One of the most absurd arguments for the short-lived SB 615, the bill written by City Attorney Mara Elliott’s office that would have effectively gutted the California Public Records Act, was the assertion that burdensome public records requests took time away from public servants’ real jobs.
That’s absurd, of course, because governments employ many professionals whose real job is to communicate with the public.
Yet so often – including in numerous instances this week alone – those professionals do just the opposite.
I asked the San Diego Police Department for clarity on some big outstanding questions related to its use of the unconstitutional seditious language law. No answers.
Elsewhere across the state, reporters in Sacramento revealed that jail deaths there climbed as the sheriff stopped releasing info about them. “Weird that the elected sheriff who refuses to post basic COVID-19 information, answer reporter questions or fulfill records requests experienced a spike in deaths of legally innocent people and didn’t inform the public,” one reporter observed.
The Los Angeles Times recently noted that some police media professionals don’t just withhold information – they actively lie about the circumstances of controversial events. Not long after the Times published this piece, the Sheriff’s Department arrested a reporter covering a deadly shooting, and publicly lied about the circumstances of the arrest.
Law enforcement agencies are hardly alone in this.
We’re currently in the midst of several lawsuits involving government agencies withholding information related to their handling of the COVID-19 crisis.
Separately, we’re also in the midst of a lawsuit against the San Diego Unified School District over its chronic inability to comply with the California Public Records Act.
In all of these cases, the lawsuits involve agencies that employ people specifically to communicate with the public and facilitate the exchange of information.
Sometimes I have to actively block from my mind some of the instances in which people paid by our government have thwarted transparency, lest I start spiraling.
There was the time the San Diego Unified School District’s top communications professional joked about the death of one of our reporters, who wrote accountability stories he didn’t like.
There is the city attorney’s office’s assertion that a top aide to Elliott who is not a lawyer should get to invoke attorney-client privilege in order to keep information secret.
I decided to check in on a former spokeswoman for the San Diego Sheriff’s Department whose seething disdain for the media was so obvious, it was almost like a physical force that punched you in the face when you tried to obtain information.
What’s she doing now? Oh, right: In the midst of a pandemic in which public information is absolutely vital, she’s now chair of the board of Scripps Health.
What VOSD Learned This Week
More police accountability work: The ShotSpotter technology San Diego is spending $1 million on sends cops to false alarm calls far more often than advertised. And the Sheriff’s Department made lots of excuses for a captain who was illegally dealing firearms. The state Legislature is convening a special panel on police reform – and every single member has taken thousands in donations from police unions.
Lots of good old-fashioned political intrigue this week, too. City COO Kris Michell resigned. Andrew Keatts and Jesse Marx uncovered another potential ethics violation by City Council candidate Kelvin Barrios. And you’re not gonna believe this, but the whole fee vs. tax thing ended badly for government officials again.
We talked about these stories, and the Politifest panels we’re most pumped about, on the podcast this week.
State regulators OK’d SDG&E’s wildfire plan even though watchdogs say it has a fatal flaw.
What I’m Reading
- This is wild: A notorious COVID troll actually works for the National Institutes of Health. (Daily Beast)
- I’ve kept my reading on RBG’s death a bit limited because I find it too overwhelming to think about. But these two pieces broke through: While liberals were busy making RBG into a cultural icon, conservatives were playing – and winning – a much different game. And I can’t neatly summarize Jamil Smith’s piece better than with his own words: “The late justice bore on her shoulders the weight of our democracy and the hopes of all who seek to preserve civil rights, and that was not her fault. Neither should it have been her responsibility.” (Washington Post, Rolling Stone)
- Meanwhile, I appreciated this piece analyzing the ways NPR fell short in not disclosing Nina Totenberg’s personal friendship with RBG. (NPR)
Line of the Week
“Women could enter the workplace, but only if they fulfilled every other societal expectation. They could be ambitious, but still had to be nice; powerful, but still hot; hardworking, but still a good cook; multitasking, but still a conscientious housekeeper; a leader, but still feminine; a workaholic, but still a devoted parent.” – This piece on parental burnout is too real. (The author, by the way, has a book on the subject out this week – here’s an excerpt.)