Three most egregious public-record deniers of 2014

In 2014, the staff of Transparent California submitted public records requests to thousands of California public agencies. While the vast majority complied with the law, several are currently violating state law and refusing to comply. Here are three of the most egregious cases.

Agency #1: Antelope Valley Hospital in Lancaster

The California Public Records Act (CPRA) mandates a determination within ten days of a request’s receipt stating whether or not the requested records are available, a timeline as to when they will be provided by, etc. In extraordinary cases the agency is permitted to extend this period by an additional 14 days. On December 18, 2013, AVH stated that our request had been received but additional time would be needed to review our request.

Over the next 6 months, AVH only responded once more, on February 3, 2014, stating that a “a firm answer/information [would arrive] tomorrow.” That answer never came, and after several additional follow ups went ignored, we retained legal counsel to assist us in eliciting a response. Counsel contacted AVH on June 13, 2014 which elicited an unprecedented same-day response from AVH in which they stated that the information would be provided by June 17, 2014. To date, AVH has failed to provide the requested information.

Agency #2: City of Taft, southwest of Bakersfield

Cal. Govt. Code 6253.9(a) states that: “An agency shall provide information in any electronic format in which it is held.” Despite this remarkably clear mandate, the City of Taft refuses to provide the requested information in its original, electronic format. Instead, the City printed out a report with all the information we requested, and then scanned that hardcopy version in response to our request.

After multiple e-mails pointing this out to the City, they stated that “the record that you are requesting in and of itself does not exist in electronic form and therefore we will be unable to provide it.” We reiterated our objection to this, at which point the City Attorney chimed in. The attorney went even further than denying the report existed in electronic format, and now claimed it simply did not exist at all: “First, it should be noted that you are asking for a document that does not exist.”

We replied to the attorney advising him that the document we are requesting does in fact exist, and referenced the scanned report the City provided to us previously as evidence of this. We once again asked for the City to send it in its original, electronic format. The City has refused to do so.

Agency #3: City of Pomona, fifth largest city in LA County

The City of Pomona had previously complied with our requests for 2011 and 2012 information without issue. For 2013’s request, however, Pomona decided to join the City of Taft in refusing to comply with Cal. Govt. Code 6253.9(a). Whereas Taft claims the report they printed out and scanned doesn’t exist in electronic format (or at all, according to their attorney) Pomona’s rationale for violating state law was something we had never seen before. Their deputy city attorney stated that they would no longer be able to provide this information in electronic format because doing so would not “ensure that redacted information remains secure.” We immediately informed the City that there is nothing about an electronic format that would somehow allow for deleted (redacted) information to be discovered, but the City refused to provide any further response.

Pension Systems Embrace Transparency

The above exceptions notwithstanding, 2014 was a banner year for transparency in California. A record 2,240 agencies complied with our request in a timely fashion and dozens of agencies who previously resisted last year’s request finally came around. One area that made remarkable strides in just the past two years was the public pension systems. With the exception of the notorious Los Angeles Department of Water & Power, every pension system in the LA area went above and beyond in accommodating our request. Staff at the Los Angeles City Employees Retirement System, Los Angeles County Employees Retirement Association, and Los Angeles Fire and Police Pension Plans all should be commended for their willingness to embrace transparency and go above and beyond in meeting their obligations under the CPRA.

The good news wasn’t limited to just the Los Angeles area, however. Officials with the Orange County Employees Retirement System (OCERS) worked with Transparent California to accommodate our request and make this information public for the first time ever. Finally, the San Bernardino County pension (SBCERA) reviewed our request extensively and we are happy to announce that they will be fulfilling our requests for 2014 data and beyond.

And although it may take them a bit longer than most, both CalPERS and CalSTRS have worked diligently to consistently fulfill our requests.

Here’s hoping the remaining holdouts stop breaking the law and embrace transparency in 2015 and beyond.