Public records lawsuit filed against Los Angeles government

Today, the Nevada Policy Research Institute (NPRI) filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles County Superior Court against the Los Angeles County West Vector Control District for refusing to comply with the California Public Records Act (CPRA).

The lawsuit stems from NPRI’s work on its TransparentCalifornia.com website — which publishes pay data for approximately 2.5 million California public employees from nearly 2,500 unique government agencies.

The District describes itself as “the second largest vector control district in the state of California by population served.” Vector control districts are also known as mosquito abatement districts which, as their name implies, are focused on preventing and controlling the spread of mosquitos and the diseases they carry. Residents fund these public agencies through an annual fee included on their property tax bill.

The District is one of 45 mosquito abatement districts statewide, according to data provided to Transparent California by the California State Controller’s Office.

Of the 15 mosquito abatement districts with the largest payroll statewide, the Los Angeles County West Vector Control District is the only one that has refused to comply with Transparent California’s request for basic salary data:

Transparent California first submitted a request for District employee names and wages in June 2014. After the District ignored the initial request — and every subsequent request — Transparent California submitted a renewed request via fax, e-mail and certified mail to the District on September 19, 2017.  The request explicitly stated that Transparent California would be forced to resort to legal action if the District did not respond within ten days, as required by state law.

Despite returning the certified mail receipt indicating the request was successfully received on September 21, 2017, the District has so far failed to provide a response of any kind.

Transparent California research director Robert Fellner issued the following statement:

“The California Public Records Act requires that public records be disclosed in a prompt fashion, but this mandate is useless if governments can choose to ignore it with impunity. As a public agency funded by tax dollars, the Los Angeles County West Vector Control District has an obligation to be transparent and accountable to the public it was created to serve.”

The District’s willingness to so blatantly violate state law is an example of why the CPRA needs harsher penalties, Fellner added.

“In order for the governmental transparency promised to Californians to be fully realized, the Legislature must add real penalties for government actors who knowingly and willfully violate the state’s public records law.”

The lawsuit asks the court to compel the Los Angeles County West Vector Control District to comply with the CPRA and provide a copy of records documenting district employees’ name and salary information so that it may be published online at TransparentCalifornia.com.

TransparentCalifornia.com is used by millions of Californians each year and has received praise from elected officials, government employees, the media and concerned citizens alike for its ability to successfully improve transparency in government.

For more information, please contact Robert Fellner at 559-462-0122 or Robert@TransparentCalifornia.com.

Transparent California is California’s largest and most comprehensive database of public sector compensation and is a project of the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a nonpartisan, free-market think tank. Learn more at TransparentCalifornia.com.

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California statewide ‘$100k club’ stands at 62,474

Transparent California is pleased to announce that we have now received the most current pension payout data from virtually all of California’s pension funds.

As an update to our previous release that found that there were at least 52,963 retirees who collected pensions of at least $100,000 last year, that number now stands at 62,474. This page will be updated when the few very small remaining funds report their 2016 data, but we don’t expect this number to change significantly.

Pension Fund # of $100k+ Pensions
CalPERS 22,826
CalSTRS 12,133
Los Angeles County Pension 6,687
University of California 5,315
SFERS (San Francisco Employees Retirement System) 2,665
Orange County Employees Retirement System (OCERS) 1,287
Los Angeles Fire and Police Employees’ Pension 1,195
Contra Costa County Pension 968
San Diego City Employees’ Retirement System 963
Alameda County Pension 831
San Jose Police and Fire Retirement Plan 823
LACERS (Los Angeles City Pension System) 778
San Bernardino County Employees Retirement Association (SBCERA) 770
San Diego County Employees’ Retirement Association (SDCERA) 750
Los Angeles Water and Power Employees’ Retirement Plan 714
Sacramento County Employees’ Retirement system (SCERS) 633
Ventura County Pension 512
Kern County Pension 386
Santa Barbara County Pension 284
San Mateo County Pension 279
San Joaquin County Pension 264
Marin County Employees’ Retirement Association 253
Fresno County Pension 192
Sonoma County Pension 156
East Bay Municipal Utility District Retirement System 153
San Jose Federated City Employees’ Retirement System 132
City of Fresno Fire and Police Retirement System 103
Stanislaus County Pension 86
San Luis Obispo County Pension Trust 77
Merced County Employees’ Retirement Association 66
Imperial County Employees Retirement System 44
Tulare County Employees’ Retirement Association 39
Oakland Fire and Police Retirement System 37
City of Fresno Employees’ Retirement System 18
Mendocino County Employees’ Retirement Association 17
Modesto Irrigation District Basic Retirement Plan 17
Long Beach Public Transportation Company Contract Employees’ Retirement Plan 6
Sacramento Regional Transit District Employees’ Retirement Plan 6
Turlock Irrigation District Pension Plan 5
Long Beach Public Transportation Company Salaried Employees’ Retirement Plan 3
Golden Gate Transit District Amalgamated Retirement Plan 1
Total: 62,474

Be sure to visit TransparentCalifornia.com to see the complete payout reports for all of the pension systems referenced above.

