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EDITORIAL: Orinda Says, Who Needs Transparency?

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Orinda, CA, Opinion, Who needs transparency City says with actions.

Gentle Readers of Orinda,

You are justified in the frustration you showed at last week’s City Council meeting and I share that frustration in getting information out of the City of Orinda.

A long line of public speakers attended that meeting and demanded greater transparency and public input on the city’s Housing Element update and they were right to do so.

A city exists to serve its residents and must be accountable to its residents. Without accurate and timely information residents have no way of holding their elected officials and municipal staff accountable. Cities don’t get to decide what information should be released, when it should be released, and to whom. All information in any city is Public Information by definition and when any member of the public asks, it must be forthcoming.

My frustration has been mounting as we at News24-680 have been working on a number of stories in Orinda and have encountered what seems to be a systematic effort to limit or control information provided to the public/media.
City Manager Janet Keeter sent out a newsletter on July 11 that mentioned a number of errors floating around about the update draft and process. However, when asked if she or someone else at the City of Orinda would sit for an on-camera interview, I was told that the city “will take a pass on the interview.”

Put simply, Orinda refused to participate in an article meant to inform its residents.

I started out covering Benicia’s City Hall in 1996 before moving through the roster of East Bay cities from Walnut Creek and Pleasant Hill to Oakland’s City Hall under then Mayor Jerry Brown. Over the years and through the doors of those city halls, big and small, I’ve never been told by a city employee that no one in the city’s government wanted to talk about any issue, much less an issue as important and wide-reaching as Orinda’s Housing Element update.

I’ve been similarly shocked by a police department that won’t even return phone calls or emails requesting information on a breaking news story, much less on residential burglaries that give the department the opportunity to alert those they ostensibly serve and remind them to be vigilant with the security of their homes and property. Calls and emails seeking confirmation and additional information on these and other breaking news stories have gone unanswered.

This type of stonewalling and slow release of “appropriate” information to only certain media outlets that understand “the Orinda Way” is not in the best interest of Orinda’s residents.

News24-680.com is going to continue covering Orinda, including the reporting of breaking news in real time because that’s our mission. We’d love for the powers that be in Orinda to recognize that they share the responsibility to keep their residents informed. In the meantime, we just want to let our readers know that unless something changes, they should expect to routinely see the following boilerplate: Orinda officials were contacted by News24-680.com for comment, but either declined to answer questions or didn’t respond to requests for information.