Sunday, March 16, 2014

The news media plays "gotcha"

A very unfortunate thing is occurring in the reporting of news related to government and campaigns. The focus largely seems to be in delighting in when mistakes are made instead of reporting on the substance of issues.

For example, much ado was made locally and statewide about one of my opponents putting a photograph of San Diego on her brochure. It was funny but it certainly did not rate the coverage it received, especially when not one word has been said about the misleading brochures being sent out by other candidates -- claiming credit for things like the lowest crime rate in 40 years or the Clean Trucks program and on and on.

The next "gotcha" will come shortly when editorial endorsements and articles come out about how Gerrie Schipske has great ideas but she just can't seem to get a consensus on the current Council to get them passed.

Yep. You got me. Yes it is true that on some occasions I have not been able to get a majority vote to support my agenda item . And the press and my detractors are ever vigilant to gleefully report that. But what is never reported is what they used to call in journalism as "the why of the story."

For instance, when I brought an item to the City Council that asked for the following two matters to be sent to a Council committee for review and recommendation I didn't even get a second on the motion for discussion, nor were any of the council members willing even to debate the issues. And what were those issues? Require City Council members and the Mayor to disclose emails and texts made during council concerning city business before a vote is a take and to ban the acceptance of campaign contributions from contractors and developers doing business or bidding on business with the City.

Not one word was written about why no one but me on the Council even wanted to talk about open and transparent government. Not one. Instead the lack of vote became fodder for "look, Schipske couldn't even get a second." 

I know, I know. Maybe my colleagues were reacting to the fact that I had been honored at The White House as one of seven national Champions of Change for Open Government  and that California Forward had written about my efforts to launch "Open Up Long Beach" in the 2013 State of Transparency report and they were tired of being left out.

But for the media not to even ask any of them why they didn't even want the issues discussed -- when those items by the way are already the law in the several other cities in California -- wow.

I was asked  during an editorial meeting about this and I will share what I told the editor emeritus -- "I am proud of what I did bringing this needed government reform forward for discussion. It is the Mayor and the other Council members who need to explain to the public why killed it." 

I also added, that if the newspaper wants a "lap dog" or a "rubber stamp" for elected officials -- then of course, I am not their candidate.

Ironically, this week is national  "Sunshine Week" which celebrates James Madison's birthday. James Madison, the father of our federal Constitution, wrote that "consent of the governed" requires that the people be able to "arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives." 
"Sunshine Week" reminds us that every citizen in our participatory democracy has an inherent right to access to government meetings and public records and that an open and accessible government is vital to establishing and maintaining the people's trust and confidence in their government and in the government's ability to effectively serve its citizens.
The week was begun by journalists in Florida who were tired of not getting the information they asked for from government in order to report what government was doing or not doing. 
While many news outlets nationally feature articles on the importance of open government this week and call upon local government to hold forums and pass resolutions to open up information, we will be treated in Long Beach by our news media with political endorsements of those who have done little, in fact nothing, to make local, state, and community college government more open and transparent.

As Mayor, the first action I will take is to begin implementing a series of open government reforms. You can see them on my 

Please help me do it by voting for me for Mayor on April 8th.

With regards,

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Friday, January 24, 2014

Schipske Risks Key Endorsements by Calling for Open and Transparent Collective Bargaining

January 24, 2014 – Councilwoman Gerrie Schipske has placed an item on the February 4 City Council agenda to discuss whether Long Beach should adopt an ordinance which would open up the collective bargaining process to make it more transparent to the public.

“As Chair of the Council Civil Service and Personnel Committee I have brought this issue forward to discuss what the City could do to make the collective bargaining process more transparent to the taxpayer,” says Schipske, who is also a leading candidate for Mayor of Long Beach. “I am bringing an example of what one city (Costa Mesa) has done to make their bargaining process more open. It includes:

·        The city must hire an independent (in Costa Mesa, prior councils had an executive level public employee handle the negotiations negotiator).
·        Before contract talks with an employee association begin, an independent economic analysis must be done on the fiscal impacts of each contract term and the results of that analysis must be made public 30 days prior to negotiations.
·        Each council member must disclose if he or she had any communications about the negotiations with representatives of the employee association.
·        As negotiations begin, the City Council must report publicly after closed sessions any prior offers and counter offers and their fiscal impact to the taxpayer. 
·        Any meet-and-confer-related bargaining positions received or made by either side that are no longer being considered must be disclosed.
·        Before the City Council can vote on an employee contract, it must be discussed at least two City Council meetings and the proposal posted on the city’s website at least seven days prior to the first meeting.

