The First Amendment Coalition and a Sacramento community group have filed suit against the Sacramento City Council for access to Council emails and other records concerning a controversial redistricting plan for Council districts that was adopted last summer.
The suit, filed Friday by FAC and Eye on Sacramento, a local nonprofit, grows out of the Council’s refusal to disclose certain records requested by the organizations under the California Public Records Act. The withheld records include emails between Council members leading up to a contentious City Council meeting at which redistricting plans proposed by a citizens’ advisory committee–created by the Council–were rejected in favor of a voting map drawn up by members of the Council.
The plan adopted has been criticized for protecting the reelection prospects of incumbent Council members and for deviating significantly from the one-person, one-vote formula required under the federal Constitution. An editorial in the Sacramento Bee slammed the Council’s plan, and the secrecy surrounding it, “as a pathetically obvious political power play that looms as another black eye for this council.”
In withholding the records, the Council has claimed that they are subject to the “deliberative process privilege,” an exemption read into the Public Records Act in a 30-year-old state Supreme Court decision relating to records of the Governor. FAC believes, and will argue in this suit, that a privilege for government officials’ deliberations doesn’t apply to deliberative bodies–particularly deliberative bodies, like the Sacramento Council, that are also subject to California’s open-meeting law.
“City Councils, which are required by law to do all their decision-making in public meetings, can’t claim a secrecy ‘privilege’ for the same deliberations,” said Peter Scheer, FAC’s executive director. “In this case, the withheld emails may even show that Council members violated the Brown Act by discussing their districting map outside of a public meeting,” Scheer added.
FAC and Eye on Sacramento are represented in the case by Karl Olson, a partner at San Francisco law firm Ram, Olson, Cereghino & Kopczynski LLP .
Here’s a copy of the FAC lawsuit.
Wouldn’t it be better to push for a State law requiring that all government records, including emails, be on-line, indexed and searchable?
The technology has existed for a long time to allow governments to become totally transparent. So, why aren’t we demanding that solution, rather than these hit-and-miss lawsuits that get generated every so often?
It isn’t so much that we aren’t given the documents under FOIA or CPRA, it is we aren’t given a true picture of the deliberations involving leaders in connection with those documents. The Brown Act is nothing more than a slap on the wrist- if you can find a district attorney that actually investigates and prosecutes what amounts to a misdemeanor! In law enforcement emergency room triage, those needing Band-Aids are seen last- if at all. Violating the Brown Act should be a felony, not releasing documents requested by citizens should include a minimum of a $100,000 fine as damages if it goes to lawsuit under CPRA. I plan on asking my assemblyman to put some teeth into both laws soon.
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