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I’ve spent the last two-and-a-half months waiting to obtain e-mails sent by the city officials working on Mayor Jerry Sanders’ water-cuts plan.

I wanted to know what city officials were saying behind the scenes about the Irvine Ranch Water District’s approach to water cuts — a plan they admitted had worked, but then dismissed using erroneous information.

It’s been a lengthy process. Darren Pudgil, the mayor’s spokesman, promised the e-mails by the end of May, but they weren’t ready for pickup until Friday — almost two weeks late.

I’d been waiting for the city’s legal review of the e-mails. State law allows the city to review the records to determine which are public and which are exempt from disclosure.

So when I got the records today, I e-mailed Pudgil and Ray Palmucci, the deputy city attorney working on the request, to ask how many had been redacted or withheld, and what the city’s legal reasoning was. They’re required by state law to tell me. And theoretically, they should know, because they’ve reviewed the records already.

But they won’t yet tell me how many e-mails they kept secret — or why they did. Palmucci e-mailed me and said I’d get a letter explaining the reasons and the number of withheld records within 10 days.

State law requires a public agency to include that information in writing when it responds to a request, not 10 days later.

I asked Terry Francke, general counsel for Californians Aware, a state open-records watchdog, about the city’s procedure and the 10-day wait.

Francke said he’d never heard anything like it. He said he’d dealt with plenty of other complaints about public agencies and their records management — redacting too much, taking too long, being unresponsive. But he said he hadn’t encountered an agency that didn’t immediately justify its reasons for withholding certain records when it produced the rest in response to a request.

“It is backward,” Francke said. “They almost by definition have gone through the totality of what you requested and excluded some. If they had their wits about them, they’d write down why they’re excluding some. Somebody at the other end is kind of a dim bulb. It is surprising.”

I followed up with Palmucci, the deputy city attorney, who said he would make an effort to produce the information as quickly as possible. He said the 10-day window is the city’s standard response time for public records inquiries.


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