Riverbank sued for violating California’s open records law

Feb 2021 Update: In response to our lawsuit, Riverbank provided the requested data and paid all of our legal costs. 

Today, the Nevada Policy Research Institute (NPRI) filed a lawsuit in Stanislaus County Superior Court against the City of Riverbank 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 2.8 million California public employees from over 2,500 unique government agencies.

Riverbank is the only city in Stanislaus County that is currently refusing to provide the basic name and salary information requested. The city’s refusal to do so is a clear violation of state law, according to Transparent California Executive Director Robert Fellner.

“While 99% of cities provide this information without issue, Riverbank simply refuses to recognize its obligations under the state’s open records law, which requires much more than merely providing copies of existing documents or reports.”

In response to Transparent California’s annual request for employee name and compensation data, Riverbank provided only a copy of the publicly available report sent to the State Controller’s Office, which contains most of the information requested, but not names.

The city repeatedly refused to provide any additional records beyond this existing report, claiming it possesses no records documenting the names and wages of its employees.

“It is absurd on its face to suggest that an agency with a $10 million budget has no way to identify the names and wages paid to its own employees,” Fellner said.

“Despite this patently false claim,” Fellner added, “we offered to accept partial records that would allow us to match the nameless compensation report to the respective employee.”

“Specifically,” Fellner continued, “we asked for any record that simply documented the names and job titles of city employees, but the city denied that request too, falsely claiming that no such records exist.

“It became clear the city was acting in bad faith, however, when after we demonstrated that such information does in fact exist, City Clerk Annabelle Aguilar then responded by demanding the payment of at least $175 to provide a copy of the employee directory, regardless of the actual cost required to produce such a basic record.”

The complaint filed today in Stanislaus County Superior Court alleges that the city violated state law because of its refusal to query and search electronic databases for records responsive to the purpose of the request, as well as for levying an improper and excessive production fee.

The complaint requests the court to enter a Declaratory Judgment holding that Riverbank “violated the California Public Records Act by (a) failing to promptly disclose records responsive to Petitioners requests, (b) failing to assist Petitioner in locating records responsive to the purpose of its request, and (c) levying an excessive and improper production fee that was not limited to the cost actually incurred.”

The lawsuit also asks the court to compel Riverbank to comply with the CPRA and provide a copy of records documenting city 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 and their unions, 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.

Categories: 2020, Press Releases

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