CalAware Announces Departure of Executive Director

Long-time Executive Director Emily Francke Leaving to Pursue Medical Career

CARMICHAEL — Californians Aware Executive Director Emily Francke has resigned her post to pursue a nursing degree at Columbia University. “She put her career interest in medicine on hold eight years ago to launch and administer CalAware, and the time to move on after giving it such a fine start has arrived,” said Terry Francke, her father and the organization’s general counsel. A number of the administrative and support functions she provided will for the time being be supplied as contract services or by volunteer members of the nonprofit, he said.

He added, “I know that CalAware members and directors are saddened as I am by the departure  of such a capable person, but are also very happy that she will be doing something she has long wished for.

“Under her direction, CalAware has grown from a mere idea to a potent force in preserving and enhancing the rights of Californians to have an open and transparent government, a freely enquiring press, and a citizenry free to exchange facts and opinions without hesitation or hazard.

Emily has been  solely  responsible for CalAware’s excellent web site (http://calaware.org), its successful seminar and webinar series, and the impact of its audits of government compliance with public information laws.”

CalAware’s officers and directors—those most familiar with Francke’s work—added their best wishes as well.

“Emily, there are no words that could adequately express all our appreciation for the work you have done, the joy you have brought and the support you have provided to CalAware and (especially) to Terry. Thank you for your commitment and for your contributions to CalAware all these years. We will not be the same without you (and we will hold you responsible for that). Good luck in New York (and upon your return).”
— Dennis Winston, CalAware President and public interest litigator, Los Angeles

“It has been said that no one is irreplaceable, and as a rule, that is true. But there is always an exception to the rule and that exception is Emily Francke.  Her dedication to CalAware,  passion for open government, and ability to make everything work under all circumstances is immeasurable. We will miss her, but our loss will be the nursing profession’s gain.”
— Donna Frye, CalAware Vice-President and former member of the San Diego City Council (2001 – 2010)

“As CalAware faced voices of censorship, obstructionism and darkness all about, nurse anesthetist-to-be Emily Francke kept us all breathing and the organization alive and functioning. Her good spirits applied to all, including us old ink-stained wretches. Emily always had the right instincts, the right skills and the drive to help members as well as  protect and nurture the organization.”
— Tim Crews, CalAware Secretary-Treasurer and editor and publisher of the twice weekly Sacramento Valley Mirror

“Emily has been the backbone of Californians Aware since its inception. CalAware’s accomplishments would not have been possible without her.  While someone might follow in her footsteps, they could never fill her shoes.”
— Kelly Aviles, CalAware Vice-President for Open Government Compliance and attorney specializing governmental transparency, LaVerne

“Emily has been integral to helping pass some of the strongest open government laws in the country.   While her departure from CalAware is a loss to all Californians, I am certain she will return to play an equally important role in our state by helping those in medical need.”
— Adam Keigwin, CalAware Director and Chief of Staff for California Senator Leland Yee (San Francisco)

“What a long strange trip it’s been and we are fortunate to have had Emily along for the ride.  Her tenacity and ‘can do’ attitude made a real difference, no matter what the challenge. From audits of government agencies to monitoring the laws and the lawmakers who would destroy transparency for the sake of security or their own vested interests; Emily has been was a force for good.  CalAware and by extension, the people of California, owe her a debt of gratitude.”

— J.W. August, Director and President Emeritus of CalAware, and managing editor for 10News with KGTV, San Diego

“The contribution that Emily Francke has made to open government in California cannot be overstated.  Her attention to the necessary details of running an effective and vigilant watchdog group like CalAware has kept all of us in line and respectful of our common commitment and our differing perspectives. Emily now goes on to fulfill her professional goals knowing we will all miss her but wish her every success.”
— Julie Hayward Biggs, CalAware Director, and partner, Burke, Williams & Sorenson LLP

“Emily’s passion and commitment to open government and truth-telling is inspiring. I have found her simply dazzling to watch. Our loss will be a great gain to all those patients and practitioners who encounter her in her next professional life. Good luck, Emily! And please come home some day to California.”
— Marjie Lundstrom, CalAware Director and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist at the Sacramento Bee

