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Donna Frye, who heads new San Diego Mayor Bob Filner’s open government department, thinks the city should release two investigative reports into the conduct of Auditor Eduardo Luna and his top deputy, Chris Constantin.
But her position hasn’t moved the needle at all.
The mayor doesn’t have authority over the city’s Audit Committee, which has not made the reports public though they’ve been completed for three months. Nor does he control the city attorney’s office, which argues the reports should be kept secret until the committee takes action. That action isn’t expected to happen until the end of March.
So Frye said her hands are tied even though she agrees with two public records experts who contend that the reports should be released immediately.
“When you have departments that are not under the mayor, I’m not sure we can compel them to do that,” Frye said.
The situation provides an early window into the role and limits of Filner’s open government office.
Filner hired Frye, a former city councilwoman and longtime public records advocate, to lead a new department designed to boost access to city information. But as the auditor investigations show, Frye’s belief that certain information should be public isn’t necessarily enough to compel any action. It also doesn’t mean that Frye or Filner will always use the bully pulpit of the mayor’s office to push to release every record.
“It’s not that there’s not an interest,” Frye said. “It’s just there’s a hundred other things going on that take precedence over getting in a fight with the city attorney over the disclosure of two documents that the city auditor hasn’t even seen.”
Intervening in public records disputes, Frye said, is just part of her department’s role. The mayor’s office plans to roll out various initiatives to improve the city’s overall transparency soon, she said, in keeping with the numerous open government promises Filner made on the campaign trail.
At this point, it’s unclear how future public records’ disputes might work out, even when Filner has more direct influence. Under the strong mayor form of government, Filner has authority over the entire city bureaucracy. Frye wouldn’t speculate on what might occur if the mayor and city attorney disagree about disclosing public records related to departments under Filner’s control.
“How will that be resolved?” she said. “I guess we’ll just stay tuned.”
Liam Dillon is a news reporter for Voice of San Diego. He covers how regular people interact with local government. What should he write about next?
Please contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 619.550.5663.
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