Taft complies, two more suits filed

After years of refusing to provide an accounting of city workers’ names and salaries, Taft fully complied with our request just a day after our lawsuit was filed. 

For more about the nature of that dispute, be sure to check out the fantastic media coverage from Bakersfieldnow.com. And to view the pay data itself, head on over to TransparentCalifornia.com.

Unfortunately, two more lawsuits were filed last week against non-compliant agencies: The Fresno Council of Governments and the City of Hanford.

I suppose when you are requesting data from over 2,500 unique agencies there are going to be a few that play hardball!

You can learn more about those cases by checking out the media coverage below:

ABC30 Fresno Action News

Fresno Council of Governments sued for violating state’s public records law

Update: On September 29, 2017 the Fresno Council of Governments complied with our request and agreed to pay our attorney’s fees. Their data can be found here.


Today, the Nevada Policy Research Institute (NPRI) filed a lawsuit in Fresno County Superior Court against the Fresno Council of Governments for refusing to comply with the California Public Records Act (CPRA).

The lawsuit stems from NPRI’s work on its TransparentCalifornia.com website — which publishes the pay and pension data of nearly 2.5 million California public employees from over 2,000 unique government agencies.

The Council denied Transparent California’s request for records documenting the names and wages of its employees on the grounds that such information is confidential.

The Council’s rationale for withholding the requested public records contradicts longstanding California law, dating back to a 1955 official Attorney General Opinion that held that “the name of every public officer and employee, as well as the amount of his salary, is a matter of public record,” and a 2007 state Supreme Court case which codified that same finding.

Thus, the Council has unlawfully denied a request to access public records, according to Transparent California research director Robert Fellner.

“The California Public Records Act is emphatic in its purpose to make public all records concerning governmental affairs. The Fresno Council of Governments’ refusal to provide an accounting of their employees’ names and taxpayer-funded salaries is a clear violation of the law.”

The Council is designated by the state as a transportation planning agency and is comprised of 15 Fresno-area cities and the County of Fresno. The California State Controller’s Office reports that there are 11 “Council of Governments” agencies statewide. Transparent California has received the requested information from every one but Fresno:

Transparent California’s repeated attempts to inform the Council of their obligations under the law and elicit a lawful response went unheeded, leaving litigation as the only avenue available to access the public information sought.

The lawsuit asks the Court to compel the Fresno Council of Governments to comply with the CPRA and provide a copy of records documenting their employees’ name and salary information so that it may be published online at TransparentCalifornia.com.

TransparentCalifornia.com is used by millions of Californians each year and has received praise for its ability to successfully improve transparency in government by elected officials, government employees, the media, and concerned citizens alike.

For more information, please contact Robert Fellner at 559-462-0122 or Robert@TransparentCalifornia.com.

Transparent California is California’s largest and most comprehensive database of public sector compensation and is a project of the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a nonpartisan, free-market think tank. Learn more at TransparentCalifornia.com.

 

California labor union influence kills public records bill

Well, my earlier op-ed arguing that California needs to put some heat in its sunshine law went spectacularly unheeded, with the bill being gutted entirely last week!

In an exclusive op-ed for the San Diego Union-Tribune, I explore how this modest bill designed to improve governmental transparency was killed:

Sadly, this is how the California Legislature works these days. Neither the overwhelming public support for governmental transparency nor the fact that 99 percent of Assembly members voted to make AB1479 law was enough to overcome the union veto.

Be sure to read the full piece by visiting the San Diego Union-Tribune website or picking up a copy of tomorrow’s paper!

 

California needs to put some heat in its sunshine law

In an exclusive op-ed for The Modesto Bee I discuss the importance of adding penalties to California’s Public Records Act. A slice:

When a government denies access to public records in violation of the CPRA, those requesting the information have only two choices: give up or sue.

Suing can take months and be very expensive. So, many simply give up.

As a result, some governments have become accustomed to violating the law in especially indefensible ways.

Another way agencies obstruct access is by charging excessive “production fees.”

That’s what happened in our recent request from the Southern Kern Unified School District. The district’s official response alleged that providing the requested records would take 35 hours of staff time, and thus demanded payment of a $1,150 programming fee before they would proceed.

The letter closed by directing all questions to the district’s legal counsel, Bill Hornback, suggesting this determination was made in consultation with an attorney.

We often hear from residents who get similar responses and feel they have no recourse and give up.

When the average citizen gets a letter from the government or its attorneys claiming something as fact, how many are comfortable disputing the claim?

Unable to fork over the hundreds or even thousands of dollars, those citizens are simply denied access to the information they are entitled to have.

Because Southern Kern Unified uses identical payroll software to a neighboring school district — who attested the information could be provided in under 5 minutes at no charge — we knew their $1,150 programming fee was bogus.

Despite telling Southern Kern this, no substantive response was provided until we finally threatened legal action three weeks later — at which point the information was provided in just a few hours at no cost.

Be sure to read the whole thing by clicking here!