Lemon Grove Patch is celebrating Sunshine Week, a national initiative to recognize freedom of information and promote the public's right to know. To start off, we're taking a look at local government and access to public information. Some public bodies are doing better than others.
The public can access the current City Council agenda at least 72 hours prior to the council meeting at the city's website. It is also posted outside City Hall. The full agenda packet is available for public view at City Hall.
All public records dating back to the city's incorporation in 1977 can be accessed by the public at a computer kiosk in the lobby at City Hall. There is a printer available. City Hall is open from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and alternate Fridays. For more information, check the city's calendar.
The website states public records such as city deeds, contracts, leases, ordinances, resolutions, minutes and the Municipal Code—though that is available online—can be obtained through a Public Records Request filed with the City Clerk's office. For more information, call 619-825-3800. A form is downloadable from the website.
The Lemon Grove School District's board meeting agendas and minutes archive on the district's website includes 2010 up to the most current information available. The agenda archive of the Grossmont Union High School District, which covers Mount Miguel High School and Helix Charter High School, goes back several years, and boasts 106 files, but many meetings are missing since 2006. The high school board’s 79 minutes go back to January 2006.
The Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District, however, offers board records from the past 12 years. Its website has a single page that archives agendas and minutes dating to January 1999. But four meetings are missing online minutes—from June 8, 1999; Nov. 5, 2001; Nov. 7, 2001; and Nov. 21, 2005.
And, the Helix Water District has posted “board packages” back only to November 2010, with a note on the website advising: “For packages previous to those listed below, contact Board Secretary Donna Bartlett-May at (619) 667-6232 or Donna.BartlettMay@helixwater.org.”
The Ralph M. Brown Act says nothing about posting meeting agendas on the Internet, but that could change if Ray Lutz has his way.
Lutz, the La Mesa-born former congressional candidate, says he is resubmitting his resolution (see PDF) to Sacramento lawmakers that calls for several things, including:
The Democratic Party of the State of California hereby asserts that to more fully involve the public in governmental proceedings, complete agendas and meeting minutes, including full texts of resolutions, ordinances, acts, findings, and decisions, should be available on the publicly available web sites for all state and local bodies that also comply with the Ralph M. Brown Act.
Lutz, who serves as head of the watchdog group Citizens’ Oversight Projects, says the San Diego County Democratic Central Committee endorsed this proposal in June 2007.
At Lemon Grove Patch, we aim to engage our communities in conversation about the importance of the public’s right to know and educate them about local and state freedom of information and so-called sunshine laws and the public records that are available, how to get, use and decipher them, and explain how and why journalists utilize them to further our core mission of covering and informing our communities well.
First, a little background on Sunshine Week, which was launched in 2005 by the American Society of Newspaper Editors. Sunshine Week is a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information. Participants include news media, civic groups, libraries, nonprofits, schools and others interested in the public's right to know.
The week, March 13-19, is funded primarily by a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation of Miami, along with the ASNE Foundation. There are games, proclamations and more all brought to you by the Sunshine Week team, which we have shared with you.
Join us at Lemon Grove Patch and spread a little sunshine around town.
Start with a Sunshine Week Open Government Proclamation
In recognizing earlier Sunshine Weeks, many public officials around the country issued proclamations extolling openness in government. A few introduced significant open government legislation or signed executive orders. It’s time the pronouncements become actions and the few become the many.
This Sunshine Week, we urge citizens to press their public officials to do more, seeking not just broad statements of support for greater transparency but specific pledges and plans of action to enhance the public’s right to know.
Sunshine Week 2011 can be a time when you as a citizen or civic organization make a difference by identifying local or state open government shortcomings and then asking your public officials to pledge and initiate specific improvements in local or state law and practice.
To assist your efforts, the Sunshine Week team presents a sample Open Government Proclamation that you, or your group, can take to your public officials to seek a commitment on open government with specific action that will lead to increased Like all proclamations, it begins with a general statement of the benefits of open government at every level.
That is followed by a sampling of open government provisions that brought greater transparency to local and state governments around the country. We offer these as examples of the kind of specific action that may be needed in and appropriate for your community or state. We also hope these examples will inspire ideas for other openness measures that may be needed in your community or state.
We hope you and/or your organization will find these useful in considering what sunshine commitments are needed in your government and in crafting a specific proclamation and action pledge to present to your public officials.
Let us know if you are successful by contacting the Sunshine Week team at firstname.lastname@example.org and writing "Sunshine Week Proclamation" in the subject line. If your government’s action was reported by local media, send along the link(s). We plan an “Honor Roll” of government entities that adopt Sunshine Week open government pledges and/or take specific actions.
Here is the Sunshine Week Open Government Proclamation: http://www.sunshineweek.org/proclamation.aspx.
Play the You’re A Ray of Sunshine Game
The Sunshine Week team designed this game to challenge you, help you have some fun and learn about why open government and freedom of information in the U.S. is to be cherished and held to high standards. Play it here. https://game.sunshineweek.org/
Get Smart about the Public’s Right to Know
Read up. There are resources for teachers, including lesson plans so young people can participate athttp://www.hsj.org/Services/index.cfm?menu_id=9.
There’s also a host of resources on open government assembled by the Sunshine Week team athttp://www.sunshineweek.org/ReadingRoom.aspx.
Read more about Sunshine Week at www.sunshineweek.org.
Editor's note: This story was updated with information available at City Hall, and on a proposal to make governmental proceedings more publicly available on the Internet.
La Mesa Patch Editor Ken Stone contributed to this story.