California Codes Government Code Section 54950-54963 The people of this State do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created. (This law pertains to the Brown Act.)
What a powerful statement. Yet, we accept that our City Hall runs like a top secret department of defense, rather than an instrument to make conducting the business of the people, easier. I see three things that need to be addressed and changed at the City Hall.
#1- Manipulation of information, via adding items under the Awards, Presentations, Appointments, and Proclamations. This information is not included in the staff report for public viewing.
#2 Resolutions that are a “change of the agenda” When was Resolution No. 12-15 unanimously voted for?
#3 Requests for Public Information is a 10 day wait.
All of these are in direct violation of laws that specifically tell the government that they do not have the right to decide what we the people need to know.
It seems that “We have 10 days” is the mantra of the City Manager Richard Warne. I have gone to city hall, at least 3 times over the past month and have been told that it would be 10 days before I could get the information, yet when I request it from the state, it arrives immediately. I have asked to view public information during business hours, to be told no, its not ready. I have asked for a written reason from City Manager Warne as to why I am being denied public viewing and a copy of written information, to be told, “he is behind closed doors”.
To be fair the administrative secretary and the city secretary have offered to let me know when the items would be ready. In addition, this past Thursday, my request for public record Resolution 12-15 “A resolution of the city council of the city of Twentynine Palms, CA , inviting the San Bernardino County Fire Department to participate in discussions regarding the future of fire protection services in 29 Palms and surrounding unincorporated area.” was given to me immediately and at no charge, thanks to City Councilman Jay Corbin.
The law does state
“Records” include all communications related to public business “regardless of physical form or characteristics, including any writing, picture,
sound, or symbol, whether paper,…, magnetic or other media.” (§ 6252(e)) Electronic records are included, but software may be exempt. (§§6253.9(a),(g), 6254.9 (a),(d))
WHAT MUST HAPPEN
· Access is immediate and allowed at all times during business hours. (§ 6253(a)) Staff need not disrupt operations to allow immediate access, but a decision whether to grant accessmust be prompt. An agency may not adopt rules that limit the hours records are open for viewing and inspection. (§§ 6253(d); 6253.4(b))
The agency must provide assistance by helping to identify records and information relevant to the request and suggesting ways to overcome any practical basis for denying access. (§6253.1)
·An agency has 10 days to decide if copies will be provided. In “unusual” cases (request is“voluminous,” seeks records held off-site, OR requires consultation with other agencies), the agency may, upon written notice to the requesters, give itself an additional 14 days to respond.(§ 6253(c)) These time periods may not be used solely to delay access to the records. (§ 6253(d))
·The agency may never make records available only in electronic form (§ 6253.9(e))
·Access is always free. Fees for “inspection” or “processing” are prohibited. (§ 6253)
·Copy costs are limited to “statutory fees” set by the Legislature (not by local ordinance) or the “direct cost of duplication”, usually 10 to 25 cents per page. Charges for search, review or deletion are not allowed. (§ 6253(b); North County Parents v. D.O.E., 23 Cal.App.4th 144 (1994))
If a request for electronic records either (1) is for a record normally issued only periodically, or (2) requires data compilation, extraction, or programming, copying costs may include the cost of the programming. (§ 6253.9(a),(b))
The agency must justify the withholding of any record by demonstrating that the record is exempt or that the public interest in confidentiality outweighs the public interest in disclosure. (§6255).
It is cautioned that the law is on the side of the citizen and very narrowly defines what can be exempt from immediate and allowed at all times during business hours.
Let’s not forget how powerful we are and we deserve better and we demand better. I will never again accept a denial of immediate access without Richard Warne’s written reason why as a citizen, I can’t have access to the information of the business of the people. I will examine each request as a possible violation of Freedom of Information Act.
We the people need to call City Hall on their position of deciding what information they want the public to have. This is a serious matter and needs to be treated as such.
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