By Tonya Love

Our favorite person in #oakmtg.

If you  follow my coverage of Oakland City Council meetings at #oakmtg then you  know that we are big fans of the City Clerk, Latonda Simmons. She facilitates the city council meetings with professionalism and a dash of good humor that #oakmtg followers have come to appreciate.

I wanted to express our appreciation to Ms. Simmons and ask her a few questions.

Here are her answers in summary form, *they are not verbatim*.

What does the city clerk do?

You might think that the only thing  City Clerks do is read the names of public speakers and politely cut off a monologue on the importance of dog parks—but no, they are so much more!

Municipal clerks are a neutral element of the local government. Ms. Simmons’ office is responsible for keeping records on all government meetings, agenda reports, ordinances resolutions, election and appointment decisions and city-wide data, and then organizing those records for public access.

The clerk’s office also does the official forms filing to the federal and state Fair and Political Practices Commission. These forms track the personal or economic interests at stake in various government appointments or practices. Anyone with authority over the use of City resources must file a statement of economic interest or Form 700. The clerk’s office and the Oakland Public Ethics Commission is currently working to digitally convert these records and making them public.

Ms. Simmons’ office just wrote a proposal to update how records are maintained throughout the city. The first such program update since 1991, after the Loma Prieta Earthquake.

She went to City Camp! Increasing public participation is key.

As some of the hard core participants in local government are aware, there is a focus on transparency that is emerging out of Oakland. At OpenOakland’s 2013 CityCamp Ms. Simmons saw a lot of signs of progress toward meaningful engagement.

Since then, The Public Ethics Commission (PEC) has stepped up their efforts. Just recently they released a Transparency Report, that outlines the work the city has done within the past couple of years towards making information easy to find.

After hearing from participants at CityCamp, Ms. Simmons say she is developing another tool to increase public participation: a legislative work flow chart, or a visual timeline of how legislation is developed in Oakland. How do things show up in rules? How are agenda items scheduled? Hopefully this new flow chart will better help the public understand how policy is handled in Oakland. For now, Rules Committee is the first opportunity for the public to see how legislation works its way through City Council.

Do people really go to City Council Meetings?

Believe it or not, Oakland City Council meetings can get quite lively and many people come out to speak for or against issues that they feel passionately about. Sometimes, however being able to speak on an issue can be difficult for residents, especially if they have jobs or families that conflict with the meeting schedule. Sometimes their item might not come until last on a very full agenda, and the meeting could last as late as 12 midnight. On a SCHOOL night!

After one such meeting involving the controversial, Domain Awareness Center, some residents were concerned about how to make the city council meetings run more efficiently and developed an online document on OaklandWiki entitled “Ideas to improve city council meetings.”

The clerk’s office is responsible for the effort to have the meeting recorded and streamed on KTOP. You can watch the meeting live stream or on video by clicking here.

In addition, the clerk’s office is working on an exciting project to further increase public participation. Ms. Simmons is working on an update to the online agenda, which would allow people to plug in comments on agenda items, and have them be ‘on record’ so that the Council can see how the public feels about each topic. “This is a chance to do some broader and smarter kinds of public participation,” says Ms. Simmons. She would also like to make streaming of meetings available on all mobile devices too!

What’s up with document titles?

One of the complaints of #oakmtg is the accessibility of online information. Some of the documents attached to city council agendas or minutes are named ambiguously and are difficult to understand what the documents contain. This is also a personal pet peeve of mine.  As someone who doesn’t have a lot of time to be perusing through Legistar, it isn’t convenient to download documents, open it and read that it has nothing to do with what you are looking for. Having a proper title can make the process easier and less cumbersome.

However, according to Ms. Simmons, the Supplemental title on documents means something internally. It is a qualified term as relates to the agenda process. Ms. Simmons did recognize that adjusting the naming of public documents is important even though it will require reorganizing their internal system. She says her office is hoping to undertake this project.

What’s your favorite part of doing your job?

Public participation is her favorite part. “Even when it isn’t all flowery and happy. It’s the public’s government and it’s their right to voice their opinion”. She says even when the public is there to offer criticism, being able to witness the public exercise their rights, is awesome.

She also likes the strategy component of her job and being able to find opportunities to make things work well. Her job is to look at all the rules and procedures, explore all the different possibilities and find the practical ways to get things done.

Ms. Simmons was pleasantly surprised and honored that #oakmtg thinks highly of her. She really appreciates that the office is seen as presenting themselves well and doing great work.

However she holds her staff in high esteem. “They are awesome people and very dedicated to their work.” She says that during municipal clerk week (this year it’s May 4-10th) when honored by city council, she makes a point to let everyone know that there is no way she can do her job, without her staff.

Read the full article here.

Editor’s Note: This piece reflects an individual opinion and is not a reported story from Oakland Local. Oakland Local invites community residents to share their views about events and issues in Oakland. See our guidelines.

2 Responses

  1. mtanaka

    Thanks for the information.

    However, by journalistic standard, city officials are quoted verbatim or else the “opinion expressed” can become points of contention, leading to a lack of accountability.

  2. Len Raphael

    Ms Simmons is a very political lady in a very political office. That became clear when observing how she did more to defeat both recall efforts than any one person. She legally ran the clock out to the last day for her rejecting most of the documents submited by both recalls. These were proper corrections of misspellings or wrong font sizes for which she was allowed up to a specified number of days to take to reject the documents. Doubtless her office was very busy and understaffed. But the cumulative result was delay in collecting signatures by by weeks.

    On the other hand, she completely missed major flaw in Gene Hazard initial paperwork that would have sunk his effort if he had gotten enough signatures and the Mayor had sued at the end. Instead of giving him a chance to correct the error, the Clerk with the support of the City Attorney declared that someone would have to sue Gene. In fact she could have gone to court and gotten his petition corrected the way San Jose did it for a petition.

    She was very pleasant and her staff was very responsive in all other ways.


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