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

Open Government

State of Denial    In September Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed AB 1393, which would have convened a one-year study into what kind and degree of information held by the state on public matters should be made readily available on the Internet.  With respect to this provision the veto message stated, “Such a task force and such additional statutory changes are also unnecessary.  My Administration’s commitment to the Public Records Act is unwavering and I am confident future Administrations will share this attitude.”  Now the Stockton Record notes a report from a Washington, D.C. think tank ranking states “on how well Internet users can access information about lobbying efforts, contracting and subsidies within their states. California ranks down with Louisiana and Mississippi.”  Lobbying information on line here is pretty good, but the contract award information requires the viewer to create a spreadsheet to make much sense of the data, and, says the Record,

It’s in the subsidy area where California fails, according to the report. No information about tax breaks such as those in enterprise zones or conservation easements—both widely used in San Joaquin County—is available on the Internet.

Mystery Travel Sponsors    The Sacramento Bee reports that an obscure nonprofit that funds the governor’s worldwide travels has abandoned – at least temporarily – its long-standing practice of hiding the identities of its donors.

Presidential Records    CalAware and dozens of national organizations have sent a letter asking Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid essentially to ignore the hold a single Republican Senator has placed on a bill to repeal President Bush’s executive order taking ex-presidents’ papers off the public record, and bring that bill to the Senate Floor.  So far no result, but meanwhile the White House has decided not to appeal a judge’s decision partly invalidating the executive order.

Free Press   

Who Leaked?     Brent Wilkes, the defense contractor convicted of bribing former San Diego Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham, was denied a fair trial because of a prejudicial leak from the grand jury revealing that he was likely to be indicted.  That’s the theory of Wilkes’ imaginative defense lawyer, Mark Geragos, who’s asked a federal judge to subpoena the journalists who printed the indictment prediction, to find out who leaked it to them.  The judge at first rejected the request but then was said to be reconsidering. If the judge were to issue the subpoenas, the journalists in question could be in the same kind of bind as two reporters for the San Francisco Chronicle, who nearly went to jail for refusing to name their source for information from a federal grand jury looking into the BALCO sports steroids allegations. The only thing that saved them was their source’s voluntary identification as such early this year. Subpoenas issued in the Wilkes case could also rekindle support for a federal shield law for journalists; that legislation has passed the House and is pending in the Senate but has raised at least some objections from journalists on principle and others as more trouble than it’s worth.

Backing Out of Court    A union local at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has dropped a lawsuit against the Daily News and agreed to pay the newspaper’s attorney fees.  The suit, asserting personal privacy interests, attempted to force the paper to remove from its website the salaries, identified by name and position, of more than 8,000 DWP workers.  The suit was dismissed on an anti-SLAPP motion that noted in part that public employees’ compensation is presumed to be a matter of public record.

Public Records

Prices Slashed 
  Los Gatos is the latest in a succession of cities whose police departments have greatly reduced the fees they charge victims and others needing copies of crime or accident reports for insurance purposes.  No one seems to deny that what prompts these cutbacks is CalAware’s most recent audit of law enforcement public information practices, which exposed a goodly number of departments charging many times the direct cost of  copying for these and other frequently requested documents (tape recordings and photos), apparently on the suggestion of consultants recommending that they maximize their revenue.

School District Sued     The Willows-based Sacramento Valley Mirror, published by CalAware board member Tim Crews, is suing the Chico Unified School District for records concerning the demotion of a controversial junior high school principal several years ago.

Hot Topic    Newspaper editors: Want to start a frenzy of online comments to a news story?  Write about the paper’s efforts to get e-mails and other records concerning a scandal in which so far one clerical employee has been fired, another forced to resign and four others disciplined after an internal investigation into extramarital affairs at city hall. See the many but mixed reactions.

D.A. Opposing Disclosure    Santa Clara County’s District Attorney is siding with the San Jose Police Department in rejecting a proposed sunshine ordinance provision that would allow limited public access to the investigative files of closed criminal cases.  The argument seems to be that a D.A. is a state official charged with enforcing statewide laws, and how she does so (including the use of police investigations) would be hampered by greater public scrutiny, and thus local policy-makers like city councils cannot direct their police departments to be more open.

Cops Cry Foul    CalAware’s recent audit on Public Records Act compliance and customer service was unfair to the San Jose Police Department, a spokesperson told a city committee, in part because the department never received its written request.  CalAware scored the department with a D for legal compliance and a B for customer service in the second visit in October, up from a combined F a year ago.  The auditor’s detailed report shows several problems with how he was treated.

Records Released Reveal . . .?
A newspaper, to its pique, finding that the Mayor’s month-old calendar fails to list his visit to its editorial offices; the U.C. sywstem hierarchy all abuzz about how to manage public impressions of President Robert Dynes’ resignation, and how to justify continuing his pay for a terminal year of greatly reduced responsibilities; and a board member of the California’s stem cell research support agency improperly lobbying the agency staff to give a grant to a scientist at his own La Jolla research institute.

Open Meetings?

Punt to the A.G.
   Is the extension of a $1.75 million loan to a merchant by a redevelopment agency a matter that should be approved in a closed session ostensibly concerning real property negotiations?  That issue will now be referred to the California Attorney General for an opinion,  by agreement of the Covina Redevelopment Agency and the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office, which had taken the RDA to court on the matter but dismissed the action recently.

What’s So Special?    An Encinitas City Council member has ended her boycott of closed sessions but continues to protest the council’s practice of treating those on pending litigation as special meetings, although held routinely an hour or so before the weekly regular meetings, thus cutting the notice period from 72 to 24 hours. That maneuver is apparently for the convenience of the contract city attorney, who is not full-time.

Bait and Switch?    A Bakersfield couple may sue the Kern High School District for introducing and adopting a novel proposal at a meeting when members of the public had come expecting to argue for or against a different proposal.  Both proposals involved hanging a poster with the words “In God we trust” in every classroom.