How should you proceed if your city appears to be stonewalling public records requests? Is this a sign of corruption? Mismanagement? Overwhelmed public employees?
Where public records accountability is concerned, there’s no single answer.
For instance, in San Josè, CA, the city and mayor have been confronted with a lawsuit brought by the San Josè Spotlight and the First Amendment Coalition for what they allege to be habitual withholding of public records.
The lawsuit targets several behaviors by the city that, if true, obstruct transparency:
- Withholding records without reason
- Unjustified redaction of records
- Avoidance of requests from the public
San Josè Spotlight asserts there is a lack of transparency around mayoral communication because of prominent corporate lobbying in the city.
One recent example: an energy executive’s recommendations for city council decisions were implemented almost verbatim in a new policy.
Whenever anyone—people or corporations—works to influence city policy, public records accountability becomes the chance for voters to receive a window into the process and to participate in the formation of government policy.
Initially, a Santa Clara County judge ruled that the city must provide a list of withheld documents. Stay tuned to see how the lawsuit plays out.
I represent news media, bloggers, publishers, and citizens interested in government access, and others who operate under the First Amendment—public records; public meetings; newsgathering; avoiding defamation lawsuits; suing Anti-SLAPP violators. My job is to help you get the records and access you need, help you get the story, help you get the story without getting arrested, help get the story published without defaming anyone, and then defend the story after publication.
If you need help with any of these areas and don’t have an attorney already, contact me: [email protected]. This post is not intended to be legal advice and does not form the basis of a lawyer-client relationship.