“Terry passed along his zeal and enthusiasm to Emily, much to our benefit.  Now her dream to become a medical professional means deferred years of further training, but she will breeze through that. We wish her every future success.”
— Dale Smith, CalAware Director and public relations consultant, Auburn

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CalAware Publishes The Definitive Guide to Public Records Rights and Requirements in California

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

New guide provides comprehensive legal guidance for citizens, journalists and public officials for open records law in California

CARMICHAEL — CalAware announces that Terry Francke, the leading authority on open government in California, has published the first comprehensive legal guide for citizens, journalists and public officials who need to know how to obtain public records, how to respond to access requests, and how to manage public records. The CalAware Guide to Public Records and Private Information in California is a milestone in advancing transparency and accountability in state and local government because it makes a vast amount of authoritative information on public access law readily accessible. It covers statutes, case law and administrative regulations that apply to the executive branch and local governments of the State of California, and to its judicial and legislative branches.

Francke is an attorney with over three decades of experience explaining, litigating and drafting laws that grant the public access to information held by government bodies in California. He is the author of two other definitive books on open government, the first on the information gathering rights of journalists, and the second on the rights of the public to attend meetings of legislative bodies. In 1994 he helped draft major revisions to the Ralph M. Brown Act, and in 2004 was an expert contributor to the ballot proposition making open government a basic right of citizens under the California Constitution.

The guide analyzes each statutory provision as well as its interpretive case law and attorney general’s opinions, and includes the full text of each statute and court rule. Issues addressed in the Public Records Act and comparable provisions governing the Legislature and court system include the common law and early statutes on access; the definition of key terms; the basic access provisions on inspecting and obtaining copies of records; the hundreds of exemptions from disclosure protecting personal, business and governmental interests; informal approaches to gaining access, including a model Public Records Act request letter; and legal remedies.

The guide has garnered praise from lawmakers, state and local officials, privacy advocates, journalists and citizen watchdogs. State Senator Leland Yee calls it “a valuable tool in holding their government accountable.” Jodi Cleesattle, state agency attorney and former journalist says that it “CalAware’s new is an invaluable resource for journalists and anyone interested in learning how to get access to public records in California.”

The eBook version is now available on Amazon and iTunes.  The paperback version is currently being printed and an announcement will be made once it is available for purchase.

Group Founded by Late Civic Activist Creates Litigation Fund in His Name

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CARMICHAEL — Californians Aware (CalAware), a nonprofit organization co-founded by Richard McKee to improve transparency in government and defend free speech rights, has created a fund in his name to enable it to continue his work of enforcing such rights by going to court if necessary.

“Rich McKee was a tireless champion for open government and the right of the public to participate in the government they created,” said CalAware President Dennis Winston, a Los Angeles attorney who successfully represented McKee in several actions adding important precedents to the laws of open meetings and public records. “The Rich McKee Memorial Fund will enable CalAware to carry on Rich’s commitment for the benefit of every citizen of California.”

Emily Francke, CalAware’s executive director and one of its co-founders with McKee, who worked closely with him to plan and execute several large-scale statewide audits of public records practices, said on a special web page describing the fund that donations will be used for filing fees and other out-of-pocket expenses. The fund is not intended to pay attorney fees, since lawyers for CalAware look to recover their fees from public agencies that are found by a court to be violating the law.

“It was Rich’s vision that once this program is sufficiently funded, it will be self-sustaining for years to come,” she said.

McKee died of natural causes at his home in La Verne on April 23.  The experience for which he first became known statewide—being ordered by a court to pay a school district more than $80,000 in attorney fees for unsuccessfully suing it on open meetings, public records and free speech grounds—led to a change in the law protecting the public from the threat of such crippling outcomes in similar lawsuits.

The fund’s web page links to a list of McKee’s 23 open government cases since 1994—most successful, most brought in his own name with his own resources—that constitutes “a record of individual civic activism that has nothing approaching a parallel in California history,” said Terry Francke, co-founder of CalAware and its general counsel.

“That Rich was able to have this impact and maintain a sunny and generous disposition despite his stubborn insistence on keeping the public aware of public matters makes him a kind of citizen saint that, sad to say, only his untimely death has led us fully to appreciate.  We must not disappoint his spirit.”

CalAware’s Third Public Records Audit Of State Agencies Finds No Improvement

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CARMICHAEL – For the third time in five years, Californians Aware (CalAware) has tested state agencies’ responses to very basic requests for public records.  Analysis of the results found no measureable improvement.

