PUBLIC INFORMATION -- The Assembly Governmental Organization Committee yesterday unanimously
approved legislation to ensure greater access to public records at the University of
California (UC) and the California State University (CSU), reports Senator Leland Yee
(D-San Francisco/San Mateo.

Yee's SB
218
would bring greater accountability to UC and CSU by updating the
California Public Records Act (CPRA) to include "auxiliary organizations"
that receive public funds or perform government functions on state
campuses. 

"UC and CSU have often evaded the public records act by
shifting some responsibilities to foundations and other auxiliary
organizations," a statement released by Yee's office says.

A shocking betrayal of the public trust was
recently revealed at the Sonoma State University Academic Foundation
using donated funds to provide huge personal loans to cronies of
foundation board members, some of which may never be recovered.

“With
87 foundations and auxiliaries operating on 23 CSU campuses, the SSU
scandal may be just the tip of the iceberg,” said Yee.  “It is
imperative that we pass SB 218 to ensure that these organizations
comply with the state’s public records act and are held accountable.”

“It
creates a noxious brew when we combine large sums of money with little
or no public openness. And, it’s an obvious invitation to corruption,”
said Lillian Taiz, president of the California Faculty Association
(CFA), who is a history professor at Cal State Los Angeles. 
 
According
to the CSU Chancellor’s Office, 20 percent of its $6.7 billion budget,
or $1.34 billion, is held in auxiliaries and foundations, which is out
of public view.

“Taxpayers and students deserve to know how their
public universities are run,” said Yee.  “SB 218 will ensure that our
public higher education systems operate in the light of day and are
held accountable.”

In 2001, the Fresno Bee newspaper was
denied information, specifically concerning the identity of individuals
and companies that purchased luxury suites at the Save Mart Center
arena at Fresno State.  The denial resulted in CSU v. Superior Court (McClatchy Company),
in which the Court opined that although it recognized university
auxiliaries ought to be covered by the CPRA and that its ruling was
counter to the obvious legislative intent of the CPRA, the rewriting of
the statute was a legislative responsibility.

“Placing college
and university auxiliaries under the authority of the state's public
records act will safeguard the use of public funds and provide much
needed accountability and oversight to state policymakers,” stated John
Travis, Humboldt State University professor and legislative committee
chair for the CFA.

“SB 218 reinforces the need for greater
transparency and open government,” said Jim Ewert, Legal Counsel for
the California Newspaper Publishers Association.   “This bill ensures
that students, the legislature and the public will have access to
detailed information about how over $1 billion annually is moved
through these government agencies.”

SB 218 will be considered next by the full Assembly.