Thursday, June 22, 2017

[San Mateo County] Local agencies strive for transparency

Grand jury notes improvements to public information

Local governing agencies’ initiatives to make their work more accessible to the public have received the San Mateo County civil grand jury’s stamp of approval, according to a new county report. 
The Coastside Fire Protection District even received a Certificate of Excellence, issued by the Special District Leadership Foundation.
Others, including Coastside County Water District, Granada Community Services District, Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, Montara Water and Sanitary District and San Mateo Resource Conservation District,  are also eligible to apply for the distinction.
In 2014 a grand jury called for greater transparency of operations in the county’s 22 special districts. At that time, they recommended that the districts shoot for openness, honesty and accountability. 
To achieve this, the grand jury encouraged agencies to design their websites to make it easy to locate pertinent information such as mission statements and services, board member names and compensation, meeting times and agendas, governing policies and finances. 
These are all things that most agencies have been happy to share, but may not have made available online in the past. 
“If someone comes in here and asks for something, I just hand it over,” said Delia Comito, assistant general manager of the Granada Community Services District. “Improving the website will make us more transparent in terms of convenience and people being able to access the same information they would if they were to walk in here.”
A checklist for the Certificate of Excellence also requires ethics training, policies for handling public records requests and reimbursement and regular audits. 
“That’s what’s in our blood anyway,” said Clemens Heldmaier, general manager for the Montara Water and Sanitary District. 
Having already done the hard work of complying with these recommendations, several agencies, including MWSD, are in the process of applying or intend to apply for the Certificate of Excellence.
“The certificate is a vote of confidence that the public receives the best treatment,” Heldmaier said.
David Dickson, general manager of the Coastside County Water District, indicated that a certificate would not be as important as action. 
“I don’t think this changes anything,” Dickson said. “What’s meaningful is whether the website is transparent or not.”
Lacking a detailed description of its election process, the San Mateo County Harbor District has not yet met all the criteria to qualify for the certificate.
June 21, 2017
Half Moon Bay Review
By Sara Hayden

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