California’s public records law needs teeth

In an op-ed for the Orange County Register I discuss the need for a penalty provision to be added to California’s Public Records Act.

San Diego Unified is notorious for its continued and blatant violations of the state’s public records law. While the law mandates records be disclosed in a “prompt” fashion, the school routinely delays in unjustifiable and illegal ways. Take our request for salary data, for example.

On June 12 at 6 p.m. the school e-mailed their official determination stating it would take approximately 12 weeks to provide the records requested. When the single responsive file was ultimately provided, it was marked as being created and last modified on June 6 at 8 a.m. and was even named “Transparent CA 60617”!

An inquiry asking if it was normal policy for the school to delay production of readily available, existing records for nearly three months went unanswered.

Of course, the fact that SDU is never held accountable for its blatant violation of the law explains why it is so comfortable doing so.

My solution:

Naturally, there’s an easy fix to this problem and it’s one the Legislature uniformly employs when it issues mandates for private citizens — include penalties for those who violate the law.

In North Carolina, government employees who knowingly violate the state’s public records law can be held personally liable for the requester’s legal fees — which ensures that all residents receive the fully transparent and accountable government promised to them under state law.

The California Legislature should adopt a similar provision here.

Be sure to read the full commentary here.