Transparency Advocates Concerned With San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliott’s Public Records Bill

San Diego, Calif.-  San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliott has created government transparency concerns with her drafting of Senate Bill 615.

Elliott says her bill is a win-win for transparency and the taxpayers:

Ensuring the public’s access to information is critical, yet in recent years, the City of San Diego, and public agencies statewide, have struggled to keep up with a widening avalanche of Public Records Act requests
San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliott

“Ensuring the public’s access to information is critical, yet in recent years, the City of San Diego, and public agencies statewide, have struggled to keep up with a widening avalanche of Public Records Act requests,” Elliott noted.

SB 615 would require public agencies and record-seekers to engage in a “meet and confer” session — basically, a conversation aimed at resolving disputes in good faith before misunderstandings can escalate and a lawsuit follows.

Elliott contends the “meet and confer” process will prevent those unnecessary lawsuits and expensive judgments.

A Hinderance For The Public

“This action adds an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy to an already challenging process for the public.” – Former San Diego City Councilwoman Donna Frye

Former San Diego City Councilwoman Donna Frye says the “meet and confer” provision will only make the process more burdensome for the public.

“To say that this bill is to help the public is just not believable. This needs to be stopped as it has nothing to do with streamlining the process for the public,” Frye continued, “The easiest way to make sure the public has those documents is to post them online. Pretty simple. Make is easy, not more difficult.”

To say that this is to help the public is just not believable. This needs to be stopped as it has nothing to do with streamlining the process for the public.
Donna Frye, President Emerita CalAware

Frye, a longtime champion of government transparency, also raised questions regarding the legal jurisdiction of the City Attorney’s office.

“Why is the San Diego City Attorney driving statewide legislation,” Frye quipped, “and why hasn’t the city council, the true legislative body of the City of San Diego, not weighed in on something so fundamental? Or are they going to have the City Attorney now handle the legislative branch of government.”

Frye is not alone in her criticism.

Flood of Criticism

News organizations and public watchdog advocates like attorney and San Diego Mayoral candidate Cory Briggs, has been very critical of the SB-615 language drafted by Elliott and her office.

On his twitter feed, Briggs noted his concerns:

“Let’s review all the things that @CityAttorneySD and @MaraWElliott didn’t tell @SenBenHueso before they duped him into carrying their dirty water in gutting the California Public Records Act. Ben isn’t dumb, but he’s got rolled by Mara.”

Briggs also raised the point that in these cases, public sector lawyers like City Attorney Mara Elliott, are immune from malpractice judgments:

Hueso Hedging? 

State Senator Ben Hueso, who was poised to bring SB-615 to the floor in Sacramento, now tells IVN he will not move forward with ANY legislation that compromises government transparency.

I will not move forward with any legislation that compromises the obligation of government to be transparent in any way.
Sen. Ben Hueso on Public Records Bill

Importantly, the final language of SB-615, will be drafted by Legislative Counsel in consultation with Senator Hueso’s staff.

In a statement to IVN, Hueso expressed his goals for SB-615. “My objective is to protect taxpayers while increasing transparency in government,” promising, “I will not move forward with any legislation that compromises the obligation of government to be transparent in any way.”