That city council members may conceal their communications on public issues by sending and receiving them on their private devices from private accounts.
This issue is currently under review by the Supreme Court of California in City of San Jose v. Superior Court, S218066, this is as a result of a petition filed with the court on May 7, 2014.
(Download Pending Issues: Civil)
Despite this review of several earlier court decisions, one pro and one con for making communications from personal devices and accounts public records.
Cities do have an option.
A key section of Public Records Act itself, which explicitly provides (Government Code section 6253 (e)): “Except as otherwise prohibited by law, a state or local agency may adopt requirements for itself that allow for faster, more efficient, or greater access to records than prescribed by the minimum standards set forth in this chapter.”
City Councils could enable digital transparency locally regardless of what the Supreme Court or Sacramento lawmakers do or don’t do.
California’s get a D- in public access to government finances and information, or government transparency, this reflects the difficulty citizens, journalists, and watchdog organizations have holding their officials accountable. The cost of gaining access to public documents, including often lengthy delays, presents roadblocks to independent oversight of government activities.
It is time to ask that city leaders update and strengthen public records systems to make them more accessible. Public records requests in some instances reveal corruption.
Two reporters demanded by threat of a lawsuit that the officials hand over accurate financial records. With these records in-hand, the reporters soon brought the corruption to light. The city officials were stopped, indicted, and convicted.
The corruption could have emerged sooner had the public demanded accurate records earlier. If the city’s financials were more transparent, then the problem may have never occurred in the first place. Transparency deters officials from committing corruption because the public will hold them accountable.
The City of Bell, California in 2010
The First Amendment Coalition has prepared a simple model policy to address this issue.
1. All agency staff, when communicating by email on agency business, must use the agency’s email system and server OR copy such emails to an address on the agency server.
2. All email on the agency’s email server will be preserved for a minimum of TWO years.
3. The storage of emails on an agency server does not affect their status under the California Public Records Act (CPRA). When responding to a CPRA request for emails, the agency may consider the applicability of any relevant CPRA exemption.
Please e-mail you City Council person, using there official city e-mail account and implore them to adopt the three recommendations above.
The official e-mail addresses for the Wildomar City Council can be found at: http://www.cityofwildomar.org/city-council.asp