Schipske says she realizes that some employee unions do not support her efforts to open up the process and that she risks not getting their endorsement for Mayor. “The public wants to know what is happening with their tax dollars. Transparency keeps the process honest and while pushing for this might not be the politically correct thing to do it is the right thing,” Schipske notes.

Voters are asked to go to and complete survey on this important issue.

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Sunday, January 19, 2014

Invited to Speak for Sunshine Week

Logo of the United States White House, especia...
Logo of the United States White House, especially in conjunction with offices like the Chief of Staff and Press Secretary. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Sunshine Week is a national event acknowledged in most big cities each March. The focus is how to make government more open, transparent and accountable.

Last year I was honored at The White House as one of seven "Champions of Change for Open Government" for my work at the City of Long Beach and on the California Medical Board.

I have been invited by the Coalition for Open Government in the State of Washington to be a keynote speaker at the Open Government Conference in March.

I am honored and hope that this election in Long Beach will see a new group of public officials who are committed to making our local government more open, transparent and accountable.

At the top of my list as the next Mayor, is to make certain the public knows who its City Council and Mayor are communicating with about official business. No more behind the scenes wheeling and dealing.
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Thursday, October 24, 2013

Why Long Beach Needs to Post Its Checkbook

Image representing Sunlight Foundation as depi...
Image by None via CrunchBase
A couple of years ago I brought an item to the Council agenda asking that we "sunshine" our city website and post a number of things, including our "checkbook" -- listing what we pay out and to whom. The Sunlight Foundation evaluates government websites for being open and transparent.

Management gave a resounding "no" to the checkbook idea and so once again, the City of Los Angeles has beaten us to the punch.

This past week the new City Controller, Ron Galperin, launched Control Panel LA which posts a variety of data so taxpayers can see where their money is going.

But wait, not only is Long Beach behind Los Angeles, but also New YorkChicagoPhiladelphia and other cities that have embraced the “open data” movement to make government more transparent.

So let's try it again. Taxpayers have the right to know not only what city government budgets, but what it really spends.
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Monday, October 21, 2013

Because you have the right to know...Council item on tearing down City Hall and the Main Library

JAG (Photo credit: On Location in Los Angeles)
You know that I launched to help taxpayers know what is happening in the City of Long Beach.

One of the most important council items to be considered in the 7 years I have served on Council is coming on Tuesday, October 22 -- and you should know about it.

That's why I have prepared a "guide" to this agenda item -- which proposes tearing down City Hall and the Main Library and rebuilding both at a tremendous cost to taxpayers.

Your Guide To The Agenda Item to Tear Down and Rebuild City Hall and the Main Library... Because You Have the Right To Know
by Councilwoman Gerrie Schipske

