Sunshine Week, which just wrapped, is a good opportunity to shine some light on the importance of access to public records and the many ways in which that access is often stymied.
Yet I’m worried we’re as screwed as ever when it comes to public officials skirting their responsibilities to provide a window into what they’re doing and how they’re spending taxpayer money.
Just as people will always find new ways to cross the border no matter how many physical barriers we erect, some officials will always find new ways to shield their actions from the public. New technologies are enabling this more than ever.
For years, public officials ducked laws governing public records access by simply moving their communications to private accounts and devices. The California Supreme Court, in a landmark 2017 decision, busted that practice.
But it didn’t, of course, bust the underlying instinct.
In 2017, an independent investigation into SANDAG following our reporting on the agency included this bombshell: “Staff received directions to delete certain documents. The agency also created a separate server that was not searchable through records requests in hopes of keeping documents saved there from becoming public.”
We know that law enforcement officers across the country — including in Long Beach PD — have been communicating using self-deleting messaging apps like Tiger Text and Signal. Those apps “could be used to hide evidence useful to the other side in criminal and civil court cases,” as the Los Angeles Times noted.
And The Atlantic reported this week that teens are turning to Google Docs to chat during class, when they’re required to keep their phones off.
Something tells me it’s not just teens.
If you’re a public employee and have noticed your agency turning to servers, Google docs, Signal or other mechanisms that exist outside the scope of normal records requests, we’d sure love to hear about it.
What VOSD Learned This Week
#sorrynotsorry if you’re sick of hearing about public records: Before the quick death of SB 615, the City Council and the mayor both spoke out about why they opposed it. Meanwhile, a separate bill by Assemblyman Todd Gloria would clarify that public agencies must keep emails – just like they must keep all public records – for at least two years before deleting them.
It’s been more than a year since the hepatitis A outbreak, and in many ways, the homelessness situation in East Village has improved. But in other ways, it’s worse than ever.
President Donald Trump’s travel ban is having a devastating impact on a local Qualcomm engineer who petitioned to bring his parents to the U.S. from Iran. His mother was allowed to come, but his sick father’s visa is tangled up in the process – meaning he’s now alone with no one to care for him.
And speaking of immigration policies under Trump, here is a handy guide to your rights when crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.
What pols are up to: On the podcast, we talked to Councilman Chris Cate about SB 615 and the ongoing negotiations over the SDSU West deal.
Olga Diaz is off the VOSD board of directors and in the D3 supes race, but she’s got some competition.
What I’m Reading
- The college admissions scandal has produced many worthwhile takes on the inequalities plaguing our education system, as well as many hilarious dunks. I enjoyed this piece on one of the few students who was actually in on the scam. (Daily Beast)
- Perhaps I just want to assuage my own guilt, but I found this compelling: Why you can eat a burger and still fight climate change. (Gizmodo)
- As fentanyl burned its way across America, Obama officials missed opportunities to contain the crisis. (Washington Post)
- Amazon has a secret squad of economists, and they’re transforming how the company does business. (CNN Business)
- This piece came out just before the New Zealand shooting, and, tragically, could not have been better timed: “When Americans abandon their commitment to pluralism, the world notices, and catastrophe follows.” (The Atlantic)
Line of the Week
“Salek remembers seeing a man eating alone with a row of ten soups, and once witnessed a woman fill a bowl with cherry tomatoes only to pour hot water on them—perhaps to make her own soup.” – The cult that is Souplantation