Last week, Sacramento was besieged by emails and phone calls about the budget trailer bill that would have made the California Public Records Act “optional.” By June 20, the assembly, the house, and the governor reversed their positions and the act will emerge intact.
Nick Sauer, the attorney who assists the Reader in obtaining public records, said of the Sacramento maneuvering, “You see how surreptitiously the government did this, by attaching CPRA changes to the budget. It shows how fragile our rights are — how fragile democracy is.”
Even with the Public Records Act in place, Sauer says it’s increasingly difficult to get agencies to respond. “They delay, and you have to keep on them. They can play the waiting game with you. People are reluctant to go to court. More and more agencies are becoming like big gorillas; they do what they want to do.”
Maty Adato said lawmakers really got the message on the California Public Records Act. “But do they not get it that we [the public] have to fight all the time for the little information that we get?”
Adato was one of five community advocates in June 2011 who took corruption complaints about Sweetwater Union High School District to the San Diego district attorney’s office. There are currently 15 school officials, administrators, and vendor/contractors indicted for corruption charges in three school districts.
For Adato, the quest for a district free from corruption is not over and the issue of Sweetwater’s compliance with the Public Records Act is still critical. Adato currently is waiting on a record request she believes holds information the public needs and has been unnecessarily delayed.
On May 17, three Sweetwater trustees (James Cartmill, John McCann, Arlie Ricasa) voted to pass a memorandum of understanding with Alliant International University under circumstances questioned by many.
The district intends to house Alliant on the National City adult-school site.
Trustee Cartmill told the public not to fret about the memorandum of understanding, it was not a contract, that it was just an MOU, and that certainly there would be a public hearing on the issue. But even before trustees or the public were aware of the potential agreement, the district had posted an advertisement for the conjoined schools on YouTube.
The memorandum was never shared with the public.
Adato sought additional information. On May 16, she wrote:
“I would like to request a PRA for all expenses that the district has incurred for Alliant University to date, including but not limited to all staff time and attorney fees. I would also like to have projections of future expenses as well as a strategic plan for implementation and follow through. I am also requesting a copy of the MOU that was not given to the public…. Please include any present or future negotiated contracts for rent to be paid from Alliant to SUHSD.”
The Public Records Act allows ten days for the district to respond. After those ten days, “No notice shall specify a date that would result in an extension for more than 14 days.” In other words, citizens shouldn't have to wait longer than 24 days to get the records they request.
Adato received an email from district superintendent Ed Brand telling her she could not expect the information for a month and a half. He wrote: “Please be advised that since the school year is coming to an end, and with all the year-end activities such as graduations/promotions that staff is diligently working on, the documents that you requested will be provided to you no later than Friday, June 28, 2013.”
Adato questions why graduation activities would interfere with the work of the clerk of the board and why information so readily available…is not.