Scope of agenda item
·        On Tuesday, October 22, 2013, the City Council will be asked to agree to move forward on a proposal to tear down and rebuild City Hall and the Main Library and to engage in a long-term financial deal with private developers for the design, construction and operations of the buildings for 30 years. This proposal comes after the City sent out a Request for Qualifications from firms. Upon review, management reduced the list to three as “qualified.”
·        The Request for Qualifications were sent out after City Council approved it being done during a council meeting at which City staff indicated that City Hall and Main Library were not seismically safe.
·        The Request for Qualifications, however, sent out by the City did not solicit any firms that have experience in retrofitting buildings nor did it ask that they indicate such experience. The focus of the RFQ was solely on the tearing down and rebuilding.
·        This agenda item asks for approval to expend a substantial (but unspecified) amount of funds to prepare Request for Proposals. The Council needs to be informed as to the go forward costs before it votes.
·        Six of the current council members may not be in office in 2014 either because they are termed out or are seeking other offices, so this major decision with a long-term impact will be decided by elected officials that will not be in office when this project commences.
City Hall and Earthquakes and Seismic Retrofit
·        The City Hall is 225,000 square feet of useable space with 14 floors occupied by 718 employees.
·        Alliant Insurance Services values City Hall at $86 million and the Main Library at $47 million.
·        City staff estimate retrofitting costs for City Hall at $170 million which is twice its estimated value.
·        City Hall and the Main Library were built in 1976 under strong earthquake building codes enacted after the 1971 earthquake.
·        Since 1976, Long Beach has experienced several major earthquakes: 1987 and 1994. Neither structure was damaged and most interestingly, the City embarked on a $224 million dollar special assessment bond to retrofit commercial and residential structures in the City. Not one dime was spent on retrofitting City Hall or the Main Library as it was not determined it was needed.
·        In 2005 or 2006, City management commissioned a seismic study indicating the need for seismic retrofitting. No urgency was indicated in the study.
·        In 2013, City council requested an updated review of the 2005/2006 study and has yet to receive it.
·        Absent from this agenda item are the details about why management is asserting that these two buildings are seismically unsafe. Nor has information been provided as to why the two buildings cannot be retrofitted and repurposed.  The City Council has not been shown the second seismic report that was requested and it will not be given to Council until the Council meeting which makes it almost impossible to have a complete discussion on the merits of this proposal before a vote is taken.
·        At no time has FEMA or any other government agency determined that City Hall and the Main Library are “essential buildings” or that they cannot be appropriately retrofitted.
·        The following cities with city halls much larger and much older have successfully retrofitted: Los Angeles, Pasadena, San Francisco, Oakland.
·        FEMA has a source of funding to assist local government with structural retrofitting of existing buildings in order to accomplish pre-disaster mitigation efforts. The City has not applied for this funding.
Lack of Earthquake Insurance on Current Properties
·        Councilwoman Schipske asked during Council whether or not City Hall and Main Library is covered with earthquake insurance. She was told “no” nor are any of the City’s buildings insured against earthquake damage.
·        A follow up email was sent to Councilwoman Schipske from Risk Management explaining that insurance carriers would not write an earthquake policy because of the number of high-rise buildings in the downtown area.
Public Private Partnerships
·        A Public-Private Partnership (P3) is an arrangement between a public agency (federal, state or local) and a private sector entity.  Through this arrangement, the     expertise and assets of each sector (public and private) are combined to deliver         a service or facility for the benefit of the community. 
·        No California city has utilized a public-private-partnership to rebuild a City hall or             library.
·        The new Long Beach courthouse was built using a P3 structure and has been extensively criticized by the independent Legislative Analyst Office as costing much more than it would had it been constructed as a public project only.
·        The City of Long Beach RFQ is only for a public-private-partnership and does not include a comparative analysis of a range of procurement options concerning city hall and the library – including design-bid-build; design-build; retrofit; and P3 in order to determine which procurement option would most effectively benefit the City.
·        The City Council has not received a legal analysis from the City Attorney concerning whether or not it can approve such a substantial long-term financial commitment without having identified financial resources to meet such obligations.
Main Library
·        The current main library is 135,000 square feet. It houses Library Administrative services for the entire library system as well as tens of thousands of publications. It also includes two fully built out levels with offices and meeting rooms, an auditorium with approximately 263 seats and a park not in use on the roof. The lower level houses The Miller Special Collections Room which is finished in a superior manner.
·        The RFQ contains language asking bidders to consider a new Main Library located at either the Civic Center or elsewhere.
·        The RFQ also calls for a new Main Library at a reduced size of 50,000 – 75,000.
·        When asked where the figure of 50,000 – 75,000 came from, city management responded “It was made up.”
·        At no time was the public nor library design specialists consulted concerning the future of the Main Library.

