Ten ways you can advance your rights to know, speak, write and publish about issues that matter—where you live
You don’t have to be a lawyer, lobbyist or policy wonk to make improvements in how open your city council, county supervisors, school board or special district directors’ meetings are, or in public access to government information. Californians Aware will be happy to help and to report the results of your project(s). But why not inform your community of your experiences? Doing so would contribute to an interesting blog.
- PUBLIC MEETINGS MONITORING Ask your local unit of the League of Women Voters of California if it maintains an Observer Corps to monitor local agency meetings for proper procedure and candid disclosure, and if so, volunteer to join it or partner with it. If not, use the League publication Observing Your Government in Action along with CalAware’s Citizen Watchdog guide to write your own reports (see item 10) on how well a given council or board is keeping its decision-making in public view.
- PUBLIC AGENDAS DECODING As a supplement to the reports above or as a standalone service, work with your region’s unit of the Society of Professional Journalists to recruit a panel of retired reporters and/or editors to convert local government meeting agendas into plain English (or some other language used by many in your community). Call it “What’s the Hidden Headline Here?” in each agenda. Report the results (see item 10).
- PUBLIC RECORDS REQUESTING Ask your city, county, school district or special district —or California state agency—to provide access for you to review all Public Records Act requests received in the past month/quarter/year, and the written responses to them (not the records themselves). Report interesting findings (see item 10). You don’t have to request copies —but can.
- LEGISLATIVE REFORM Ask your California Assembly Member and/or Senator if she or he would introduce—or co-author—a bill to address one or more improvements in open government or free speech laws suggested by CalAware’s priority list. Report the response (see item 10).
- LOCAL TRANSPARENCY POLICY Review CalAware’s sunshine ordinance “how to” guide and draw up your own list of improvements for meetings and public information policies of your local council or board. Ask CalAware to check your list for legal feasibility. Circulate a petition asking the council or board to adopt the policy as an ordinance (cities or counties) or bylaw (school or special districts). Report your results (see item 10).
- POLITICAL CANDIDATE PLEDGE Ask those who pull papers for any electoral office to take CalAware’s Sunshine Pledge—or explain why not. Report your results (see item 10).
- POLICE TRANSPARENCY COMMITMENT Ask your sheriff and/or police chief to adopt and post CalAware’s Model Law Enforcement Public Information Policy or to inform the public what information they can expect to get—or explain why not. Report your results (see item 10).
- STUDENT SPEECH / PRESS PROTECTION Ask to see your school board’s written publications code governing student communications, required to be adopted by Education Code Section 48907. If there is none, remind the board that the adoption is mandatory, and inform CalAware.
- WHISTLEBLOWER PROTECTIONS Suggest to anyone considering notifying the relevant authorities of improper or illegal conduct by their fellow workers or employer—or by anyone seeking to defraud the government—that he or she review CalAware’s Top 10 Things to Consider about Whistleblower Risks and Protections.
- PUBLISHING YOUR WORK Start a blog to share your findings and observations with the community on issues the commercial media aren’t talking about—or are getting wrong. Check with CalAware if you have questions about your legal rights and protections.