Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Archive for March, 2010

City Of Lake Forest Park Resolution 1202 Would Set Property Tax Hike Vote For August 17, 2010

by Matt Rosenberg March 28th, 2010

PUBLIC HEARING SCHEDULED FOR APRIL 22.

At its March 25, 2010 meeting, the city council of Lake Forest Park, Wash. heard the first reading of Resolution 1202 to seek voter approval on August 17, 2010 of Proposition 1 to hike the general property tax to $1.85 per $1,000 assessed valuation for 2011 through 2016. According to a staff memo on pp. 33-41 of the full meeting document packet, if approved the measure would add $138 per year ($11.50 per month) to the property tax bill of the average Lake Forest Park household. The memo also states there would be a public hearing April 22 on possible adoption of Resolution 1202, and then a decision made by the council on or before May 13 in order to place the measure on the August 17 (primary election) ballot in the city. A property tax backgrounder prepared by the city shows that (for the 2009-2010 biennial budget) the city property tax rate is $1.14 per $1,000 assessed valuation; and that 91 percent of property taxes collected from city residents are by other taxing bodies. According to city government, passage of Prop. 1 would allow the city to retain current levels of funding for public safety, parks, community and other government services, as well as to replenish the city’s “Rainy Day” fund and restore positions and services recently cut.

KEY LINK: City of Lake Forest Park Resolution 1202.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: According to the resolution, previous tax hike limits approved by voters statewide and the economic slump which is expected to continue have created an ongoing structural budget deficit that is expected to worsen in 2011 and coming years despite expenditure cuts of eight percent or $930,000 in the last year. There is nonetheless an expected shortfall of another $630,000 in 2011 and continued imbalances projected for the years following.

U.S. Government Accountability Office: “Energy Star” Program Vulnerable To Fraud

by Matt Rosenberg March 27th, 2010

The U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the 1990s initiated a program called “Energy Star” in which that label was allowed to be applied to consumer electronic devices and home construction and other products if they met certain energy conservation standards. Over coming years, the Energy Star label became a way for eco-conscious consumers to conveniently know whether or not the product they were considering could safely be considered “green.” The U.S. Government Accountability Office issued a report on March 5, 2010 that found the Energy Star label appears to suffer from quality control problems in its application. It is one more in a series of government reports which according to GAO have indicated that “current Energy Star controls do not ensure products meet (energy) efficiency guidelines.”

KEY LINK: “Covert Testing Shows The Energy Star Program Certification Process Is Vulnerable To Fraud, Abuse,” U.S. Government Accountability Office, 3/5/10.

KEY EXCERPT (from “Summary” document): “GAO’s investigation shows that Energy Star is for the most part a self-certification program vulnerable to fraud and abuse. GAO obtained Energy Star certifications for 15 bogus products, including a gas-powered alarm clock. Two bogus products were rejected by the program and 3 did not receive a response. In addition, two of the bogus Energy Star firms developed by GAO received requests from real companies to purchase products because the bogus firms were listed as Energy Star partners. This clearly shows how heavily American consumers rely on the Energy Star brand. The program is promoted through tax credits and appliance rebates, and federal agencies are required to purchase certain Energy Star certified products. In addition, companies use the Energy Star certification to market their products and consumers buy products relying on the certification by the government of reduced energy consumption and costs. For example, in 2008 Energy Star reported saving consumers $19 billion dollars on utility costs.”

EXTENDED EXCERPT FOLLOWS

Obama Must Do More On Open Records

by Administrator March 25th, 2010

By Austin Statesman Editorial Board

Please add us to the list of folks with a gripe about President Barack Obama’s follow-through on candidate Obama’s campaign-trail promises.

Embedded in the hope-and-change message that fueled Obama’s historic 2008 victory was a continuing narrative about a government that should be more responsive, more open. After taking office, Obama issued a directive aimed at increasing public access to government records.

How disappointing, then, to find out that the Obama administration is, at an alarming rate, citing open-records law exceptions in turning down requests for federal government records sought by news organizations and others with a clear right to see such documents.

Most galling is the fact that one of the most oft-cited reasons for not disclosing records is one that Obama, in his directive, told agencies to use less frequently. The Freedom of Information Act allows federal officials to cite the so-called “deliberative process” exception as a legitimate reason not to release records.

Deliberative process refers to records that offer insight into the decision-making process leading to federal agency action. As government records go, we see these as among the most important because of the context they add to government decisions.

A recent Associated Press review discovered that major federal agencies relied on that exemption at least 70,779 times during the federal budget year that ended last September. Obama was in office for nine months of that period.

By comparison, the “deliberative process” exemption was cited only 47,395 times during the final budget year of the President George W. Bush administration.

Overall, the agencies reviewed by The AP cited exemptions 466,872 times in the 2009 budget year, up from 312,683 times in the previous 12-month period. That increase came despite an 11 percent drop in information requests from the public.

Therein lies our disappointment in Obama’s efforts on allowing Americans a well-deserved closer and deeper look into how their federal government governs. In promising a more open government, Obama in 2009 said it was important because openness “encourages accountability through transparency.”

“My administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in government,” he said at the time.

It’s a commitment he restated last week in recognizing Sunshine Week, an annual crusade in which news organizations note the importance of open government and highlight problems in access to government information.

In his statement, Obama properly took credit for releasing White House visitor logs “” something the Bush administration fought “” and the increased online posting of federal data.

“We are proud of these accomplishments, but our work is not done,” Obama said in the Sunshine Week statement. “We will continue to work toward an unmatched level of transparency, participation and accountability across the entire administration.”

He seems sincere. On the same day the statement was issued, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and White House Counsel Bob Bauer directed federal agencies to ramp up their response to Freedom of Information Act requests for records.

Here’s hoping they do. And here’s an example of how exasperating this can be. The AP reported it already has waited nearly three months for an Obama administration response to a Freedom of Information Act request for records concerning Obama’s “Open Government Directive” issued last December.

The directive ordered federal agencies to come up with specific, immediate procedures to speed the flow of information to the public.

All Americans “” particularly those who backed Obama in 2008 “” should continue to hope for change in how the administration is handling the people’s records.

College-Going Rates: Highline Public Schools

by Matt Rosenberg March 24th, 2010

Highline Public School District serves more than 17,000 K-12 students in racially- and economically-diverse communities south of southwest Seattle, including White Center, Burien and Des Moines, and the smaller, more upper-income community of Normandy Park. On January 26, 2010, the district released a report on the percentage of its 12th-grade graduates going on the year afterward to two- and four-year colleges. The calculations are not based on the percentage of total students entering 12th grade the prior year who then go on the college the next year, because those who do not graduate on time are not included. But of those who graduated 12th grade without delay, the percentage going on to either a two-year or a four-year college increased from 2004 through 2008. There was a slight shift toward four-year colleges over two-year colleges among those going on to college. But a sizable percentage of overall 2008 graduates (42%) still did not go to college at all in the year following graduation, and an even larger proportion (71%) did not progress straight on to four-year college.