swlogo2-300x176In celebration of national Sunshine Week (March 10-16), Californians interested in using their laws to keep an eye on city hall and other local and state public agencies can get a free 50-page how-to guide to open government rights and watchdog tactics.

Californians Aware is offering—without charge through April 15—its newly published Citizen Watchdog, an accessibly written primer on what the state’s transparency laws say, with tips on how to use them confidently and effectively.

The guide is subtitled “A Bell-Proofer’s Investigative Checklist.” The introduction explains, “Sunshine laws like the Brown Act and the California Public Records Act are in themselves no guarantee of preventing the kind of bureaucratic organized crime that former elected and appointed leaders of the City of Bell were prosecuted for.

“But these and other transparency laws will make corruption much harder to commit and sustain, if reporters and citizen watchdogs understand and use them confidently and consistently.”

And in any event, “using this checklist will unfailingly supply sometimes neglected or overlooked information that can be real news for journalists, fodder for public discussion by bloggers and other watchdogs, and an agenda for action by alert citizens generally.”

The guide covers the Brown Act, including explanations on how to “decode” the often jargon-dense agenda labels used for the most frequent closed sessions. Basic and advanced instructions on using that law and the Public Records Act are provided, as well as new rules on asking for records showing how local trial courts are run.

Written by Terry Francke, CalAware's general counsel, the guide is presented in question-and-answer progression and, released in portable document format (pdf), contains dozens of links to the full text of state laws, interpretive court cases and other material.

To obtain a free copy, those interested need only send an e-mail with their names and city of residence to info@calaware.org, with Citizen Watchdog in the subject line.