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Access to names of applicants to official positions

Access to names of applicants to official positions

Q: The City Council will soon be considering the applications filed for three openings on two commissions. I am trying to obtain the names of the applicants and I am being met with some resistance. Should I have access to the names?

A: The information you are requesting is not expressly exempt fromdisclosure under the California Public Records Act.  There are two casesaddressing comparable situations, however, that may be used by the Cityto justify non disclosure:  Wilson v. Superior Court, 51 Cal. App. 4th1136 (1997), and California First Amendment Coalition v. Superior Court,67 Cal. App. 4th 159 (1998).  Both cases involved applications submittedto the Governor for appointment to vacancies on county boards ofsupervisors.  In both cases, the courts of appeal held, for a variety ofreasons, that the applications were exempt from disclosure under thePublic Records Act.  One of the main justifications was the so-called”deliberative process privilege.”

The argument made by the Governor,and accepted by the Courts, was that disclosure of the applicationswould deter applications from providing complete and detailedinformation about themselves, and thereby interfere with the Governor’s selection process.The City may try to make the same argument.  However, you can and should argue that you are entitled to the names of applicants for thecommissions anyway.  Here’s why.  First, the two cases cited above asked for the applications, not just the names.  You are only asking for the names.  Disclosure of the names alone will not have any deterrenteffect.  If it does, these people have no place applying for governmentpositions.  Second, Proposition 59, passed last November, was designed to reverse those two cases I just mentioned.  You can download the language of the proposition and the ballot argument from the Secretary of State’s web site.

The ballot argument is particularly important (and the courts consider it in deciding what the proposition means and is intended to accomplish.)  I recommend that you read the City the following language from the ballot argument, discussing why Prop. 59 was needed:  “Everyone needs access to information from the government.  Why was a building permit granted or denied.  Who is the Governor considering for appointment to a vacancy on the County Board of Supervisors? . . . .”  This illustrates the kind of information that Prop. 59 was intended to make available to the public.  Sounds like it’s right up your alley.

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