Watson_the_watchdogAs Sunshine Week 2015 winds up, Californians Aware offers two publications for use year round in working for governmental transparency.

The free resource is a 50-page CalAware Guide, Community Watchdog: An Investigative Checklist, providing basic explanations of the Brown Act, the California Public Records Act and the judicial branch’s law providing access to information on how the courts are run, with insights and suggestions going beyond the basics as well.  And coming to Amazon.com in April is the fully updated second edition of The CalAware Guide to Open Meetings in California, first published in 2006.

A foreword to the Community Watchdog guide observes:

Sunshine laws like the Brown Act and the California Public Records Act (CPRA) are in themselves no guarantee of preventing the kind of bureaucratic organized crime that former elected and appointed leaders of the City of Bell were prosecuted for.

Those crimes were said to have involved such practices as misappropriation of public funds by city council members paying themselves for momentary meetings of do-nothing boards created just to justify that pay and, on the part of the city manager and his assistant, falsifying certain contract documents and hiding others to conceal extraordinarily high rates of pay for themselves and the police chief.

If officials are prepared to resort to outright lies, conspiracy and fraud to advance schemes they know the public would never accept, the open government laws may not stop them. But these and other transparency laws will make corruption much harder to commit and sustain, if reporters and citizen watchdogs understand and use them confidently and consistently. This is what was not happening in Bell—until the Los Angeles Times stumbled on to some rumors and odd gaps in information and began using the CPRA aggressively to uncover layer upon layer of astonishing self-dealing.

Even if your community is reassuringly free of downright criminal leadership, which is almost certainly the case, using this checklist will unfailingly supply sometimes neglected or overlooked information that can be real news for journalists, fodder for public discussion by bloggers and other watchdogs, and an agenda for action by alert citizens generally.

For the convenience of those who use the digital version of the Community Watchdog guide, all cases and code sections are linked to the full texts online. Those who print out the guide can see those references spelled out for reference.  To obtain a copy simply send a request to info@calaware.org.

The second edition of the Open Meetings Guide will contain the full and current texts of statutes requiring public access meetings of all government bodies in all branches of California Government, plus new attorney general’s opinions and analysis of case law decisions since 1995, with a comprehensive index and table of authorities.