The investigative reporting that exposed the government impropriety on the part of the officials of the City of Bell would not be possible if legislation passed as part of the state budget is signed into law. The California Public Records Act legally requires local government entities to disclose records of their actions. It places time limits for public officials to respond, and requires them to explain why they feel the records are not subject to disclosure. Because the law places a mandated cost on to local entities, legislators and the governor, are trying to prevent local agencies from demanding reimbursement from the state for their compliance with the law by making all of its provisions voluntary.
While AB 76 would require the local agency to announce whether they intend to comply with the “Best Practices” required under the PRA, the agency would not be legally bound to adhere to their public commitment. Robert Rizzo, the city manager at the heart of the Bell scandal would have been able to evade the discoveries that blew the lid of the corruption he was orchestrating.
In January 2012, I wrote about the efforts of our two largest Orange County cities, Anaheim and Santa Ana, to avoid the disclosure of public records by either destroying records immediately, or simply not responding to requests for records. If Governor Brown signs AB 76 into law the elaborate tactics of avoidance and concealment employed by Anaheim and Santa Ana would no longer be a needed to hide records because they would simply not be required, by law, to comply.
The letter of complaint filed by former Orange County Deputy CEO Alisa Drakodaidis, related to the collapse of the cover up of alleged sexual assaults by indicted former executive Carlos Bustamante would not have been disclosed. The suit by the Voice of OC that compelled the county to release the letter would never have been filed, and the public would not know about important details of the alleged serious improper conduct of high level county officials.
In a letter posted on their website this week, Californians Aware General Counsel Terry Francke wrote:
Let everyone you know who cares that their right to a prompt and informative response to a request to copy or even see public records of local government agencies is being switched off indefinitely by the Legislature, without a single public hearing debate.
With the relevant trailer bill amendments in print [June 14] (SB 71 and AB 76) which will go into immediate effect with the budget, it’s clear that the California Public Records Act (CPRA) mandate suspensions are far worse than had been anticipated. If they go into effect, local agencies including counties, cities, educational and special districts and others will no longer have the legally enforceable obligation to:
- Assist requesters to frame and direct their written requests in effective ways.
- Provide electronic records in a format specified by the requester, even if the agency can do so without special cost.
- Provide a determination notice within 10 days as to what if any information will be released.
- Provide a notice within 10 days that up to an additional 14 days will be needed to make the determination, and what justifies the added delay.
- Provide any written response to the requester at all, even if the request was in writing, including a written statement of the legal basis for withholding information.
This is not just a minor change as state legislative leaders are saying. Understand folks, this legislation performs radical tooth extraction on the California Public Records Act. And the requirement for local governments to express whether they intend to follow the act doesn’t provide dentures as a replacement. If this law stands, it will kill the ability of reporters and local advocates to find out anything that officials do not want us to know.
Please contact the Governor at (916) 445-2841 and urge him to protect the public right to know.
When you call ask the following:
“I urge Governor Brown to veto Senate Bill 71 and Assembly Bill 76 and ask the legislature to revise the legislation to remove section 4 of Senate Bill 71 and Assembly Bill 76 (specifically section 6252.8 to the Government Code) to restore effectiveness to the Public Records Act.”
I am not willing to take the word of government officials that they will comply with the provisions of the California Public Records Act on the basis of “Blind Faith.” Neither should you.