Costa Mesa nabs gold in online transparency

Costa Mesa's website offers more information about employee compensation than just about any other city in the county, according to a recent Orange County Grand Jury report on cities' online transparency.

Costa Mesa joined four other Orange County cities — Buena Park, Laguna Woods, Placentia and Yorba Linda — on the grand jury's Gold Honor Roll, earning "A" grades in three categories: accessibility, transparency for city workers and executive compensation.

"Clearly, government at all levels needs to make better decisions," said city CEO Tom Hatch in an email. "Transparency is key to good government. Good decisions are made when information is easily accessible and understandable … It is a constant effort to continually excel and progress — it continues to evolve."

In the last year, Costa Mesa's website has undergone a major face lift. While the main page's design has remained mostly unchanged — city officials said a new site will be unveiled in July — the public can find workers' compensation next to the employees names, with the total cost of their overtime, specialty pay, health benefits and pension costs identified.

The pension contributions are broken out into what the employee pays and what the city pays.

A listing of the checks the city sends out every month are in the biweekly City Council agendas, and executives' conflict-of-interest statements and campaign filings are online, along with Finance Director Bobby Young's monthly treasurer reports that track the city's finances.

"It's the public's business, and they should have access to what's going on with their government," said city spokesman Bill Lobdell, who spearheaded the transparency overhaul. "I'm a firm believer that the more transparent you can be, the more engaged the people are going to be in their local government."

From a public information standpoint, Costa Mesa has never been more open online. The Sunshine Review, a nonprofit dedicated to government transparency, gave the city an A-plus grade earlier this year.

"They set a good transparency example," the grand jury report reads. "Costa Mesa solicits their citizens to send in additional ideas about how they can improve transparency at [the city's website.]"

Where Costa Mesa earned accolades, neighboring cities were found wanting. The grand jury gave Irvine A's in its accessibility and executive compensation data, but a D in information city workers. That has since been updated, the report notes. They were named to the report's Silver Honor Roll.

Newport Beach earned an A in accessibility, but Cs in both executive and city worker information. They were named to the Bronze Honor Roll.

The Costa Mesa Sanitary District almost got straight A's, with the highest mark in accessibility but B-pluses in executive and city worker compensation data. The Sanitary District was put on the Bronze Honor Roll, along with the Mesa Consolidated Water District, which received an A in accessibility but Ds in executive and worker compensation information, though both are being updated, according to the report.

Twitter: @JosephSerna

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