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The California Public Records Act insures the people’s right to access information held by public agencies. In the past year, accessing pertinent emails, documents, and contracts was critical to understanding what was transpiring at Southwestern College and in the City of Chula Vista. Recently, however, a number of people making public-record requests from South Bay agencies have complained they have received sparse, unresponsive documents.

Could it be that some public officials are skirting their responsibility to make information available by using private email or text-message accounts to conduct public business? Behind-the-scenes South Bay Power Plant negotiations inadvertently raised this question. Former port commissioner Stephen Padilla shared some of the negotiation emails. They revealed that councilmember Pamela Bensoussan, one of the negotiators, wrote and received messages on her personal "cox.net" email address.

At the March 22 Chula Vista City Council meeting, civic activist Peter Watry said that his public record request from the City during the power-plant negotiating period yielded only six emails between Bensoussan and Padilla, none of them from Bensoussan’s "cox.net" address.

One of Chula Vista’s attorneys, Bart Miesfeld, says that the City advises staff and council members that if they’re doing work on a home computer, the work belongs to the City. He says when public record requests come in, the City does try to capture any work that has not been done on City email.

Bensoussan did not respond to a request for comment.

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Comments

ElProfeLoco March 25, 2011 @ 8:06 p.m.

Thankfully the CV City Council ignored Mayor Cox' last minute (unsuccessful) weak but lengthy attempts to justify her pre-emption of the Port of San Diego (and her unsuccessful attempts to place blame on the Port).

Council voted unanimously to cease any and all direct discussion with Dynergy unless the Port cooperates and approves. (Cox had not bothered to pick up the phone or drive 15 minutes north to coordinate, or at least inform, the Port during the 6 months she, Bensoussan and David Malcolm were making fools of themselves with Dynergy).

Ms. Bensoussan, appropriately seated to Cox' immediate left, seemed speechless given the amount of testimony and evidence that clearly indicated she was one of the instigators, and/or message-bearer, for the huge waste of Chula Vista time and taxpayer money on the SB Power Plant/Dynergy fiasco. Mayor Cox was clearly implicated also - but didn't leave and email/paper trail, unlike Bensoussan. ("What were they thinking?"; Answer: they weren't doing much thinking, but were too busy maneuvering and manipulating).

Ms. Bensoussan, if she has any sense (not heretofore evident) would not run for re-election to Council. Cheryl Cox might consider a Palin-like move and remove herself from her current office, well before her term ends. The Cox-Bensoussan Dyamic Duo should slink away quietly - but they probably won't.

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VigilantinCV March 25, 2011 @ 11:08 p.m.

Pamela Bensoussan was babbling like a brook about how fast moving the Dynegy situation was citing Blackstone, Carl Icahn, and Seneca. Wonder who was feeding her this line - all the time urgently pressing for the city to assume the responsibility for demolition? Truth is, nothing has changed at Dynegy yet. No hedge fund has taken over nor have they filed for bankruptcy.

In the end she was whimpering that she was sick of this and didn't want to look back. That was probably the smartest thing she said since she has to start campaigning for reelection in a few short months. She is surely realizing this is not playing well in Chula Vista.

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Susan Luzzaro March 26, 2011 @ 8:12 a.m.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/peter-scheer/government-uses-commercia_b_265809.html

Here is a useful article by Peter Scheer of the First Amendment Group about the use of government bodies and private email accounts.

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Susan Luzzaro March 26, 2011 @ 8:15 a.m.

Sheer makes these simple suggestions to make all record requests more retrievable.

1) Agencies and local governments should set up one email account with gobs of storage capacity. To keep it simple and inexpensive, a corporate account (offering extra security) with Google or Yahoo will suffice.

2) Agencies’ .gov email accounts, by default, should “bcc” all emails to the government database account.

3) All government employees should be instructed that, when using their own commercial email account for government matters, they must “bcc” their business messages to the database account (and forward incoming business email there too). Basically, any email that is not strictly personal should be copied to the online storage account.

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ElProfeLoco March 26, 2011 @ 9:59 a.m.

Bensoussan, Mayor Cox and Laura Hunter all made comments about "moving forward" and to "not look back". Of course! None of them want to be held accountable to the public for the 6+ months of chicanery and under-handed back room maneuvering that wasted between $140K to $200K+ of tax payer money. (That money could have funded the Norman Senior Center which is in danger of being drastically cut back).

Let us the public look back and take steps (via Council action and regulation) to ensure that nothing like this Power Plant/Dyergy/CV fiasco happens ever again.

Lessons learned and needing correction in the future: 1) need tighter approval, accounting and reporting of City money spent; 2) need more rapid and complete City responses to citizen information and records request; 3) need requirements to officially consult, inform, and cooperate with other related agencies (e.g. the Port; the current Council resolution re Dynergy needs to be codified for future situations); 4) need constraints on Mayor and Council as to meetings, actions, negotiations with outside agencies and entities; and 5) need investigation by FEPC and others regarding possible Brown Act or other violations by Cox and Bensoussan.

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cvres March 26, 2011 @ 3:02 p.m.

4) need constraints on Mayor and Council as to meetings, actions, negotiations with outside agencies and entities; and

This seems like a good idea--maybe it needs to include the city attorney given last week's story about meeting with some company who wanted to demo the plant--a bit premature.

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cvres March 27, 2011 @ 9:54 a.m.

It's funny how so many people in Chula Vista were elected with the platform of transparency and open government.

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