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Old 06-17-2013, 11:23 PM
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Ayatollahgondola Ayatollahgondola is offline
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Default SB71 The "Run Silent - Run Deep" Bill

Legislature Grants Local Agencies New Option On Public Records - "Run Silent - Run Deep"

Hidden in a budget trailer bill during frantic legislation to pass a budget before the deadline, was a change to the California public records act. The addition wasn't a lengthy one as so many usually are in budget bills, but it is enough to allow any local agency the option to dismiss a request to obtain public records. They don't have that option at present, so they are required to produce the requested records within x amount of days, or give the citizen doing the requesting one of several listed exclusions for witholding or denying those records, at which point said citizen requestor my sue before a judge to prove the records were withheld unjustly. Inserted in SB71 was a few sentences that will remove any timelines to produce records, which is already bad enough given the bureaucracy's well-noted propensity to foot-drag, but additional wording also removes the requirement that they even notify you that your request was denied. That's right; if this bill is signed by the governor, any requests for public records can go into a file on someone's desk, or a desk where no one sits, and languish there until you either sue them, or give up.

Now I am painfully aware that the majority of citizens aren't enthused about public records. After all, the PRA doesn't have a team with uniforms that plays in superdomes, nor does it send stars to compete on American Idol. Public records...Sounds like data entry at an accountants office...right? The fact is though, public records have been at the core of many revelations of government doing evil and private entities stealing from the public. A recent example would be the discovery that the mayor of a small California city was earning $800,000 per year salary. That's pretty close to a million bucks a year,....for a mayor. Who knew. Well, that's the point. Someone knew, but couldn't talk. So a news agency went in with a public records request. Under the current law, the mayor had to come clean and cough up the payroll records. If the governor sign SB71, the next million dollar mayor can file that request under a cement slab somehwere, and collect his pay until someone goes before a judge and asks for a writ of mandamus. That could take a year, given the legislature's deprivation of funding for the courts.

OK, so a little town in southern Cal, overrun with illegals is getting shafted by a corrupt mayor; what else is new, and how does this affect me? Well, you see, the change applies to all "local agencies". A local agency is every government function that is not a state office. That means, your city, your county, your water and sewer department, your garbage, gas and electric company, the schools, the air quality board, the transit authority, and here's a biggee for you...the police or any other gun carrying, arrest making, ticket writing, or child protective authority. That's right; the police can stop disclosing information to the public until they're sued for that specific record. Those crime reports they issue? No way to verify them without a lawyer. Likewise, you don't get to know how much the school district your kids go to spends, and on what, unless you sue. This what it will come to.

The legislature has intentionally included this in another of their "budget trailer bills", that gets no public hearings, nor any real scrutiny. The local agencies mostly considered the Public Records Act an unfunded mandate, and being allowed to turn their backs on requests in totality is not just a bone being thrown their way, but damn near an order by the state's highest authority to take the 5th on any citizen's questions regarding open government. In addition, they have included another relief for bureaucrats by allowing them to produce electronic records in any format they desire, as opposed to that which it is already in. So basically if it's in a searchable database easily uploadable, they can reduce it to a stone age, readable only electronic format that might take months for the requestor to re-organize into a useful file. Records of this type also cost more to obtain, and because the agencies can charge copy fees that will price the average citizen right out of the informed class.

This is why I refer to this as the "Run Silent - Run Deep" order. The politicians are telling the locals to bury the paper deep, and don't respond to the people's "pinging" for information. The legislature is appeasing their subordinates in local agencies who have been complaining the the citizenry is getting too nosy, and too costly to keep informed, and the state doesn't have to worry about carving some millions from the portion of the budget that they have allocated to spend on welfare for anchor babies, or free tuition for DREAM Act students. Both get an added bonus of having less controversial or scandalous stories appearing throughout the state alleging corruption, bribery, and malfeasance that cast politicians and bureaucrats alike in a negative light.

And speaking of light, you could also call this portion of SB71 the "Sunshine Go A-way Today" bill.
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