers via live streaming are: City Council, Park, Planning, and Recreation Commissions, School Board, and from time to time various ad hoc committees.

  To view live and previously broadcast meetings, go to the City website at:


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