After more than two decades in the City Clerks Office, Denise Anderson-Warren was appointed City Clerk in 2016 and has become one of the best-known faces in local government.
Over the years, she has dutifully sat through thousands of City Council meetings, carefully taking the minutes and keeping track of the chits – the official record of speakers who step up to the podium. The faces on the dais have changed as election cycles bring new candidates. City managers have come and gone. Yet despite the turnover, Anderson-Warren says the changes over the years have been subtle.
“One thing I’ve learned in the past 23 years I’ve worked here is that things always come around in cycles,” Anderson-Warren said during in the break-room inside the Clerk’s Office where she oversees a department of fourteen employees. “And so it doesn’t matter if there’s a new City Manager who may come in with this brilliant idea…it may have been thought of or it may have been considered 10 or 15 years ago – it’s always good to have the history to go back.”
“Now, everybody talks about construction and traffic and it has always been (like this). I remember when I started in ’94 that was the issue. It was homelessness, the traffic and development.”
Under Anderson-Warren’s watch, the history of those discussions and countless other issues has been carefully scanned and uploaded to a public portal that came online last December. Anyone with a computer and an Internet connection can now browse through decades of staff reports, city ordinances and meeting minutes on publicdocs.smgov.net
There is a desire for access to the City’s vast archive – in 2016, the Clerk’s Office filled 588 public records requests – 208 of those requests were for documents now available in the Public Portal.
To Anderson-Warren, publishing the past was the first step to making City government more accessible. This year, her office is looking to expand access to Santa Monica’s future by creating a digital sign-in process for City Council meetings and creating new ways for citizens to weigh in on topics coming up for discussion.
“We’re trying to find ways to get new public (members) engaged,” Anderson-Warren said. “We want to figure out what it is that they’re interested in so we can notify them when those topics come up.”
In the future, the residents may get a chance to give a new ordinance a simple “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” before the City Council meeting. Soon, the City Clerk hopes members who want to speak at meetings can sign in on an iPad or laptop and then receive a notification when their topic is about to come up for discussion, so they don’t have to sit through the entire meeting – which can sometimes run late into the night.
(For the record, Anderson-Warren says the longest City Council meeting she can recall went until 3:30 a.m.)
“People stayed because they wanted to hash it out,” Anderson-Warren said. “I don’t know how alert people are at that time, but if they want to finish the business. That’s what they do.”
To mark City Clerks Week, the public can view documents not available in the public portal on display at City Hall, including handwritten minutes from the late 1800s, deeds acquiring City Property for just a few dollars and cents and contracts approved at the City’s Centennial Celebration in 1975. The documents are available through Saturday. The documents reveal that early Santa Monicans dealt with some of the same issues that concern residents today.
“Instead of giving parking tickets, they used to give tickets for parking your horse at a coral for too long,” Anderson-Warren said with a laugh. To her, she hopes the public and City leaders will learn something from the past they can bring to the next Council meeting discussion.
“This city is over 100 years old, there’s a whole lot of history. If you want to move forward you can at least learn from it.”