Janel Chapman is the City Clerk for the city of Lakeport. PublicCEO asked Chapman how cities handle giving city information to candidates who are running for City Council.

With elections coming up, I am often asked what kind of information City staff provides to potential candidates who are considering a run for City Council. 

My answer is I give them as much information as I possibly can because the more educated they are about how the City runs, the better council member they will be. 

Nearly all of the information a candidate seeks is a matter of public record and is simple to provide.

When a potential candidate comes into City Hall to pick up nomination papers, I ask the candidate if he/she wants to be included on my e-mail list to receive copies of the agenda (which has a link to all of the staff reports online).  In this way, the potential candidate can begin the educational process of finding out what is currently going on within the City.  

The next thing I do is provide the candidate with our website address and encourage them to review it.  Once there, the candidate is able to find a great deal of public information, including the City’s current budget.  By viewing the website, a potential candidate can read about the function of each department, minutes of past City Council meetings, and hot topics of interest within the City.

I do occasionally get the candidate who does not want to get information electronically.  Instead, the candidate wants me to provide paper copies of various items.  If this is the case, I do make them pay for the copies just as I would any other member of the public.  

This year I plan to conduct a workshop for potential candidates where City department heads will tell a little about what they do and answer questions the candidates might have regarding various city functions and what is going on in each department.  Not only does this provide information to the candidates, but it also gives them an opportunity to meet and get to know City staff.  My belief is that it benefits all of us if the candidate sees the staff member as a person and not just someone doing a job.  

Over the years I have seen that the person running for office is sometimes doing so because he/she has a personal agenda.  Sometimes it is because of something the candidate has perceived as a negative experience with a City staff member. 

Oftentimes these negative experiences occur because someone just doesn’t understand the process.  A little education will go a long way in changing that negative perception.