When the six candidates running for City Council were asked the first question of the Candidates Forum Oct. 17 — What are the two top issues currently facing Long Beach and how would you address them? — virtually all of them addressed the issue of transparency at City Hall.
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While some candidates cited as a top issue an longstanding distrust among citizens of city government, others named the city’s infrastructure, affordability, and homeowners who remain displaced after Hurricane Sandy as top priorities. But each of the three first-time Republican-backed candidates — Janna Jachniewicz, Michael Franceschini and Damian Walsh — made a point to touched on the issue of transparency, while the two incumbent Democrat candidates — Scott Mandel and Eileen Goggin — used part of the 90 seconds allotted to candidates to answer each question to reply to their charges. Anthony Eramo, the newcomer on the Democratic tean, didn’t broach the subject, citing storm recovery and fiscal recovery as the city’s most important issues.
Jachniewicz, who was the first to answer the question submitted by a constituent, segued into the issue of transparency by noting that while campaigning door-to-door, she has found that there is a “lack of trust” in local government, not only now but also for many decades.
“They think the city’s corrupt, and they say it’s for the last 70 years the City of Long Beach has been corrupt,” Jachniewicz said. “We need to change that. We need to bring more transparency into the city.”
Among the potential solutions she cited were to have civic associations get more input from city officials and hold open forums so that people can discuss issues.
“We need to allow citizens to ask questions and get answers at City Hall meetings,” she said, alluding to the present council's tendency at meetings to ask residents who pose government-related questions to speak one-on-one with city officials after the meeting, rather than answer them publicly for all to hear.
Eileen Goggin, before citing displaced residents and infrastructure as the city’s top issues, replied to Jachniewicz’s comments about transparency, saying that the Democratic administration that took office in January 2012 has been “completely transparent since the get-go.”
As evidence, she cited the videos taken of the council meeting proceedings that people can either watch live or via the archives on the city’s website. She also said the city included the community in all aspects of the rebuilding process after Hurricane Sandy.
“We opened up the ethics commission and environmental board to the community,” Goggin continued. “So we are as transparent as can be.”
After Franceschini named affordability and storm preparedness and protection as the city’s top issues, he commented on transparency, saying it is always an important part of any government organization.
“It can be done in a better way at this time,” he said about the administration’s efforts, but he didn’t offer how. “If people thought things were totally transparent, they wouldn’t be bringing it up with questions that I’ve been hearing.”
Mandel, who first talked about the city’s efforts to rebuild its infrastructure, echoed Goggin’s points on transparency, saying the administration is the first to televise council meetings and post them on the city’s website along with all PowerPoint presentations on various issues. He, too, cited the open forums the city held to gain input from residents and business owners on the rebuilding of the new boardwalk.
“You can’t get more transparent than that,” he added. “Nothing is done behind closed doors. Everything is done to be inclusive. We’re very proud of that. And I personally think that any other claim otherwise is suspect.”
While Eramo didn’t comment on the subject, Walsh did, after he talked about fiscal responsibility and taxes as important issues the city must confront.
“Yes, we have these beautiful PDFs and you can watch it [the city council meeting] on the web,” Walsh said. “But you know what? What you can’t have is open dialogue right now when you’re sitting at these City Council meetings. City Council members should have open dialogue conversations with the people, answer the questions there on the record.”
Walsh said that as part of the administration’s efforts to be transparent, city comptroller's monthly reports should be posted on the website, too.
“They should also be put online so that all of our residents know what money we have coming in and what money we have going out,” he said.
* Patch on Friday will post a story on the candidates’ other answers to the above question.