Q: I requested the salaries and health benefits of City Council members. It took one month to receive and I didn’t get what I’d asked for. I also asked for information regarding the voiding of a parking citation that they would not release.
A: The California Supreme Court has held that the names and salaries of individual public employees are generally required to be made public. See International Federation of Processional Engineers v. Superior Court, 42 Cal. 4th 319, 331 (“[t]he ‘broadly based and widely accepted community norm’applicable to government employee salary information is public disclosure”).
Thus, it is likely that the information that you are seeking — salaries and benefits of city council members — is required to be disclosed under the Public Records Act.
Voided parking citations may or may not be required to be released, depending on whether or not they are considered “investigative records,” which are exempt from disclosure under the Public Records Act. Gov’t Code section 6254(f).
In general, records that are part of the investigatory files of law enforcement agencies do not have to be made public. A typical example of this is a police report.
This exemption only applies “when the prospect of enforcement proceedings becomes concrete and definite.” Williams v. Superior Court, 5 Cal. 4th 337, 356 (1993).
The agency might argue that this exemption applies to parking citations since they are connected with enforcement proceedings. At the same time, however, if a citation is voided, there is no longer any prospect of enforcement.
In any case, you may want to follow up with the agency, by letter, and request that they provide you with the specific exemption that they are citing as justification for withholding the records.
The Public Records Act gives local agencies 10 days to respond to a request for a copy of a public record; the time for responding can be extended by the agency for an additional 14 days in “unusual circumstances.” Gov’t Code section 6253(b) and (c).
Thus, it might be that one month to respond to your request is not in compliance with the Act.
However, you might simply consider resubmitting your request, with specific language stating what salary information you seek. You can find a sample request letter on the FAC’s website, located here: https://firstamendmentcoalition.org/category/resources/access-to-records/.
If an agency refuses to provide records under the Act, the ultimate recourse is filing a lawsuit under Government Code Section 6259. Such lawsuits are typically initiated by a verified petition (i.e., a request filed under oath) that asks the court to issue a writ of mandate, which is a type of order directing the public agency to take a specified action.
Attorney’s fees are available to a plaintiff who prevails in litigation filed pursuant to the Act, Government Code section 6259(d). In any follow-up correspondence you have with the city regarding the fact that you have not received the requested records, you may want to (subtly, but firmly) point out that attorney’s fees are available should you take the agency to court and prevail.
If you are looking for an attorney to represent you in this matter, you might consider trying the FAC’s Lawyer’s Assistance Request Form at https://firstamendmentcoalition.org/lawyers-assistance-request-form/.
Holme Roberts & Owen LLP is general counsel for the First Amendment Coalition and responds to FAC hotline inquiries. In responding to these inquiries, we can give general information regarding open government and speech issues but cannot provide specific legal advice or representation.