Senator Ben Hueso Rejects City Attorney Mara Elliott’s Public Records Proposal

San Diego, Calif.- Independent Voter Network has learned Senator Ben Hueso will not be bringing  SB-615 to the floor in Sacramento for consideration.

SB-615 was crafted by San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliott. It’s a proposal that critics say, makes it much harder to sue agencies that fail to comply with the Public Records Act.

Elliott’s office released the following statement:

“I believe our elected leaders have an obligation to tackle tough issues and advance thoughtful solutions to the serious challenges facing our city and its taxpayers. That’s why I have a wide-ranging agenda as your City Attorney – preventing gun violence, prosecuting polluters, protecting consumers from fraud, going after domestic abusers – and that’s why I’ve supported state legislation to help San Diego. I thank Senator Ben Hueso for having the courage to take on a difficult issue and everyone who expressed their support and opposition along the way.”

The decision by Senator Hueso confirms his stated commitment to transparency and protecting taxpayers.

The Public Records Act is an essential component of California’s strong commitment to open government and transparency, of which I’ve always been an ardent supporter. After hearing from stakeholders on both sides, I concluded the discussion about how to accomplish efficiency in that system requires a lengthier conversation between all interested parties.
Sen. Ben Hueso on SB-615

“This morning I spoke with the San Diego City Attorney’s Office about my decision to pull SB 615. I have great respect for City Attorney Mara Elliott and believe she is genuinely motivated by public service and is working diligently in the best interest of the public,” Hueso continued, “From the outset, my objective for this bill was always to make the process of obtaining public records more efficient and expedient for taxpayers. The Public Records Act is an essential component of California’s strong commitment to open government and transparency, of which I’ve always been an ardent supporter. After hearing from stakeholders on both sides, I concluded the discussion about how to accomplish efficiency in that system requires a lengthier conversation between all interested parties.”

Last week Hueso told IVN, “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.”

Political Heat

What started as a quiet effort to remake the public records process, quickly turned into a firestorm of controversy.

On Monday, the San Diego City Council voted unanimously to oppose City Attorney Mara Elliott’s effort, saying it was an attempt to undermine the state’s public records law.

Mayoral candidate Cory Briggs made an impassioned plea at the meeting, asking council members to reject Elliott’s language then tweeted the council’s decision:

What’s Next?

Former San Diego City Councilwoman Donna Frye, an open government champion noted to IVN, city documents should be posted online.

The easiest way to make sure the public has those documents is to post them online. Pretty simple. Make is easy, not more difficult
Donna Frye, Open Government Champion

“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 it easy, not more difficult.”

If reworking the public records process is on the table, Frye’s solution could be a good place for the city to begin.

A decade ago, the city clerk said it received roughly 340 Public Records Act requests in a year. In 2015, the city installed a new system to make it easier to track and handle those requests and the number jumped to about 4,800 requests.

Image Courtesy: Sam Hodgson