The State Worker

California prison agency withholds director’s retirement party records

An inmate prepares a piece of sheet metal to build one of the components that will be used in a modular building built at the Prison Industry Authority compound at Folsom State Prison.
An inmate prepares a piece of sheet metal to build one of the components that will be used in a modular building built at the Prison Industry Authority compound at Folsom State Prison. The Sacramento Bee

The California state agency that trains prison inmates for work after release is withholding spending records related to its former general manager’s retirement party.

The Sacramento Bee in July requested financial records and emails related to a January party for former California Prison Industry Authority manager Charles Pattillo.

After reviewing records the agency gathered to respond to the request, its current manager, Scott Walker, referred the records to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Office of Internal Affairs for investigation, CalPIA attorney Jeff Sly told The Bee in August.

Sly denied The Bee’s records request in the same email, citing an exemption in the California Public Records Act for records related to investigations.

Pattillo said the expenses for his retirement event — a lunch held Jan. 24 — were appropriate. He said women enrolled in a culinary training program at Folsom Women’s Facility prepared a lunch of lasagna, salad and water.

When told the agency was withholding the records, he said he supports making them public.

“That’s kind of stupid; release the records,” he said.

The agency’s broad use of an exemption for investigations flies in the face of the law’s intent, which is to give the public the opportunity to scrutinize spending of taxpayer dollars and the operations of state government, said David Snyder, executive director of the San Rafael-based First Amendment Coalition, a nonprofit focused on freedom of expression and the public’s right to know.

“This interpretation would close off a pretty wide swath of records from public scrutiny that shouldn’t and can’t be closed off from such scrutiny,” Snyder said. “It would allow agencies to withhold a broad range of records that the Legislature did not intend for agencies to be able to withhold when they passed this law enforcement exemption.”

Snyder said the exemption shouldn’t apply to records compiled before an investigation was launched. Additionally, the exemption is supposed to apply only to records created as part of an investigation — such as a police officer’s description of a crime scene — not to any and all records that end up being examined during an investigation.

“You can say almost any type of record might become part of an investigation,” he said. “I think this is a pretty significant overreach in trying to withhold records that should be public.”

The Sacramento Bee is among the First Amendment Coalition’s donors.

Related stories from Sacramento Bee

Wes Venteicher anchors The Bee’s popular State Worker coverage in the newspaper’s Capitol Bureau. He covers taxes, pensions, unions, state spending and California government. A Montana native, he reported on health care and politics in Chicago and Pittsburgh before joining The Bee in 2018.
  Comments