Sunday, June 23, 2013

A Win for Open Government

There was a brief debacle in Sacramento this week which was fortuately corrected due to outcry across the state of California.

The California Public Records Act (CPRA) requires local agencies to provide the public access to documents and records.  This is a critical piece of legislation that protects our right to know what our government is doing.  It is one of the single most important tools investigative journalists use to uncover what is and isn't working in local and state government.  (As a simple example, on the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, the misdeeds of George Shirakawa were unearthed by comparing his campaign records and his expense reports with the County.    Those expense reports can be obtained via CPRA request).

I said that there was a debacle that was corrected.  Someone got the clever idea to attach a trailer bill to the budget that would have removed the enforcement provisions from the CPRA.  It would have effectively turnedd fixed requirements (like the requirement for the agency to respond within 10 days) into "best practices", but there would be no enforcement teeth.  I watched with great interest, then, as this provision was surfaced, and 48 hours later, there was legislation to repeal it.

I've been on both ends of CPRA requests- both sending and receiving.  It's an important tool, and my general thinking is that it shouldn't require the threat of enforcement to have agencies comply.  After all, we're spending the public's money, and managing their assets.  Explaining what we're doing seems like it would come with the job.

I'm not sure what drives people to even try something like this.  Open access to government informaiton is a basic requirement of democracy.  I'm thrilled that so many people spoke up so quickly and made it so abundantly clear that we wouldn't stand for this.

Note:  Updated 6/24/11 to correct George Shirakawa's position.  He was on the County Board of Supervisors, not the Water Board.