Santa Maria-Bonita School District sued for “deliberate, bad faith” violation of state’s public records law

Update: The agency provided us with the data in response to our lawsuit.

Santa Maria-Bonita school officials are unlawfully hiding information about how the school spends taxpayer dollars, according to a just-filed public records lawsuit.

Today, the Nevada Policy Research Institute (NPRI) filed a lawsuit in Santa Barbara County Superior Court against the Santa Maria-Bonita School District for refusing to comply with the California Public Records Act.

The lawsuit stems from NPRI’s work on its TransparentCalifornia.com website — which publishes the pay and pension data of over 2.2 million California public employees from nearly 2,500 unique government agencies.

Santa Maria-Bonita is the only school district in Santa Barbara County that has consistently refused to provide the basic name and salary information requested. The district’s refusal to do so is a clear violation of state law, according to Transparent California Executive Director Robert Fellner.

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

The lawsuit names Superintendent Luke Ontiveros and Assistant Superintendent for Business Services Matthew Beecher as defendants in the action in their official capacities. Mr. Beecher was identified as the person making the determination to deny the request, which was not only unlawful, but also made in bad faith, according to Fellner.

“After failing to provide a response in the timely manner required by law, Mr. Beecher finally replied by stringing together numerous boilerplate objections that had absolutely no bearing on the simple pay data requested,” Fellner said.

“Mr. Beecher’s deliberate and bad faith violation of the state’s public records law is evidenced by his citation to laws designed to protect civil grand jury documents from disclosure, and other ridiculously inapplicable statutes, as the basis for refusing to provide records identifying the names and salaries of district employees — something over 2,000 California governments have done without issue.”

The lawsuit asks the Court to compel the school district to comply with the CPRA by providing copies of records documenting district employees’ name and salary information. Once received, the information will be published online at TransparentCalifornia.com, alongside the data already received from every other school in Santa Barbara County.

Fellner believes Californians will never receive the full transparency promised to them under state law until the Legislature treats public officials the same as all other Californians and imposes a penalty on those who choose to break the law.

“Public officials like Mr. Beecher can thumb their nose at the state’s public records law because they face no penalty for their deliberate lawbreaking,” Fellner added. “So while ordinary Californians would face grave consequences if they refused to pay any of the taxes demanded of them, public officials can — in defiance of state law and a constitutional mandate — shroud their affairs from public view, without penalty.”

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

Transparent California will be continually updating the site with new, 2017 data from the remaining school districts in the coming weeks. Be sure to follow our Facebook and Twitter accounts, sign up for our mailing list, or subscribe to our blog in order to receive the latest updates.

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. The website is used by millions of Californians each year, including elected officials and lawmakers, government employees and their unions, government agencies themselves, university researchers, the media, and concerned citizens alike. Learn more at TransparentCalifornia.com.

Categories: 2019, Press Releases

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