CalAware performed the first-ever audit of state agencies’ compliance with their basic transparency obligations in 2006, finding such dismal performance overall that Governor Schwarzenegger issued Executive Order S-03-06, requiring the retraining of all executive departments in the rudiments of the California Public Records Act.  Months later, however, following that retraining, a second identical audit showed only marginal improvement, with one in six departments still failing miserably.

This January CalAware decided to perform the audit again to see whether the same 31 state agencies showed improvement on yet a third try.  The audit consisted of two parts.  First, a walk-in visit made a request to receive a copy of that department’s guidelines for access to its records and to view a top executive’s Form 700 Statement of Economic Interests.  Second was an e-mail request for documents showing the executive’s annual compensation and the most recent settlement or court order involving the agency.  As in the prior two audits, points were deducted for each violation of law or substantial delay in providing the records.

Results of this latest audit showed an average grade of C+.  The Departments of Mental Health and Managed Health Care were standouts, with perfect scores in the last two audits; followed closely by Industrial Relations and Environmental Health Hazard Assessment with only minor deductions.  Performing pitifully were CalPERS and Corrections & Rehabilitation.  But the absolute bottom remains unchallenged, with the Employment Development Department scoring an F- in all three audits.

See the entire audit report on our website.

Majority of Districts Fail in an Audit of Public Education Transparency

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CARMICHAEL – A systematic check of how well California’s tax-supported education institutions respond to requests for public information shows a significant sample of K-12 school districts to be consistently slower to provide clearly public information than community colleges or the California State University—and earning an average failing grade on a 100-point scale.

This picture emerges in the third and final phase release of a California Public Records Act compliance audit conducted by Californians Aware (CalAware) in December, testing the responses of more than 250 agencies statewide, including half of the state’s 72 community college districts, all of its 32 public university campuses and nearly 200 local school districts.

The test queries used in the school district exercise sought a copy of the most recent pre-lawsuit claim for damages brought on behalf of a student that was settled without going to court, as well as a copy of the settlement agreement and of records showing the date of any approval given to the settlement by the board of education.

Detailed results for each campus are available on our website (follow the link from the homepage).

Overall, over half the districts failed decisively. CalAware used the email addresses provided by the districts on-line, the vast majority coming from a district’s own website. Yet a number of districts failed to reply to multiple attempts by the requester, most often to multiple email addresses for administrators at those districts. Many expressed confusion over the request for the “most recent settlement agreement entered into by the district to settle a tort claim presented on behalf of a student.” Numerous districts responded that this was “not sufficiently precise” and required more specific information, like a student’s name, before they would search for a record. Yet from those performing perfectly, this description presented no confusion and records were produced promptly. “A reasonable conclusion might be,” said CalAware Exectuve Director Emily Francke, “If you don’t want to do the job, find some way to deflect the request.”

On the other hand, more than one-fifth (21% or 41) of the 194 districts surveyed performed flawlessly (A+). A good example is Poway USD, which supplied responsive records free by email within three days of the request. Chino Valley USD and Lakeside Union SD did the same in seven days. Charter Oak USD: the same in nine days. Of those who charged any copy fee at all, Central School District supplied copies in nine days for only three cents per page.

“By their prompt and courteous responses,” Francke said, “these districts demonstrated an interest in keeping the public informed. These responses also show that a professional approach to requests for information can lead to the inference that the district is competent and cares about the people it serves. On the other hand, requesters left frustrated by the experience may well wonder who those districts believe they serve and why they are being secretive about the public information they possess.”

Francke noted that the Brown Act and some local district practices combine to make it easy for lawsuit claims and settlements to elude the public’s attention. While both claims and settlements are accessible to the public, the Brown Act does not require them to be provided unless a person expressly asks for a copy, that settlements are almost never announced after being approved in closed session, and in some cases the settlements never reach the board of education, either because they are handled by an independent joint powers insurance agency or because the superintendent has been given authority to approve settlements below a defined dollar amount without obtaining board approval.

