Images-36 PUBLIC INFORMATION/FREE PRESS -- A recent audit of 18 Sacramento area public education institutions organized by Californians Aware (CalAware) shows serious ignorance of citizens' rights to public information—and may have prompted an attempt to censor the student journalists who conducted it.

On March 24, 11 journalism students from Sacramento State University on the staff of the student newspaper, The State Hornet, walked into the main offices of 14 school districts and charter schools, the Sacramento County Superintendent of Schools, the Los Rios Community College District, Sacramento State and the University of California, Davis.

They asked for copies of the statements of financial interest (Form 700s) filed by key elected and staff officers, which are required to be made public—no questions asked—within two days of the request, pursuant to the Political Reform Act of 1974. They also mailed letters to the institutions with a list of requests to see other public records as required by the California Public Records Act.

The resulting audit scoring deducted points not only for failing to produce the records at all or within the laws' deadlines, but for requiring the auditors to disclose their full names, affiliations, or purpose for asking, or to fill out a written form. Auditors also rated the agencies for the courtesy and helpfulness of the employees receiving the in-person request for the Form 700s—even if they were unaware of their legal obligations.

    Lowest score :     Legal Compliance 20   (F)           Customer Service   90 (A-)
    Highest score :    Legal Compliance 100 (A+)         Customer Service 100 (A+)
    Average score :   Legal Compliance 68   (C)           Customer Service   91 (A-)

But after
The State Hornet published its audit summary yesterday, News Editor
Chloe Daley was called into the office of Associate Vice President for
Public Affairs Gloria Moraga, where, Daley has told CalAware, Moraga
questioned her closely about the purpose of the audit, suggesting that
the number of records sought placed an unreasonable burden on the
campus and was journalistically irresponsible.

Late yesterday the following e-mail message was sent to student auditor Mitchell
Wilson, who had requested records from the Elk Grove Unified School
District, by an attorney with the district's law firm.

--- On Wed, 4/22/09, Sloan R. Simmons <SSimmons@lozanosmith.com> wrote:

From: Sloan R. Simmons <SSimmons@lozanosmith.com>
Subject: Public Records Act Request to Elk Grove Unified School District (1336/01)
To: "'Mitchellw19@sbcglobal.net'" <Mitchellw19@sbcglobal.net>
Date: Wednesday, April 22, 2009, 4:31 PM

Dear Mitchell:

Consistent with my voice message from this afternoon, we
have been informed that Mr. Gonzales has requested that all
students withdrawal their Public Records Act requests
submitted in relation to a course at Sacramento State
University and that the article relating to information
sought in such requests has already been published in the
Sac State Hornet newspaper.  It is our understanding that
your records requests is pursuant to this activity and
course work.

As soon as possible, please confirm to me via telephone or
in response to this message whether you are withdrawing your
Public Records Act request so that I can direct District
staff to cease efforts relating to responding to your
request.

Sincerely,

LOZANO SMITH
A T T O R N E Y S  A T   L A W
Partnering For Excellence In Education and Government

Sloan R.  Simmons
Attorney
One Capitol Mall, Suite 640  | Sacramento, CA 95814
Phone:  916-329-7433 | Fax: 916-329-9050

The records sought in the audit were selected, and the student auditors trained, by CalAware, a Carmichael-based nonprofit group supporting open government which in the past four years has provided similar leadership in Public Records Act compliance audits of Fresno area agencies, 31 selected state agencies, and more than 200 state and local law enforcement agencies.

CalAware Executive Director Emily Francke commented:

We're grateful for the indispensable help of The State Hornet reporters and editors, and share their disappointment that the public contact employees at so many audited agencies were either unaware of or misinformed about the public's right to view and copy their officials' disclosures of financial interests, required by the Political Reform Act since 1974.
    Most of these public servants displayed, as indicated in the high scores for customer service, commendable courtesy and positive attitudes in dealing with the requests for these records. So they deserve far better training in what to do with such requests, and in particular how to ensure that they are referred to officials informed sufficiently to make a prompt and correct response.
    As for those supposedly informed school, college and university officials, and their lawyers—too many also seem to need an update on the California Public Records Act and the related case law and constitutional amendments that affect requests for information about employee discipline or expulsion data. These areas are not nearly as out of bounds for public inquiry as they appear to think.

»     Records Requested, and Why
»     Individual Agency Scores and Grades
»     Comment on Overall Audit Results
»     Request Samples