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In the last few weeks alone, Voice of San Diego reported:
- The San Diego Sheriff’s Department redacted in its entirety a document detailing which misdemeanor offenses can be booked into jail. Multiple attorneys told us the move violates the California Public Records Act and another state law requiring law enforcement agencies to publicly post policies.
- An appellate court said San Diego County can keep COVID-19 outbreak data secret, and the court’s reasoning has alarmed transparency advocates.
- The San Diego County Water Authority won’t say what some of its consultant contracts are for – contracts that are paid using taxpayer dollars.
- The Fallbrook Union Elementary School District removed its board president from her position but won’t publicly discuss why.
- Several high-profile public officials endorsed a candidate for sheriff but declined to answer any questions about what level of vetting they did.
- The city withheld a memo from a public records request that was … already public.
In some of these cases, public officials appear to be openly flouting public records law.
Though government secrecy is nothing new, it sure feels like having gone more than a year without in-person public meetings and other face-to-face interactions has emboldened government agencies to withhold any and every public record imaginable – including, it’s worth repeating, documents that were already public.
Yet the most high-profile recent instance of a public official proposing changes to the public records process was … the city attorney’s proposal to make them much, much harder to obtain than they already are.
I’m incredibly proud of the work our journalists and others around the county have done to reveal these instances to the public, they also make clear that at any given moment, the government is hiding a whole lot from us – often in violation of the law. Demands from journalists and the public are only going so far.
One way for public officials, who often publicly proclaim their devotion to transparency, to do better would be to go a big step beyond just complying with the law when requests come their way (though that alone would sure be welcome). They should call out and condemn each and every instance of obfuscation and demand better from their peers – even when it means upsetting an ally.
Police officials across the region, for example, should condemn the sheriff for flouting the law – not just because they’re tasked with upholding it but because it gives all law enforcement agencies a bad name. Education leaders should advocate for parents and families in Fallbrook to be given the full picture of what’s happening in their district. And literally any leader who cares about the public having information to equip themselves to make fully informed decisions about COVID-19 should urge the county to release its outbreak data. A pandemic isn’t a great moment for people to distrust the government from being honest with them.
What VOSD Learned This Week
We had a few big follow-ups this week to stories we originally broke: The broker at the center of a scandalous Housing Commission transaction now says the agency signed off on the investment that made him the subject of a criminal investigation.
And one of the students who complained about harassing behavior by a Cal State San Marcos professor spoke on the record for the first time about the ways in which the process failed her and other students.
It’s been five years since Andrew Keatts broke the initial story that SANDAG’s revenue projections were a lie, and the TransNet program would not have enough money to pay for the projects promised to voters. Now we have the clearest look yet at which projects are officially dunzo.
Kevin Faulconer won national praise in 2019 for declaring himself a YIMBY, now he’s running from his own record on single-family zoning.
In another example of fallout from the city attorney’s decision to cede the role of prosecutor in infractions cases to police, the court this week dismissed a case against a homeless man after SDPD failed to turn over evidence.
What I’m Reading
- This in-depth examination of how one family has coped with the grief of losing a beloved member on Sept. 11 is as exquisite as magazine writing gets. (The Atlantic)
- Algorithms developed to combat the opioid epidemic are resulting in people in debilitating pain being denied medication – and sometimes even access to doctors. (Wired)
- We, the adults, have failed. (AL.com)
- Our racial reckoning and cries for police reform a year ago have morphed into a bipartisan love fest for police. (New York Magazine)
- Extremely my shit: The case against coddling anti-vaxxers. (The Week)
Line of the Week
“Wearing a helmet while bike riding, strapping on your seatbelt in a car — these are personal decisions, at least as far as your own injuries are concerned. Vaccination is different. In the context of a deadly and often debilitating contagion, where the unchecked spread of infection has consequences for the entire society, vaccination is not a personal decision. And inasmuch as the United States has struggled to achieve herd immunity against Covid-19 through vaccination, it is because we refuse to treat the pandemic for what it is: a social problem to solve through collective action.” – Raise your hand if you find 2021 even more debilitating and frustrating than 2020.