“Even if they don’t always involve large amounts of money, settlements provide snapshots of incidents where school officials’ acts or omissions have prompted allegations of injury to students, employees or others in the community,” Francke said. “For parents and taxpayers concerned with the safe and effective operation of the schools, settlements can provide real eye-openers. But you have to ask, and as this audit shows, sometimes you have to keep asking repeatedly to get the information you’re entitled to.”

Audit of Public Education Transparency Produces an Overall Failure Rate for UC

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CARMICHAEL – A systematic check of how well California’s tax-supported education institutions respond to requests for public information shows University of California campuses to be consistently slower to provide clearly public information than those of the California State University system—for reasons that are hard to understand.

This contrast emerges in the second phase release of a California Public Records Act compliance audit conducted by Californians Aware (CalAware) in December, testing the responses of more than 250 agencies statewide, including nearly 200 local school districts and half of the state’s 72 community college districts, as well as its 32 public university campuses.

The test queries used in the exercise sought specifics on the total compensation, expense reimbursement claims, credit card use and outside financial interests of the chief executive officers of each of the 10 UC and 22 CSU campuses, and yielded a ready comparison of their relative income levels and spending habits.

Detailed results for each campus are available on our website (follow the link from the homepage). Whereas CSU campuses earned a higher average grade (B) than community college districts (reported last week) when asked for the same documents using the same method, UC campus performed far worse (F average). The contrast between CSU and UC was particularly interesting given the similar statewide scale of the institutions. While CSU campuses take ownership of their requests, gathering documents from various sources within their institution to fulfill them, UC campuses take a very different approach, requiring requesters to chase down documents from different offices within their institution. The result is very satisfactory when dealing with the CSUs, especially compared to the frustrating experience when dealing with their UC counterparts.

This frustration is further compounded by the UC campuses’ unjustified and extremely long delays—in some cases giving a 3-4 month estimated turnaround time—to produce clearly public and readily available documents.

“The fact that almost half the CSU campuses achieved an A-plus perfect score is convincing evidence that full compliance with public records access law is not an unreasonable burden but a readily and frequently satisfied expectation,” said CalAware Executive Director Emily Francke. “The fact that most UC campuses scored an F is, accordingly, a sorry outcome indeed.”

Quite apart from compliance with public records laws, the audits revealed a variety of factors that may increase a UC chancellor’s full compensation value beyond the dollar figures specified in his or her appointment letter: health and retirement benefits alluded to but not spelled out in the letters, and the option to have the university hire, as a paid assistant with unspecified duties at an unspecified salary, the chancellor’s spouse or domestic partner. These additional factors would be quantifiable through follow-up records requests.

Audit of Public Education Transparency Reveals Questionable Travel Expenditure Trend Among Community College District Officials

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CARMICHAEL – A systematic check of how well California’s tax-supported education institutions respond to requests for public information shows community colleges performing better than other government agencies in recent years. But a surprising minority of such districts fared poorly when asked about executive compensation, spending and potential conflicts of interest, and a few examples surfaced of what appeared to be questionable travel expenditures in an era of severe funding cutbacks.

The disclosures emerge in the first phase release of a California Public Records Act compliance audit conducted by Californians Aware (CalAware) in December, testing the responses of more than 250 agencies statewide, including nearly 200 of local school districts, all campuses of the California State University and the University of California, and half of the state’s 72 community college districts.

Detailed results for the community college district (CCD) phase of the audit are available on our website (follow the link from the homepage). Results for the higher education and K-12 district audits will be published in succeeding weeks.

Overall, CCDs’ performance, with an average grade of B minus, was superior to that of any other class of agencies audited by CalAware since it began such surveys in 2006. More than a third of the 36 responded promptly and flawlessly, and another quarter scored only one 10-point deduction. But one sixth failed dismally, with three districts acknowledging receipt of the request but never following up, and three others failing to produce the requested records within the 30-day deadline established by CalAware—more forgiving than the state law requirement of “prompt” availability—for records that should have been readily available, requiring no careful screening.

Quite apart from compliance with public records laws, the audits showed why closer and more consistent monitoring of even relatively routine executive expenditures may be in order if nothing else for the sake of student and faculty morale and public confidence. In the cases of San Diego CCD, Long Beach CCD and Los Rios CCD, for example, the reported travel expenses raise the questions of whether a trip was necessary, or even if so, whether more timely or less costly travel or lodging reservations—or both—might have been arranged.