Monday, August 4, 2014
Contra Costa County, cities show mixed reaction to Civil Grand Jury recommendation to post certain public records online
July 18, 2014
San Jose Mercury News
By Tom Lochner
Contra Costa Times
MARTINEZ -- A recommendation by the Contra Costa County Civil Grand Jury to post employment contracts, audits and financial disclosure statements on public agency websites is getting mixed responses.
At least one city, Oakley, has already posted on its website the annual Statement of Economic Interests, or Form 700, required of elected and high-ranking administrative officials, as well as employment contracts, annual audits, and travel and entertainment reimbursements. And several other cities say they are at various stages of implementing the recommendation.
But Contra Costa's largest agency, the county government, characterized most of the grand jury's posting recommendation as "not reasonable or warranted."
"Economic Interest Statements, employment contracts, and travel reimbursements may contain personal information that, while publicly disclosable, is not appropriate for publication on the World Wide Web," reads the county's response to the grand jury, delivered to the Board of Supervisors by county Administrator David Twa earlier this month and approved 5-0 by the board.
"Redaction of home addresses, personal telephone numbers, personal email addresses, and signatures for web presentation would be cost-prohibitive," it continues.
The county already posts annual audits and meeting agendas and supporting documents, the response notes.
One prominent open government advocate did not agree with the county's reasoning.
"The County's ... use of the term 'cost-prohibitive' is interesting," Terry Francke, general counsel at Californians Aware, said in an email. "It seems to mean 'not worth the effort,' because what it says is that the redaction cost is too big an investment in saving citizens the travel costs and lost time of having to drive to county headquarters to see the reports."
The grand jury directed its recommendation to all of the county's 19 cities as well as to more than 30 school, fire, water, health care and other special districts.
Elsewhere in the county, Pinole has posted officials' Form 700 since 2008. The economic statements are intended to head off or disclose potential conflicts of interest by listing business positions, investments in businesses and real estate, other sources of income, and gifts.
Pinole City Clerk Patricia Athenour said the extra staff time involved in scanning and uploading the forms is "a worthy service to the public" and will save time for staff who can refer inquiries to the Web.
San Pablo posts agendas and supporting documents, annual audits, and employment contracts and is "in process of addressing" the posting of other documents identified in the grand jury report, City Manager Matt Rodriguez said this week.
Antioch City Clerk Arne Simonsen said this week he is "in the process" of scanning the Forms 700 as well as some campaign documents and hopes to have them up by August.
Pittsburg's city clerk, Alice Evenson, said officials in her city have "thought about" posting the Forms 700 and campaign documents, "and we may, once we have a second person in the city clerk's department."
At the July 8 Board of Supervisors meeting, Supervisor John Gioia and board Chairwoman Karen Mitchoff backed posting the economic interest disclosures filed by elected officials, but not those of county employees.
The bulk of the economic disclosure forms are filed with the clerk of the Board of Supervisors by people who serve in more than 600 positions, some with the county but the majority within special districts, committees and other bodies.
On the other hand, only about two dozen officials, including county supervisors, planning commissioners, the county administrator, district attorney, county counsel, treasurer and officials of several panels file their annual Form 700 with the Contra Costa County clerk-recorder's office, as do candidates for countywide offices and some other offices.
Contra Costa County Clerk-Recorder and Registrar of Voters Joe Canciamilla said his office is "working to get Form 700s online shortly" ï»¿but must first work out software licensing issues that allow the public to look up the forms online.
"Our plan is to make all 700s filed with our office available online as they are all public documents," said Assistant County Registrar Scott Konopasek, in an email Friday.
The grand jury's recommendation to post the array of public records is part of a generally upbeat assessment of the state of the Public Records Act in Contra Costa County, although the panel found compliance with the act by cities and special districts "uneven."Staff writers Paul Burgarino, Rowena Coetsee and Paula King contributed to this report. Contact Tom Lochner at 510-262-2760. Follow him at Twitter.com/tomlochner.