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.