It was an astonishing news week even by the new standards of our pandemic/election season.
But in two local scandals brewing, there’s a similar dynamic at work that requires an understanding of public records law to really sink in.
It’s about to get wonky – strap in.
When anyone sends in a public records request, the government agency responding can claim a number of exemptions. Hopefully, these exemptions mean they simply redact minimal pieces to address any concerns; sometimes it means they reject the request outright.
One exemption public officials love to claim is one exempting “preliminary drafts, notes or interagency or intra-agency memoranda.” Just because something is a draft, though, doesn’t automatically mean it shouldn’t be disclosed – there are all kinds of caveats.
Still, this one can easily be exploited to keep things secret, simply by stamping documents with the word “draft.” Poway Unified’s former superintendent, tried to do that with a consultant’s report in which he’d toned down harsh criticisms. The district only disclosed the document when threatened with litigation by VOSD. The city of San Diego memorably refused to provide a draft of an SDSU study into SDPD racial profiling, claiming it as a draft. The problem with that is that SDSU is itself a public agency subject to the Public Records Act, and it provided the documents that showed researchers toned down their harshest criticisms of the department out of fear police would have their precious feelings hurt.
That’s how we get to the bananas Ash St. debacle, in which NBC San Diego published a story claiming Assemblyman Todd Gloria refused to meet with investigators about a briefing he had with city officials about the building. But the law firm that wrote the report supposedly containing that information has wholesale disavowed it, and maintains that portion was fabricated.
One theory, as Scott and Andy laid out in this week’s Politics Report, is that the footnote containing the information was real, and that the city attorney and outside law firm are relying on the fact that it existed in a draft to claim that it never happened. (It’s reaaaaaaally hard to believe a bunch of lawyers would lie so publicly and brazenly about something, but then again, it’s hard to believe any of the scenarios here.)
Meanwhile, a separate scandal over at SANDAG also happens to center, weirdly, on whether portions of draft documents were inappropriately made public. It all relates to an audit that apparently shows the agency’s executive director approved large severance packages without consulting the board. The director’s response, though, has apparently sparked a feud with the auditor who produced the report.
Both fights would benefit from public officials releasing as many of the documents in question as possible, so the public can get a much better understanding of what’s real.
It’s almost as if releasing public documents is always the right thing to do.
What VOSD Learned This Week
MTS frequently overrules doctors who say their patients should receive a special reduced fare for the disabled.
In a shocking declaration, a Sheriff’s employee says she was told to keep quiet about what really happened leading up to a man’s suicide in the Vista jail.
Not a great week for Kelvin Barrios, who’s running for City Council District 9. He’s acknowledged he failed to disclose income he made before beginning his job working for City Council President Georgette Gómez; and failed to disclose that he was simultaneously being paid by a union during the last week of his tenure in Gómez’s office.
Elsewhere in City Hall, Mayor Kevin Faulconer decided to stop paying the rent at 101 Ash St. in a bid to drive the owner back to the bargaining table.
The South Bay has been devastated by COVID-19, and the area’s next county supervisor will have a tough job on his or her hands helping ensure an equitable recovery.
Meanwhile, county supervisors and state officials are once again allowing reopenings that don’t prioritize schools.
Water officials are considering spending roughly a bajillion dollars building a new pipeline so that we don’t have to use the one controlled by big, big meanies.
What I’m Reading
- I already knew Jesmyn Ward is the best writer of our generation. But this essay on the pandemic, racism and grief is in a universe all its own – it takes your breath away. (Vanity Fair)
- Always, always, always be wary of police officials’ versions of controversial events. (Los Angeles Times)
- The world of running needs so many more heroes like Alysia Montaño who speak up for mothers and runners of color. (Runner’s World)
- New Orleans hospitals sent COVID-19 patients back home to die in the care of untrained family members without the necessary protective equipment. (ProPublica)
- The pandemic has created an opening for a parents revolution. (Slate)
- Police in Florida are using bogus “pre-crime” theories and data analysis as a pretext to harass and abuse residents. (Tampa Bay Times)
Line of the Week
“One cannot be dismissed if one demands what one needs operatically. One cannot be told what is or is not age-appropriate if one doesn’t acknowledge age.” — This profile of Mariah Carey is really great.