Editorial: Preserve free and open government with Prop. 42

Published: Monday, Mar. 31, 2014 - 12:00 am

There should be no question in the mind of anyone who appreciates a free and open society that Proposition 42 deserves a “yes” vote.

Proposition 42 is one of two measures on the statewide June ballot. If passed, it would enshrine in law the requirement that local governments and agencies keep providing public access to documents and adhere to open meeting rules, no matter what it costs.

Didn’t know those things were ever in jeopardy? For a brief time last year, they were. That was when Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders were preparing to suspend parts of the California Public Records Act and the Ralph M. Brown Act – the state’s two most essential public access laws – for the sake of saving money. The outcry was immediate, and, evidently, persuasive enough to get them to back away and put together this ballot measure.

The threat to public access stemmed from the larger struggle between state and local governments about who pays for what. State government is required to reimburse local governments for the cost of complying with state laws.

As part of the 2013-14 budget, Brown decided not to reimburse local governments for the tens of millions of dollars it owes them for the cost of complying with state public access laws. In exchange, the local governments would have the option of not complying with those laws if they couldn’t afford to do so.

That’s a choice that government should never have.

We must have access to public records and open meetings. It’s hard enough as it is to keep elected leaders from lining their wallets or giving away the public treasury to keep themselves in office.

Think public agencies like Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District would hand out salary data to the public if it could avoid such scrutiny, especially when the district is asking the public for a tax hike?

Remember those larcenous city officials in Bell? It was municipal public records that outed their six-figure salaries and started an investigation that landed City Council members and top city officials in jail.

Transparency is not optional. It is an absolutely essential basic service, like public safety, and must be factored into a city’s bottom line. Passing this proposition will ensure that happens by taking away the state mandate to reimburse for public access while reaffirming the requirement that cities, school boards, water districts and other local governments must comply – no matter what it costs.

Nothing of great worth comes with no expense, and that includes democracy.

Read more articles by the Editorial Board

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