Copyright 2004, Sacramento Bee
Move by coalition behind Prop. 59 is first test of open-government law.
(Sacramento Bee 11/6/04) — Buoyed by voters’ broadening of the public’s right to know government’s business, a nonprofit advocacy group has formally requested access to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s appointment book.
If the California First Amendment Coalition is successful – either by Schwarzenegger’s agreement to provide the information or a court’s order – it could weaken a key court decision open-government supporters say has blocked reams of information they believe should be public.
It remained unclear Friday whether Schwarzenegger would comply, despite his endorsement of Proposition 59 on Tuesday’s ballot and his repeated advocacy for even stronger open-government provisions.
“We will respond (to the request) in a timely fashion,” said Schwarzenegger spokeswoman Ashley Snee, declining to elaborate.
The coalition’s records request, filed Wednesday and disclosed Friday, asks the Governor’s Office to provide appointment calendars, daily schedules and all other information “to show the governor’s meetings and other activities” since taking office a year ago.
Open-government advocates believe the information provides important insight into whom the governor is consulting while considering government decisions.
But such information has been routinely withheld by chief executives, particularly after a 1991 California Supreme Court decision said former Gov. George Deukmejian’s calendar was part of the “deliberative process” of government and therefore exempt from public-records laws.
And since the decision, the exemption has been cited hundreds of times by all levels of government in denying government documents.
The coalition was a key backer of Proposition 59, which voters approved Tuesday with 83 percent of the vote. It places open-government laws in the constitution and requires that any action or decision limiting access to information be “narrowly construed,” and the public’s right of access be “broadly construed.”
That provision, said the coalition’s executive director, Peter E. Scheer, should have the effect of overturning the “deliberative process” standard in the 1991 case, even though Proposition 59 did not specifically reverse the case. “The doctrine of deliberative process no longer applies in California,” Scheer said.
Schwarzenegger also endorsed the measure, and as recently as Wednesday praised the voters’ wisdom for passing it.
“The people of California are so smart,” he said at post-election news conference. “Proposition 59, if you think about open – let the sun shine in – this is a terrific idea. The people made the decision. No one now can complain upstairs. No one can say, ‘Well, we’re not going to do that, because we still want to make our deals and not let the people look inside, or the press look inside.’ I think we opened it up.”
But the Republican governor has sent a variety of messages on his commitment to open government. During last year’s recall election, he said pushing an open-government measure would be a priority during his first 100 days in office.
The day after he was sworn in, he said he would release calendars, schedules and other information if his plan became law, assuming it applied to all elected officials. “As soon as it becomes the law, yes, we will do so,” he said at the time. “I think we all then should do so. But we are not going to have just one do it and no one else do it.”
That could give him an out, as the Legislature made sure it exempted itself from SCA 1, the measure that became Proposition 59, before voting to put it on the ballot.
And the celebrity governor has been even more secretive than past governors concerning his movements: His staff now routinely declines to disclose the location of his out-of-state journeys on nongovernmental business.
On Thursday, Snee said Schwarzenegger continues to believe access to government information is “very important.”
Scheer acknowledged that the request could result in a test case in court should Schwarzenegger deny access. And if the governor releases the information and cites Proposition 59, it will send a strong signal to government officials throughout the state.
“If somebody later decides to take a different view of it, he or she will have a lot tougher time doing so,” he said.
By Dan Smith