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An Irresponsible Vote

Following is the editorial from Friday's West County Times:

Posted on Fri, Mar. 31, 2006


An irresponsible vote

THERE WAS A TIME in the not-too-distant past, when Richmond city officials conducted the people's business like they were running a spy agency. Residents had to jump through hoops to obtain public information from secretive city hall bureaucrats.

Thankfully, under the stewardship of City Manager Bill Lindsay, Richmond has gotten a lot better about conducting government business in an open manner as mandated under California's public records and meetings laws.

However, that wasn't the case last week when the City Council voted after midnight to give a $200,000 grant for anti-violence programs to the Richmond Improvement Association, without knowing anything at all about the program specifics.

Afterward, the council said it wouldn't actually cut a check until the faith-based coalition provided concrete details about what it intended to do with the money.

If this isn't a case of putting the cart before the horse, we don't know what is. Before voting to spend a big chunk of public money, shouldn't you first find out exactly what it's for and who it's going to? Don't you get city staff to analyze the merits of the proposal? That is, after all, what they're getting paid for.

Not surprisingly, the council's irregular behavior has caused a public outcry. Richmond legal staff says the council did nothing wrong because it won't disperse any money until the Richmond Improvement Association provides the necessary program details.

In our view, however, the council's action is a clear violation of the spirit of the Brown Act, which requires members of the public to be given the opportunity to speak in favor, or against, items of public business.

For starters, the lateness of the hour all but guaranteed that many people who had been at the council meeting would have long since gone home.

Meanwhile, the measure appeared on the council agenda under discussion items, vaguely worded as "Richmond's Black-on-Black Crime Summit Recommendations."

There was absolutely no indication that the council would be taking a vote. If there had been, who knows how many residents would have stuck around? As if all that weren't bad enough, there was no mention of money at all.

We are not suggesting that there was anything nefarious afoot. In fact, we believe that city officials and community leaders are acting in good faith, trying to do something constructive to address the violence that plagues Richmond.

The Times, which co-sponsored the Black-on-Black Crime summit, supports the stated goals of the Richmond Improvement Association. We applaud the Rev. Andre Shumake and his fellow community leaders for offering creative ideas which, in our view, properly administered, could have tremendous potential.

What has been lacking, however, since last summer's crime summit, are concrete specifics. It is time now for the summit organizers to produce a working business plan that goes beyond high-sounding ideals and gets into the nuts and bolts.

We find it irresponsible of the five council members who voted yes -- four, including Mayor Irma Anderson, abstained -- to give even conditional approval to something they know next to nothing about.

Blindly throwing public money at a problem has never been a solution. If anything, it is a formula for disaster.