Taxpayers in the city of Cypress are being asked on November 3 to give its city government extraordinary powers that could affect truth and transparency going forward.
A quiet ballot initiative entitled, “Measure P,” has apparently been placed on this year’s ballot, ostensibly because the city charter ‘has not been updated in the past 64 years.’
That indeed may be true, but insufficient, we believe, to remove the same public accountability that citizens demanded when the charter was approved. Truth and transparency never, or should ever, go out of style.
No one is suggesting a future government plans any nefarious action or that the current government has done anything inappropriate. Nevertheless, the safeguards should remain.
We believe Measure P presents too tempting an opportunity for city officials to entirely control the flow of information for proposed ordinances, franchises, public works contracts, legal notices, and other matters.
Currently, city officials must provide its “official” newspaper of record with written notices for publications regarding key changes in public policy or spending taxpayer money that will result from their actions.
It is noteworthy as well that this newspaper group has not published any legal notices for the city of Cypress since 2018 so this is not written for any self-serving or financial gain. It seeks only to protect a community’s most vital commodity, the public interest.
Having to publish legal notices in a newspaper makes it impossible for major changes to occur without another entity besides the city having control of the information about the proposed change.
Under Measure P, if approved, the city, by its own admission, could place a written sheet of paper on the front door of City Hall, another one on the concession stand, and another at the corner drug store, then bury a notice in its ‘online presence’ and proceed to move forward with any contract or change in public policy they collectively voted to approve.
According to an “impartial analysis” written by Cypress city attorney Anthony Taylor, “the charter (currently) requires publication of notices relating to ordinances, franchises, public works contracts, legal notices and other matters in the city’s official newspaper.”
But if voters approve the change in the charter, “the proposed amendment would permit the city to post notices on the city’s online presence, [and] at least three places designated by the city council; except as provided by ordinance,” concludes Taylor.
The mere removal of the requirement to publish outside legal notices for the public, we believe, creates the potential for a very slippery slope. No longer will it be necessary to notify any entity outside the city’s control for anything it decides to do. More critically, once the requirement is changed, it will likely never return.
We understand that the city council voted unanimously to put this measure on the ballot as a “charter update,” which, of course, they have every right to do. Nevertheless, citizens have rights too and should consider the full measure of implications before this extraordinary power buried within Measure P is granted.
Newspapers remain the watchdog of the public and provide accountability to government. While citizens have trust and confidence in the officials they elect, as they should, they should also want to keep every guardrail of democratic accountability in place as well.
Cypress is a wonderful city with a bright future and so there is little reason why the public watchdog should be so easily dismissed. Without a doubt, truth and transparency never go out of style. At the very least, it certainly should not be voted out by the people who depend on it as the foundation of good governance.