Should Cypress voters trust their elected officials — rather than a local newspaper — to alert them when discussions are being held and decisions made about the people’s business?
Amid a flurry of criticism that city hall is trying to reduce transparency, and fewer than two weeks before Election Day, Mayor Rob Johnson says yes.
That’s why he’s pushing for Measure P.
“It’s not being standoffish,” he said, in an interview with the Event-News Enterprise. “It doesn’t mean we can’t go back to the newspaper. It’s just moving with technology.”
Measure P, which updates the City Charter, calls for a watershed change in the way
Cypress citizens are notified about government meetings dealing with ordinances, franchises, public works contracts and other matters.
At present, notices are published in the Orange County Register. If voters OK Measure P, Cypress’ approximately 50,000 residents will be informed via the city’s website, and by posts at three public places chosen by the city.
Johnson cited two reasons: 1) Modernization; 2) “It saves taxpayer dollars spent on costly and ineffective newspaper advertising.”
Modernization means use of social media and a mobile app as well as the city’s website, Johnson said.
When asked how many people visit the city’s website on a daily, weekly and monthly basis, Johnson said he didn’t know. When pressed further on transparency and asked why not post notices in a newspaper, on the city’s website and in public places, Johnson did not provide an answer.
Critics claim that senior citizens and others who rely on newspaper postings will be left in the dark when it comes to the people’s business. Moreover, they question the notion of putting government transparency and accountability on such critical issues in government’s hands.
Johnson said he understands the concerns, but stressed, “We’re not trying to hide anything.”
As far as saving taxpayer money, the city, which has a budget of about $45 million, spends $60,000 a year in legal notices published in the Register, the mayor said.
Local Wendel Zeller told this newspaper that there’s a bigger price to pay if Measure P passes: Cypress officials might forget who’s in charge.
“The people are on top,” he said. “The council gets all their power from the people, and not the other way around.”
Johnson and City Manager Peter Grant gave a Zoom presentation to the Cypress Chamber of Commerce and about 30 residents last week, and Johnson’s arguments in favor of the measure are posted on the city’s website.
A through-line of his case is that the city, which was incorporated in 1956 and hasn’t updated its Charter in decades, must address inconsistencies with state law.
“Measure P is an essential amendment to the City Charter that addresses inconsistencies with state law and enables the city to meet our community’s modern needs,” Johnson said.
Measure P further gives the City Council 60 days to fill vacancies on the council —without holding an election. City Attorney Anthony R. Taylor said that change would save taxpayers up to $220,000 per election, but council candidate Blaze Bhence, in a letter to this newspaper, wrote that “this could lead to more stacking of the council. ”
Council members Mariellen Yarc, Stacy Berry, Paulo Morales and Jon Peat, who support Measure P, did not respond to email requests for comments.
To view the full text of Measure P, visit www.cypressca.org.