·        Why is this project being moved forward now at a time when 5 and possibly six council members are leaving in 2014?
·        If the City Hall is so seismically unsafe why is it not shut down as was Belmont Plaza Pool?
·        Have experts indicated that City Hall and the Main Library cannot be retrofitted and repurposed?
·        Why have several other cities retrofitted their City Halls?
·        Why didn’t the RFQ include seeking qualified firms for retrofitting and refurbishing instead of just tearing down and rebuilding?
·        Why would the City consider using a public-private-partnership when no other city has done so for a City Hall or Main Library and the State Legislative Analyst Office, an independent, non partisan office, has severely criticized the State for utilizing Public-Private-Partnerships, citing higher costs for this method than others?
·        Where is the cost comparison of doing this project with other than a P3?
·        Where is the legal analysis from the City Attorney about the City Council binding future Councils to a major expenditure without a guarantee of revenues to cover the expenditure?
·        How much money does City staff expect to expend to prepare and review a “Request for Proposals”? Where is the money coming from and why was it not disclosed in the FY 2014 budget?
·        If the structures need to be retrofitted in the case of a major earthquake, why hasn’t the City so notified FEMA and applied for funding under the “Pre-disaster Mitigation Program?”
·        Why did the RFQ include a project size for a new main library as being 50,000 – 70,000 square feet which is substantially smaller than the current library?
·        What library design consultants were contacted about the appropriateness of this size?
·        Where would the Miller Collection be located?
·        If insurance carriers will not insure against loss for a major earthquake in the current location, why would the City expend millions of dollars on new structures that could be possibly destroyed?
·        If a new City Hall and Main Library are destroyed in a major earthquake, who bears the burden of such loss?
·        Why can’t the City Hall be re-located to the newly refurbished building acquired by the Port of Long Beach to its temporary headquarters?

·        Why isn’t this issue being placed on the ballot so that taxpayers can determine whether or not the City should encumber debt of this magnitude?

The argument used by City staff is seismic safety. Well, there are so many unanswered questions surrounding this that I have also included a list of questions I intend to ask and which I recommend that you ask as well with emails.

This is your City Hall and Main Library and your tax dollars. I believe this issue should be placed on the ballot so that you can decide whether or not the City should retrofit or rebuild? Obligating the city for 30 years of payments should not be done without the consent of the taxpayers.

P.S. Check out why the State Legislative Analyst's Office thinks public-private partnerships aren't such a good deal for government. Click here.
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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A Lesson from my time at the White House about Code for America

English: Code for America Logo
English: Code for America Logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A Lesson from My Time at the White House:

Why Bringing Code for America To Long Beach Could Make Our Local Government More Transparent

By Councilwoman Gerrie Schipske
September 11, 2013 --

In late July of this year, I was honored at the White House as one of six national Champions of Change for Open Government. This honor is bestowed on individuals who have advocated in their communities for open and transparent government – something which I have done since elected to City Council in 2006. The White House acknowledged my being the first on the Council to post my appointments and meetings and my frequent outreach on city issues via my blog, Facebook and email alerts. Most significantly has been my work on “Open Up Long Beach” – to provide city documents and behind the scenes tours so that residents can learn first hand how the City of Long Beach operates.

The second part of my day at the White House was meeting and talking with “civic hackers” – those who participate in taking public data and turning it into usable applications that help citizens learn more about their government and increase their opportunities to access it more readily. The leaders of this movement come from a non-profit organization: Code for America whose mission is to connect citizens with their government by using open data to create applications.

Code for America and their “brigades” of hackers have already created a number of applications with open source code that are available for free to the City of Long Beach: -- which provides a way by which citizens can engage in a dialogue about city issues by mobile phone. The city sends out surveys and asks citizens to respond. -- Honolulu Answers can be converted into Long Beach Answers and allows residents to go on line and type in questions and get answers specifically about such things as how to get a dog licensed in Long Beach, where to pay a parking ticket, how to get a sidewalk fixed, etc. -- this smart program was developed for the City of Santa Clara but can be used in Long Beach. It walks you through step by step on how to open a business in the City. -- this tracks the votes of councilmembers by linking with Legistar (which Long Beach uses) and then puts not only votes but campaign contributions and other information on a website for each member of the city council so that citizens can get the information they need without having to search several websites.

I was very fortunate to meet and talk with Christopher Whitaker, who is the Brigade Captain for the City of Chicago. Christopher teaches a weekly class on civic hacking at Chicago's Open Gov Hack Nights. When not at Hack Night or reporting on the state of civic hacking in Chicago, Christopher works at Smart Chicago Collaborative on projects like the Chicago User Testing Group, which ensures that the apps being developed by civic hackers are useful to the everyday Chicagoan.  People like Christopher are right here in Long Beach and are ready to step up and use their skills to develop programs for free that residents can use and that will enhance engagement with City Hall.

The City Manager has applied to bring three Code for America fellows (at a cost of $180,000) for a year. It wasn’t quite clear from the Council agenda what these hackers will be used for. Without spending a dime, we could start right now and use some of the programs already developed for other cities and move forward on making Long Beach more open and transparent.
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