Images11(CalAware Weekly comprises this plus the previous three posts)

Open Government

Windows on e-mail        An article in the current Governing magazine, “Delete at Your Own Risk,” examines the phenomenon that

Millions of state and local employees in jurisdictions all over the country correspond by e-mail every day without giving much thought to what should happen to the product. They may come to regret that behavior. Not only are records, and history, being lost, but many government lawsuits now turn on what is buried in old e-mail messages. 

Meanwhile the City of Palo Alto posts on its website e-mail sent to the city council concerning pending agenda items.

A Thaw in Bush Administration Secrecy?     The Washington Post seems to think so. But it says much of the recent outside pressure to restore transparency is to keep Bush’s successors from exploiting the anti-disclosure policies his people instituted. It quotes Steven Aftergood, who heads the project on government secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists: "Once a precedent is set and an administration not sufficiently rebuked, this kind of secrecy becomes a permanent option.” Meanwhile reports suggest that the Administration is already moving to rewrite an important provision of the new Freedom of Information Act amendments.

Free Speech

Taxpayer Witness Ousted from Capitol        The Foundation for Taxpayer & Consumer Rights reports that a witness whom it had arranged to come from Massachusetts to testify against mandatory health insurance legislation not only saw the hearing he planned to appear in canceled, but was banished from the Capitol rotunda when attempting to give an impromptu news conference. The order reportedly came from Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, sponsor of the insurance bill.

March 7 Student Speech Forum         From wearing black armbands in protest of the Vietnam War to displaying a "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" banner, generations of American students have tested the scope of First Amendment free-speech protections. These rights will be the focus of a daylong symposium on Friday, March 7, "From the Schoolhouse Gate to the Courthouse Steps," sponsored by the UC Davis Law Review. Speakers will include Erwin Chemerinsky, founding dean (despite his own liberal speech reputation) of UC Irvine's new Donald Bren School of Law; Kenneth Starr, dean of the Pepperdine University School of Law; and eight others. More information here.

Renters’ Sign Rights Declared        The Davis Enterprise reports that the city council has passed an ordinance regarding political sign regulation that effectively guarantees a renter's right to speech free of landlord control. Renters now have the right to post signs in support of their preferred candidates in upcoming elections, including the February 5 presidential primary as well as the June 3 city council elections.

CSU’s Civility Rules Revisited    The San Diego Union-Triune reports that California State University trustees would consider a revision to a section of the student conduct code that includes an expectation that students be “civil.” The change would establish that disciplinary action for “uncivil” expression is not allowed. A federal district court, in a case involving punishment of student demonstrators who stomped on Hamas and Hezbollah flags bearing the Arabic word “Allah,” recently ruled that the term “uncivil” is too broad to be a basis for discipline at public colleges and universities.

Open Meetings

Unlawful Spontaneity, Incident 1       District Attorney Steve Cooley’s office has concluded that the seven-member Los Angeles Airport Commission violated the Ralph M. Brown Act on December 17 by extensively discussing a matter not on its meeting agenda: a Government Accountability Office report that cited a "high risk" of close calls between aircraft maneuvering on the ground at the nation's airports, including LAX. Cooley’s Public Integrity Unit will take no further action on the matter, since its investigations and published conclusions and admonitions (around 30 last year) achieve “a 99.9 percent compliance rate through some sort of remediation," according to Deputy D.A. Jennifer Lentz Snyder.

Unlawful Spontaneity, Incident 2        Ventura County District Attorney Gregory D. Totten’s office has concluded that the Conejo Valley Unified School District Board violated the Brown Act eight months ago when, with no notice on the meeting agenda and no opportunity for public comment provided, four of the five trustees voted to censure the fifth for allegedly contacting school employees and demanding information in a manner suggesting he had some personal authority concerning school closures.  Trustee Mike Dunn is now demanding a public apology from his colleagues.

Questioned Spontaneity        The Orange County Register reports that Capistrano Unified School District officials will ask the school board next week to rescind its December vote on certain construction projects for a newly opened high school after a parents group already targeting two of the trustees for recall alleged the vote violated the Ralph M. Brown Act by approving contracts not listed on the meeting agenda. The four accused of violating the law avoided a Brown Act criminal prosecution last October by publicly committing themselves “to cease such violations in the future."

Getting to Know You    The Desert Dispatch reports that a consulting firm hired last October by the City of Barstow, when it treated the council to a private, out-of-town dinner a month earlier, discussed no business that would have required the council to announce the event as a special meeting and open it to the public.  The redevelopment director was also present, but not the city attorney, who nonetheless seemed to defend the dinner as a “purely social” occasion exempt from the Ralph M. Brown Act.

Closed Session on Letter Approval Challenged    The Orange County Register reports that the Anaheim City Council may have violated the Brown Act by discussing and approving, in a closed session listed as dealing with litigation, letters sent to the Orange County Water District objecting to its plans to use eminent domain to buy the site of a closed Boeing plant for a water percolation basin, instead of a new business center, as the council prefers.

Closed Session on Salary Approval Challenged    The Santa Cruz Sentinel reports that the Pajaro Valley Unified School District Board decided to re-do (publicly) a decision reached in closed session January 2 to outline its superintendent search and set a $180,000 salary offer to be advertised along with the job.

Free Press

Columnist: No Petty Punishment     A columnist argues against requiring a competing newspaper uniquely to submit inquiries to city staff and council in writing as an instance of unconstitutional discrimination.  The City of Temecula has since dropped the proposal.

Public Information

What’s the Skinny on Your ZIP?
       Or on any other, for that matter?  Get a quick statistical profile on the single/married/divorced ratio, age, income bracket, educational attainment and other characteristics of your own or other areas pinpointed by ZIP code, based on the 2000 census, at ZIPskinny.com.

What’s the Skinny on Your School?    Or on any other, for that matter?  Get a quick statistical profile on the resources and performance of your local schools or any others in the state from two sources: the California SCHOOLFINDER, an offering of the State Department of Education that allows side-by-side comparisons, and a similar statistical set offered by the department as the School Accountability Report Card, a copy of which every school with a website is supposed to post there also.  The first site, with higher-end design and the Governor’s stamp all over it, is in beta phase, and so far allows searching by anything other than school name only with the Microsoft Internet Explorer browser and therefore not, for example, by Mac users.

More Disclosures on Substance-abusing Doctors     The San Francisco Chronicle reports that state physician-licensing officials are saying that California patients could soon find it easier to learn if  doctors are facing discipline over accusations they practiced while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

More Disclosures of Gifts to Officials     The Los Angeles Times reports that the Fair Political Practices Commission, California's political watchdog agency, is drafting tougher disclosure rules for gifts accepted by elected officials and could ban many of them altogether for statewide office-holders.

Public Records Released Disclose . . .?
    • allegations that Redding’s former assistant city manager who resigned in September after admitting to an affair at City Hall had earlier lied to investigators about the indiscretion and told others involved to destroy evidence.
    • that San Diego City Council president Scott Peters, compared with the water use of the average city resident of 125,644 gallons in 2007, consumed 1,027,752 gallons.
     • that Monterey County paid at least $435,000 for attorneys it hired to help with federal voting-rights lawsuits over two controversial land-use ballot measures that eventually went before voters last June.  But the Open Monterey Project, which sought this and other lawsuit spending records, is maintaining its demand before the California Court of Appeal, hoping to settle a legal point resolved against it last summer; a superior court judge agreed with the county that the California Public Records Act does not require disclosure of how much a pending case is costing a public agency until the litigation is over.