One week after Californians Aware and the online investigative news site Voice of OC filed suit against Orange County for release of a politically controversial letter, the county on Friday released a redacted version to local media generally. But, as noted in the report by Voice of OC Editor Norberto Santana, the release will probably not halt the Public Records Act lawsuit.
Excessive secrecy is the cause for a lawsuit filed last Wednesday by the Los Angeles Times and Californians Aware, asking the superior court to declare null and void the May decision of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Commission to approve a long-term lease of the historic sports facility to the University of Southern California. The commissioners’ meetings to discuss and develop all aspects of the deal, from last fall until just before the final approval session, were entirely behind closed doors. The Times and CalAware argue that most of the deal points—beyond the price to be paid and how payment would be made—are issues that should have been discussed openly, and they ask the court to order the process to be voided as unlawful, and to be open to the public if attempted again. The Times repeatedly called attention to the secrecy since last year, and CalAware warned about the Brown Act issue in March of this year. The lawsuit, including a copy of the court petition, is reported here.
CalAware has just created an online petition with Change.org, directed to key officials of the California Assembly: “Free the Brown Act from Budget Suspense!” We hope we can collect hundreds if not thousands of signatures as soon as possible, and we could really use your help.
To read and sign the CalAware petition, click here. It’ll just take a minute!
Once you’re done, please ask your friends and others on any personal discussion lists or social media sites you maintain to sign the petition as well, and to pass the word on to their circles. You can keep tabs on how the signatures mount up and what people are saying about the petition by checking the page now and then at the above link.
Let’s get the Assembly’s attention and let them know we’re keeping score. Use your First Amendment right of petition—that’s what it’s there for. And at this point only a petition like this will allow the people to vote to free the Brown Act from the budget mess.
Workshop for Journalists on Getting and Using Public Records — David Cuillier, national Freedom of Information trainer for the Society of Professional Journalists, will conduct a workshop for reporters and other news and opinion writers on Tuesday, June 26, at the KQED offices in San Francisco. Admission is free for SPJ members and $10 for non-members. More
Bill to Make Secret Property Records of Criminal Justice Officials Stalls — AB 2299 by Assemblyman Mike Feuer (D-Los Angeles) failed to get even a motion in the Senate Committee on Governance and Finance Wednesday, despite a platoon of law enforcement lobbyists on hand to register their support. The committee consultant’s analysis of the bill gives a good sense of what it sought to do and why it stalled.
Ambitious Sunshine Ordinance on the November Ballot in Dixon — Residents of this small (18,000 plus) Solano County city will have the chance to go well beyond the Brown Act and Public Records Act in mandating open and accessible government for their community. For example, one rule would provide that the taxpayer would no longer pay the attorneys fees of those winning lawsuits brought to enforce the sunshine laws. That obligation would fall on the city attorney if his or her advice led to the violation, or the city official(s) who got good advice from the city attorney but disregarded it. More
Disclosing Classified Information Usually Doesn’t Break the Law — “It ain’t so much what we don’t know that gets us into trouble. It’s what we know that just ain’t so.” Variously attributed to Mark Twain, Will Rogers and perhaps others, this observation applies to political and legal facts everybody knows that, awkwardly, don’t square with reality. National secrecy-watcher Steven Aftergood points out, for example, that disclosing classified information may get a government employee fired, but it’s usually not a crime for either the employee or those who pass the information on. More
While the U.S. Supreme Court decided in 1974 that journalists had no First Amendment right to schedule personal media interviews with prison inmates, for the next two decades the actual policy of the California Department of Corrections was to honor media requests for interviews with willing prisoners. But in 1996, after reports about inhumane conditions at Pelican Bay made the Wilson Administration uncomfortable, the department used “emergency” regulations to cut off the customary access, and over the years since then six bills passed by the legislature to restore it have been vetoed by Governors Davis and Schwarzenegger.
The latest effort, AB 1270 by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), has passed the Assembly and on Tuesday cleared the Senate’s policy hurdle, the Public Safety Committee, on a 4-2 vote. It now goes to the Senate Appropriations Committee for cost impact vetting, and if passed there it would go to its last vote on the Senate floor.
A report by a clearly partial organization (the press did not cover the hearing) nonethless conveys how the support base for media access to prisons has grown far beyond mere media urging. The main questions remaining: Will Governor Brown provide the seventh disingenuous veto message in the series? And if he signes the bill, how many reporters do the shrinking newspapers have left to take advantage of the restored right to interview?
A whistleblower is an insider who wants to right a wrong and usually tries going up the chain of command to do it before going public, which is often the only option when his or her career suffers. A leaker is an insider who wants to get political attention to a situation—to generate either praise or criticism for a policy or practice—by using a reporter as a publicity outlet, almost always without career risk. Justice often depends on whistleblowers; politics often depends on leaks. We should not forget these distinctions, says David Sirota in Salon.