Monday, March 3, 2014

A mindful walk down a dark and slippery slope

Here’s what the Zen manual advises for a stress-free existence: notice… let it go… then smile. 

Truth is, I’m not ready for bliss.  And it’s not for lack of trying.  You know how it is once you’ve noticed certain things… how can you let them go?  Maybe tomorrow. 

Right now I can't help noticing someone’s big bad joke.  Here’s how it goes:

A guy walks into a bar, orders a beer on tap, and announces that the annual advent of Sunshine Week is just around the corner.  That’s the time when good-thinking people (journalists included) spend a few days promoting the public’s right to know what goes on behind the thick curtains of government.  Some call it transparency.  

The point of Sunshine Week is to remind citizens that we need and have the “right of access to information concerning the conduct of the people’s business,” and moreover that the “meetings of public bodies and the writings of public officials and agencies shall be open to public scrutiny.”  You could call it an indispensable tenet of democracy.

So the bartender says to the guy, “Bad timing, fella.  Last guy who walked in here with that kind of talk got the kishkes knocked out of him.  The bigshots concocted a chorus line of big and little ladies to nail him for ogling and they walloped him black and blue.  Poor schnook -- he may have been a great political liberal but everyone knows you're your own worst enemy if you're a lousy flirter.  He’s a pariah, now.” 

So the guy gulps down another home brew and says to the bartender, “Fooled ya baby!  I’m really here to report that Sunshine Week’s been rained out -- by executive order.  Your pretender-to-the-throne Todd Gloria just set the date for a City Hall book burning.  Who would've thought such an up-and-coming Democrat could be so… undemocratic." 

It's a true story.  The joke's on us.  Council president Todd Gloria waited till his next-to-last day as placeholder for Bob Filner’s vacated mayor’s seat to decree that city emails older than one year shall be automatically deleted. Discarded. Purged. Deep-sixed. 

Is this his idea of what a "strong mayor" is all about, making up regulations to deliberately shut out the public?  
DATE: February 27, 2014
TO: All City Employees
FROM: Todd Gloria, Interim Mayor
SUBJECT: Administrative Regulation 90.67, Electronic Mail (E-mail) Retention and Deletion On February 27, 2014, Administrative Regulation (A.R.) 90.67 regarding e-mail retention and deletion was implemented. As noted in A.R. 90.67, e-mails that are older than one year will be automatically deleted from the City’s E-mail Systems. To date, the City has not deleted e-mails and this has resulted in our City E-mail Systems being overburdened. This A.R. was implemented to address the storage capacity issues which, if unaddressed, would require the City to purchase hardware for additional storage capacity in the future.
On March 28, 2014, the Department of Information Technology will begin automatically deleting e-mails that are older than one year from the City’s E-mail Systems. Furthermore, e- mails will also be deleted on a daily basis if the e-mails are older than one year. E-mails deleted from the City’s E-mail Systems will be permanently unavailable unless City staff takes affirmative steps to retain them outside of the City’s E-mail Systems 
The California Constitution states that “the writings of public officials and agencies shall be open to public scrutiny” but apparently certain people in San Diego don't think public scrutiny is such a great idea, after all.  

Surely I’m not alone in wondering whether Mr. Gloria et. al. (the City Attorney and a top city official signed off on this scorched-earth plan) have some serious personal concerns about the contents of City email communications, calendars, and memos from the time period before, leading up to, and during Bob Filner’s abbreviated mayoral stint in office.  

Does it make you wonder what might be lurking in these communications: fundraising shenanigans? issues involving the (former and/or newly appointed) police chief? impetuous amorous exchanges? permit improprieties? collusion to oust a sitting mayor?  Do you wonder why "the writings of public officials" are to be deleted before the public can lay eyes on them?

It's a dark and slippery slope, a new low for San Diego, when destroying public records becomes standard operating procedure. 

Fortunately, our new mayor Kevin Faulconer has the power to restore the City’s integrity by immediately rescinding Administrative Regulation 90.67.  We’re impatiently waiting and watching.

1 comment:

  1. John Stump City Heights3/3/14, 10:22 AM

    Thank you for a very nicely written piece. I liked the chorus line.
    Its time for all good Lawyers to get their anti-spoilage notices in and they should include references to these sections of our own City Charter:
    Section 215: Publicity of Records
    All books, records and accounts of every office and Department of the City shall be open to inspection by any citizen at all reasonable times and under reasonable regulations established by the Council, except such records and documents the disclosure of which would tend to defeat the lawful purpose which they are intended to accomplish.
    Section 216: Copies of Records
    Copies or extracts, duly certified, from said books and records open for inspection, shall be given by the officer having the same in custody to any person demanding the same who shall be charged for such copies or extracts, and for certification, the charge to be fixed by the Council.
    Section 216.1: Access to Government Information
    (a) The people have the right to instruct their representatives, petition government for redress of grievances, and assemble freely to consult for the common good.
    (b) (1) The people have the right of access to information concerning the conduct of the people’s business, and therefore, the meetings of public bodies and the writings of public officials and agencies shall be open to public scrutiny.
    (2) A statute, court rule, or other authority, including those in effect on the effective date of this Section, shall be broadly construed if it furthers the people’s right of access, and narrowly construed if it limits the right of access. A statute, court rule or other authority adopted after the effective date of this Section that limits the right of access shall be adopted with findings demonstrating the interest protected by the limitation and the need for protecting that interest.
    (3) Nothing in this Section supersedes or modifies the right of privacy guaranteed by Section 1 of the California Constitution or affects the construction of any statute, court rule, or other authority to the extent that it protects that right to privacy, including any statutory procedures governing discovery or disclosure of information concerning the official performance or professional qualifications of a peace officer.
    (4) Nothing in this Section supersedes or modifies any provision of this Charter or the California Constitution, including the guarantees that a person may not be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law, or denied equal protection of the laws.
    (5) This Section does not repeal or nullify, expressly or by implication, any constitutional or statutory exception to the right of access to public records or meetings of public bodies that is in effect on the effective date of this Section, including, but not limited to, any statute protecting the confidentiality of law enforcement and prosecution records.
    (Addition voted 11-02-2004; effective 01-21-2005.)

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