Riverside County Supervisors approve plans to make agenda documents more transparent

Move aims to provide citizens more clarity and understanding of project costs

RIVERSIDE, Calif. - Riverside County supervisors today unanimously approved revising county agenda documents so regulatory and project-related costs to the public and private sectors are clearly spelled out, as well as revising board policy to ensure information is available to the public in a timely manner. 

   In a 5-0 vote, the Board of Supervisors directed the Executive Office to rework Form 11, which is the standard document submitted to the board for consideration on its Tuesday agendas, so each one includes an abbreviated cost analysis on the first page.

   Supervisors Kevin Jeffries and Jeff Stone came up with the idea. 

   ``All we're looking for is something simple and very brief,'' Jeffries told his colleagues. ``It came to light recently with the fire code amendments. People should know whether an action might raise the cost of a home by $200 or $10,000.''

  A Form 11 generally contains a summary of proposed projects and provides basic details about fiscal year costs, contracting parties, agency recommendations and references to previous agenda items that may help illuminate a subject.

   In their joint proposal, Jeffries and Stone wrote that changes were necessary ``to increase public transparency and better organize (documents) to more clearly disclose short- and long-term impacts of board actions to the county budget and the private sector.''

   The supervisors noted Kern and San Diego counties offer potential ``models'' that Riverside County might follow. Agendas in those counties amplify cost analyses to show how businesses likely will be financially affected by government activity.

  The ``financial data'' box found on Riverside County agenda items provides a bare-bones snapshot of current fiscal year costs to the county, the ``net county cost'' -- or the amount withdrawn directly from the general fund -- and whether a proposal will require a budget adjustment.

   The background pages attached to a Form 11 often list additional expenditure-related information. However, Jeffries and Stone said all cost analyses need to be disclosed up front -- most importantly the money that will be expended over the life of a contract or project, not just the spending in the current fiscal year.

``Separate from the fiscal impact to the county, each new ordinance, regulation, program or fee should include a private sector impact analysis that briefly discusses the fiscal or regulatory impact, if any, to taxpayers, residents and employers in Riverside County,'' the supervisors said.

   They added that funding sources for projects, such as grants or internal sub-accounts, should be plainly noted in the first one or two pages of an agenda document, and that any ``change orders'' to a contract the county has with a vendor should contain, ``in a readily identifiable format,'' data indicating how much more or less the county's costs will be because of the change.

   Supervisor Marion Ashley lauded the proposal and particularly liked the policy recommendation that, from now on, items not be placed on an agenda unless they contain a synopsis of what it is a supervisor is seeking.

   In the past, supervisors have used ``placeholders,'' sometimes bearing only an agenda number and the word ``reserved,'' all the way up to the morning of a board meeting before finally adding a synopsis.

   ``We should not have Monday surprises,'' Ashley said. ``The public is relying on the press to tell them before the weekend what is coming up.''

   The Ralph M. Brown Act, also known as the California Public Meeting Law, requires that government bodies post, at minimum, 20-word summaries on an agenda item 72 hours before a meeting.

   The board voted to revise county policy so that placeholders can be used, but only up to 3 p.m. on the Friday before a board meeting, at which point all available information on a proposal must be added to an agenda item by way of the Clerk of the Board. Otherwise, the item is to be removed. 

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