Commentary: State Agencies Get Failing Grade

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(Sacramento, CA)
Friday, June 2, 2006

The student, an 18 year old college freshman named Ryan McKee, asked for four public records: the conflict of interest statement and employment contract for the agency's top ranking employee, the agency's most recent lawsuit settlement in which a plaintiff was awarded $100,000 dollars or more, and the agency's public record access guidelines. By law, this last item is supposed to be posted.

The response from the Department of Consumer Affairs was the worst. Employees there grilled McKee for 20 minutes, wanting to know who he was, why he wanted the information, and what agency he worked for. They then refused to accept even his written request for information.The Departments of Motor Vehicles, Social Services and Justice would not let him enter their buildings.

McKee received the most timely and courteous response from the California State Teachers Retirement System. It earned an A. But the majority of state agencies, 18 of the 31, got Fs.

Since McKee publicized his experience, a bill has been introduced that would require departments to post their public record access guidelines on their web sites, and to allow citizens to make public records requests on line - both good open government ideas that should be embraced by all public agencies.


Ginger Rutland writes for the Sacramento Bee Opinion pages.