By Anne Lowe

OPEN GOVERNMENT – San Bernardino County supervisors tentatively approved an ordinance Tuesday that will increase public access to county documents, the Riverside Press-Enterprise reports.

The ordinance requires city staff to “process all public records act requests with the presumption that all government records are public,” the article says. The county will be required to cite any exemption from Public Records Act reporting when the ordinance goes into effect in November. Both those requirements are alrady part of the state law, however.

From the Press-Enterprise:

One significant reform touted by the measure's author, Supervisor Neil Derry, is a provision in the ordinance prohibiting the county from using the deliberative process privilege—which refers to internal decision-making—in refusing to release financial documents.

The county has cited that exemption, based on a 1991 state Supreme Court ruling, to withhold information in the past, saying that some of the county's internal deliberations can be kept secret.

The ordinance also discourages officials from citing deliberative process for other nonfinancial records such as meeting minutes.

Gloria Anderson, president of the San Bernardino County League of Women Voters, called the ordinance a good first step but said officials must do more to open up the inner workings of county government.

"There's still a perception that special interests are at the heart of county business instead of the public interest," she said.

Salvador Lopez, a Fontana resident, said the county recently took four months to process a California Public Records Act request from him, well above the 10 days allowed by state law. Lopez said he hoped officials are held accountable for complying with the ordinance.

Derry said those seeking public documents can seek recourse by suing, adding that the ordinance provides clearer direction to the courts that public records should be made available.

The ordinance also requires elected officials who may be leaving office to preserve any public records. Derry, who took office in 2008, complained at the time that his predecessor, Dennis Hansberger, had destroyed documents in his district office.