SUPREME COURT STRONGLY AFFIRMS PUBLIC RECORDS ACT, SAYS PRIVATE EMAILS AND TEXTS OF CITY OFFICIALS INCLUDED
Today the California Supreme Court issued a very important opinion strongly affirming the vital role of public records requests in holding public officials accountable. The Court unanimously found that documents relating to the conduct of the public’s business are public records even if the city councilmember or other official or employee uses their personal email or text account.
“Hopefully, this forceful opinion from the Supreme Court will result in meaningful changes in Santa Monica,” said Diana Gordon, Co-Chair of SMCLC. “This Opinion should be a wake-up call to City Hall. The City must do much better and stop treating public records requests as at best an annoyance, at worst a challenge to their right to govern without public interference or scrutiny. Rather, City Hall should welcome them as “essential” to a transparent and accountable democracy.”
The Supreme Court held:
“It is no answer to say…that we must presume public officials conduct official business in the public’s best interest. The Constitution neither creates nor requires such an optimistic presumption. Indeed, the rationale behind the [Public Records] Act is that it is for the public to make that determination based on information to which it is entitled under the law. Open access to government records is essential to verify that government officials are acting responsibly and held accountable to the public they serve.” City of San Jose v. Superior Court (Smith)
SMCLC has regularly used public records requests to uncover malfeasance, misdeeds and favoritism to developers in Santa Monica government. However, it has too often been met with hostility, delay and incomplete document productions from the City. It took SMCLC a year to finally get the underlying documents that uncovered the illegal Elizabeth Riel firing because the City denied they existed.
“We call on the City to: First, immediately maintain all public records using private accounts. Second, set up procedures for their inclusion in public records reviews and production. Third, stop short-changing public records requests and provide adequate staff to meet this Constitutional obligation so that long delays are eliminated. Fourth, get its house in order and preserve texts and all electronic forms of communication as required by the law.”
SMCLC will be following up with the City to see that these and other corrections are promptly carried out.