The fact of the matter is, I’ve had my own share of issues to deal with lately that has made the fun and games in the quest for government transparency pale by comparison. A death in the family, a death in close to family, business challenges, that sort of thing. In other words, “Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.” John Lennon.
But things are now a little more in order, and its about time. Summer is half over, life is good and its time to get on with our discussion.
First up to task are the continuing issues with the City Attorney’s Office. Last week just for grins I submitted a public record act request to the City of Simi Valley concerning the administrative investigations into an alleged payment of a claim, in excess of $20,000, after the government claim filing deadline had passed. I also submitted a public record act request to the City pertaining to the administrative investigation into the five (5!) personnel complaints leveled against the City Attorney by City co-workers.
Now, I expect that the City will balk at the production of said administrative investigations, however under the Public Record Act, there is no exception to disclosure of “administrative investigations.” And, thanks to friends on the internet, I’ve become aware of recent case law that stands for the proposition that the public has a right to know the outcome of administrative personnel investigations where the allegations are of a serious, non-trivial nature. That would be Marken v. Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, 202 Cal.App.4th 1250 (2012).
In this case, Marken was a school teacher who had received a written reprimand for violating the District’s policy prohibiting sexual harassment of the students. Marken was returned to work following a month long administrative leave during the investigation and receipt of the reprimand. Two years later a parent made a public record request for a copy of the administrative investigate report and letter of reprimand. Marken filed a complaint for injunctive relief to prohibit the District from releasing the records. The Court, in turn, dismised the complaint for injunction and, on appeal, the Court observed,
“Openness in government is essential to the functioning of a democracy. Implicit in the democratic process is the notion that government should be accountable for its actions. In order to verify accountability, individuals must have access to government files. Such access permits checks against the arbitrary exercise of official power and secrecy in the political process.”
Further, “The Court stated that a complaint of misconduct which is upheld by the agency or results in discipline must be disclosed. If the complaint is not sustained, it is still subject to disclosure if it is of substantial nature and there is reasonable cause to believe the complaint is well founded.” Opinion, Liebert, Cassidy, Whitmore.
So, if a complaint resulting in an administrative investigation is conducted, and misconduct is found or discipline is imposed, the governmental agency must disclose the documents. And, even if the complaint is not sustained, if the matter is of a substantial nature and there is reasonable caused to believe the complaint is well founded, regardless of result, the administrative investigation is still subject to disclosure.
Seems fair enough, right?
So we shall see what the City has to say about transparency with regard to these two investigations.
On another matter, I’ve noticed that the goings on at the Simi Valley Unified School District Board of Education is producing entertaining results.
I won’t bother to go into details, as the Acorn has covered this matter in depth today, August 9, 2013.
While some may say that the current dispute regarding a resignation letter which may or may not have been submitted is but a tempest in a teapot, the true issues are, again, transparency in government. Do the people have a right to expect transparency in a government agency that spends over $140 million dollars a year in your tax money? I would think so. So why all the drama and angst? Why is the Board trying to rail one of their own merely because he calls for transparency? Something stinks, me thinks.
And further, what is with the tin foil hat comment from Trustee Sandland where she accuses Trustee Dan White of expressing a “malicious and evil opinion” when he criticizes the School Board’s counsel, Robert Thurbon, Jr. of the law firm Thurbon & McHaney? This would be the same attorney who was hammered by a federal judge in a Northern California federal case for unethical behavior to the point of being disqualified. See Lynn v. Gateway Unified School District, page 12 specifically.
“Malicious and evil opinion,” when one discusses observations of misconduct by a federal judge as to the District’s own counsel? What up with that? Such a fine example of an ad hominem attack by a School Board Trustee for our children to follow. Don’t like the facts? Just call names!
Or perhaps the District is hiding something? As in, do we need to dust off our magnifying glasses, Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys?
Scooby Doo! Fire up the Mystery Machine!