For the past 26 years, both The Malibu Times and the Malibu Surfside News have covered the events and politics of the City of Malibu and the surrounding area. Sometimes we agreed, and many times we did not. But Malibu benefited by having two separate and distinct voices covering the events of the day. Since the future of the Surfside News is uncertain, I’d like to extend an invitation to all of Malibu to contribute to an Op-Ed page, which we are launching in this issue of The Malibu Times (on page A8).
We invite you to send us a column, an editorial, a news story, a story about an event, a feature or a personal profile. You can also send us photographs.
The rules are simple and few. First, confine the length of your piece to 750 words or less, and letters to 350 words. If you run over 750 words, we’ll put the first 750 into the newspaper and run the entire piece online. Second, and most important, you can’t libel anyone, which usually means you can’t accuse them of a crime or some major character defect.
We would prefer not to edit your contributions, if we can avoid it, because we want it to be your voice. We see this page as a Community Forum to run in addition to the Editorial page, which is page A4. If there is enough interest, we’ll create a separate Op-Ed page on page A5.
All contributions should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org and photographs can be sent to email@example.com. The deadline for submissions is Tuesday at 11 a.m.
The issue of open government came up in Sacramento this past week. For many years California has had the Brown Act, named after a former Speaker of the Assembly Ralph M. Brown. It requires local governments in California—and that includes counties, cities, school districts and special districts—to produce requested documents within a short period of time after the request at a very reasonable cost, and electronically when requested. To the newspaper industry, the Brown Act, which is also called the California Public Records Act, is something akin to holy scripture. It’s the way newspapers force governments to tell us the truth, without spin, because the documents frequently speak for themselves.
For example, California currently has a major pension problem with government workers. In many instances, we’re not sure how much is owed to retired workers, how much is currently in the pipeline, and how much of it is funded, meaning money being set aside to cover the future liabilities. Without the California Public Records Act, we might be sitting on a volcano without even knowing it.
The scandal in the city of Bell was discovered by a Los Angeles Times reporter who was going through pension records and noticed that the city manager of Bell was earning $750,000 per year. That’s not the kind of information that cities give up voluntarily. In other instances, counties and cities have spent enormous amounts of dollars on junkets, which they call fact-finding missions to exotic faraway places. There are all sorts of interesting things that media and public interest groups find in government records.
There are not just academic concerns. Orange County went bust a few years ago. The cities of Vallejo and Stockton also went bankrupt. State Senator Calderon is currently under investigation by the FBI in connection with some Water District affairs, and the FBI has been serving search warrants on his Capitol offices. Wall Street bankers and stock firms have sold naive city councils on municipal projects that looked like easy ways to solve financial problems, and ended up being disasters. We wouldn’t know about a lot of this if we couldn’t get the records.
But the California Public Records Act is a state mandate that requires local governments to produce records, and the local governments have a right to be reimbursed for the cost of that record-gathering, according to the law. Some localities have been very creative in what they considered to be the cost of, say, doing things like posting the city council agenda, and demanded that the state reimburse them thousands of dollars for the most simple clerical acts.
Since most local governments are in a financial squeeze, the Governor, or someone, stuck a little item into this year’s budget process, which would have made the Public Records Act voluntary, and it all hit the fan. Initially, the leadership, meaning the Governor, the Speaker of the Assembly and the leader if the Senate, stuck to their guns. But after every major paper in the state ran stories and editorials, and most didn’t say nice things, they relented. First the Speaker swung over, and finally, after a barrage of criticism across the entire political spectrum, both left and right and even the center, they relented and the Brown Act is still functional and operational.
Sadly, most politicians and governmental administrators are only too happy to deliver good news, but when it comes to bad news they all want to bury it in the basement. The Brown Act helps to keep them honest.