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Readers have a lot of their own ideas about how to bolster the California Public Records Act.

Their overarching concern is with how officials respond to requests made under the CPRA. The law is supposed to afford citizens prompt access to government information so long as no legal exemption applies, but agencies often delay the process.

Interim Mayor Todd Gloria and Councilman Kevin Faulconer have pledged to clear up the backlog of public records requests that Mayor Bob Filner’s administration left in its wake, according to U-T San Diego. They have also said the process will be more transparent going forward.

Ben Katz offered a way to make the process of responding to CPRA requests more transparent in a comment:

Both requests for records and responses should be handled through a publicly visible portal (with date/time stamps), so that we all can see how responsive our government is being, derive general benefit from anything that has been already released, and monitor for inconsistent/discriminatory releases of information.

That piggybacks on the idea of a presumption of openness. Even without the phrase being written into the CPRA, local governments could still put it into practice.  A website that tracks how agencies respond to public-records requests would make the process open to all taxpayers, not just reporters.

Joe LaCava, who chairs an umbrella committee for all of San Diego’s planning groups, made an important related point. Government agencies should maintain their records in a way that allows them to respond quickly and efficiently to public-records requests:

@joelchoffmann @KPBSMidday Corresp, records, docs shud be formatted for quick access/search/sort when PRA comes in. Then convert legacy.

— Joe LaCava (@joe_lacava) August 30, 2013

When public officials know that citizens are monitoring their responses to public-records requests, they have a greater incentive to plan ahead and get organized.

A culture of openness can deter bad behavior. But as Andy Donohue pointed out, the CPRA could use a stronger set of teeth to ensure officials comply with the law:

@joelchoffmann My add for your post: Real punishment for failure to comply. AG lawsuits, fines. Now, it’s toothless.

— Andy Donohue (@add) August 28, 2013

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Joel Hoffmann

Joel Hoffmann was formerly an investigative reporter for Voice of San Diego, focusing on county government, the San Diego Unified School District and the...

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