Senator McGuire’s Bill Adding Transparency to Special Districts Signed by the Governor

Press release from Senator Mike McGuire:

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By Devin Cook via Wiki Commons

One of the most important Governmental transparency bills of 2018 was just signed into law by Governor Brown.

Senator McGuire’s SB 929 – the Special Districts Transparency Act – requires every independent special district in California to create and consistently maintain a website with specific and detailed information including meeting agendas, clear information on the district’s budget and expenditures, compensation reports, information on how to contact representatives of the district and more.

California has over 2,000 independent special districts that operate a slew of vital services for millions of Californians, such as water, wastewater, fire protection, parks, and transit. However, less than half of all special districts have websites. This presents a significant transparency gap for the millions who are served by these districts.

“Millions of Californians have no idea how their hard earned tax dollars are being spent or what their district board is doing, let alone how to ask for help, because their local district doesn’t have a website,” Senator Mike McGuire said. “We are grateful to Governor Brown for signing this important bill that brings needed transparency to hundreds of districts that work on behalf of hard working Californians.”

In 2017, the Little Hoover Commission released a report on the state of special districts which cites a need for greater transparency and public involvement in special districts. Today, there is no requirement that special districts must create and maintain a website, which leaves many residents in the dark.

Under SB 929, districts would be provided one year to comply with this new law (January 1, 2020). The legislation was supported by the California Special Districts Association.

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6 comments

  • Ok. Some special districts probably misuse money AND maybe a website will help to pin point problems but it adds just one more legislative burden to some of the smallest and tenuous groups. I can imaging that a few may find it just one to many straws for their struggling camel’s back and simply will give up. Some struggling tiny funded fire protection group essentially run by a small group of older “good ol’ boys” may find it hard to recruit someone to manage a website.

    This law should have a deminimus clause that, where there is small funding or few service providers, they are exempt or at least the State offers to create and maintain such a site. It has become oh so easy for legislators to mandate such that they don’t pay for themselves. They freely point their fingers and say “You must” but are pretty lax about how they will assist the frustrated recipients of their attention.

  • Special Districts have the ability to tax or charge for services, even the smallest most tenuous groups have it if you set it up correctly. Special Districts are not created by the Legislature, but by local individuals and municipal government to provide services…they are known as the best examples of small-town democracy. So if your small town democracy is run by a bunch of good ol’ boys, chances are the sun needs to shine on the finances of it. State one good reason why special districts, aka, local government, aka, local tax dollars, should not have to be transparent in their operations? Websites are the cheapest way to do it. And maybe the good ol’ boys will become the good ol’ boys and girls. And if they fold, maybe they shouldn’t be in existence to begin with.

    • Maybe they “shouldn’t” by some standards exist if they are tenuous but sometimes such good old boys show up when needed and no one else will.

  • Special districts, like all government agencies in CA, are governed by the Ralph M. Brown Act, the open meeting law that requires transparency in various ways. Transparency is essential, but for small rural districts it seems ridiculous to mandate a website. Cost is one problem, and another is that many people in rural communities still don’t have good internet access — and some people don’t even want it. Also in a small community it should easier to attend meetings, go into the district office and ask to see documents like financial statements, or even talk face to face with board members. If you think something’s going on that shouldn’t be, dig into it.

  • I also must add that in many small communities, and So Hum is a good example, the good ol’ whoevers take over — and newer people become good ol’ whoevers — because not enough community members step forward to run for board seats. Many special district boards in SoHum haven’t had an actual election in years for lack of candidates; in some cases seats are left open, which makes for even less public accountability.

    • TRUMPTASTROPHE for the GOP in November

      I looked into these special district and school board elections locally and this year (like usual) very few challengers stepped up to the plate. Where are all of these young candidates who were supposed to be running for office this year? Apparently Humboldt is busy worrying about something other than public service, political influence, etc. 🔥💰🔥🙀 This is the pathetic apathetic norm in Humboldt County unfortunately. There were many districts where fewer candidates filed than there were seats available, so all a person had to do was go sign up and they would have been on a board of their choice without having to face the voters. Even if people are afraid of being rejected by the voters (really who cares?), they can still get on many local boards without having to worry about an election. But even then Humboldt can’t (or won’t) field enough candidates to make things interesting.

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