PUBLIC INFORMATION -- State
Senate officials have secretly approved a $70,000 legal settlement that
prohibits a staffer who accused a former colleague of harassment from
going public with the charges, reports Patrick McGreevy for the Los Angeles Times.
The payment, made last month, is the latest in a string of such
settlements, most of which include confidentiality clauses that keep
taxpayers in the dark about what exactly they are paying to settle and
The agreement, obtained by The Times through open-records laws, does
not identify the staffer alleged to have engaged in misconduct or the
nature of the misconduct. It demands that the accuser not "in any way
publicize the terms or amount of this agreement unless required by law"
and says she is to respond to questions "by stating words to the effect
that 'the matter has been resolved.' "
Such deals raise "a serious question about using public funds to
pay for silence," said Terry Francke, general counsel for Californians
Aware, a group advocating open government. "Buying the ignorance of the
public with public money seems contrary to the spirit of open
government. It seems a kind of betrayal of public trust."
The $70,000 was paid to Allison Bonburg, who was a field representative
for U.S. Rep. Tom McClintock when he was a GOP state senator from
Thousand Oaks. McClintock, who was elected to Congress in November from
a Northern California district, is not the alleged harasser, a
legislative source said.
McClintock was not available for comment, according to a spokeswoman.
Senate officials would not release details from Bonburg's complaint.
Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), who has promised more
transparency in government and chairs the committee that entered into
the settlement with her, refused to discuss the case.
"Personnel matters are confidential," said Steinberg spokeswoman Alicia Trost.
Lawmakers have repeatedly kept workplace misconduct claims secret,
releasing only the settlement papers -- and only when requests are made
citing state records law. The agreements are not adopted at public
meetings or included in public files, as other legislative business is.
Other government entities in California, including the city of Los
Angeles, do not keep secret the details of such deals. The open-records
law forbids it.
But in passing the 1968 law, the Legislature specifically exempted
itself. It approved a separate Legislative Open Records Act, which
broadly exempts from public disclosure "records of complaints to or
investigations conducted by . . . the Legislature."
"It's typical of the Legislature to cut itself a special deal," said
James Chadwick, an attorney and board member for the California First
Amendment Coalition. "Obviously they should be more transparent."