A comparison of how two area cities are handling public access to information about vacancies on their city councils.
The news of Cori Schumacher’s resignation from the Carlsbad City Council last Friday rippled quickly throughout San Diego area political circles.
Given the suddenness of the announcement, a big well done to the City of Carlsbad for having the news posted to its website in short order, by about noon the very same day, on a Friday no less. The information includes options for an appointment and a special election for filling the seat, along with additional information. A couple of screenshots below…
Here’s the link to that page.
So, let’s say you’re an average citizen in Carlsbad. You hear about the Schumacher resignation on the news, social media, or around town and you wonder about running for council. You have questions about the process. You do a Google search for the City of Carlsbad and it brings up the webpage.
From there, the menu gives you a “City Council” option. With a click, you get the following, showing that District 1 is indeed vacant…
A click on the word “Vacant” takes you to the basic information shared earlier about the resignation and options for filling the vacancy.
In essence, a simple search and a couple of easily navigable links and you’re there.
Obviously, more info will have to follow once the City Council decides on either an appointment or a special election. But, with the type of info the City added to its website in a matter of hours last Friday, it appears a commitment exists to keep the latest information updated for easy access to anyone looking for it.
In contrast, let’s look at the City of La Mesa.
On April 6 of this year, then La Mesa Council Member Akilah Weber won a special election in the 79th State Assembly District, thus vacating her council seat. La Mesa then had the options Carlsbad does now, either an appointment or a special election.
Although La Mesa clearly had to wait for the Assembly election to take place, it was not a surprise to many that Weber won. By mid-to late April the City Council was debating the options. Ultimately, the City decided on a special mail ballot election to be held November 2.
Ok, same search process as noted previously for Carlsbad. The average La Mesan does a web search and comes up with the City website. So far, so good.
From there, a couple of clicks from “Government,” to “City Council,” to “City Councilmembers,” and you’re there — a list of the officials, with one of them indeed showing Vacant…
Click on “Vacant,” however, and you’ve hit the end of the road…
Going back to the main menu, a search of City News Releases results in nothing. There are plenty of updates on the City seeking a new police chief, but nothing on a City Council vacancy? Really?
How about just a general search from the City website for the word “Vacancy”? This results in all kinds of board and commission information, but nothing immediately obvious about a City Council seat.
Finally, with just the right search term, “City Council Vacancy,” there it is, but still the fifth item down and not very obvious. Here’s a screenshot of the beginning, which ends up to be excellent detail…
So now we know, if we had only gone to the webpage category titled “Elections,” we would have found the information.
There’s just one thing. The “Elections” option is found nowhere obvious from any of the main headings on the home page. It’s under the “City Clerk” category. Would the average resident know to look under City Clerk? Do most even know what the City Clerk does, or even think to do their Easter egg hunt in such a place?
Sure, I found it, but it was nothing close to intuitive.
The nice thing for La Mesa — it’s an easy fix.
Let’s do better
Is it really that big a deal, the lack of simply found information on a public agency’s website about a city council vacancy and/or a special election? Some say the news of the vacancies in both cities has been prolific and available to any interested parties.
The “some” who say that? Political insiders. Those who easily follow and understand the political news, while knowing how to find and interpret the information. Those who know the City Clerk is the local filing officer (What the heck even is a local filing officer!?)
Appointments and elections are supposed to be open to other than just political insiders.
Sometimes we can rely on the news media to provide the correct information about such events, but not always. The basic facts should be easily accessible, first, foremost and at the very least on a public agency’s website. In this day and age, with the ability to modify and add to website content on the fly, there should be no excuse.
Let’s do better, in La Mesa and elsewhere. All agencies in similar circumstances should take note as well and ask themselves: Can we do better?
Public agencies should strive to be as transparent as possible, especially when it comes to accessing basic information about the election process. The ability to govern should be open to all the governed, not just the few who already follow the process.