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How to Access Public Information

How to get Information from Public Agencies . . . when they won’t provide it when you ask.

Did you know that as an employee of a school district, most of your employment information other than confidential personnel information is available to the public upon request?

Did you know that ANY public entity, City Council, School Board, State Legislature, must also provide any citizen, upon legal request, public information as well?

You may be aware that  your labor relations representative or chapter officer will routinely ask for information from your school district that “is necessary and relevant to the effective representation of classified employees” as allowed by the Education Employees Relations Act or EERA Section 45103(C) governed by the Public Employment Relations Board or PERB.

You can do this too via the California Public Records Act.
 
Let’s say you want to know how much your local city council members get paid and the city clerk refuses to tell you when you ask politely.
You have the right to demand public records information under the California Public Records Act.

Here’s how you can do this.

California Public Records Act
GOVT. CODE §§ 6250 - 6276.48

THE BASICS

The Public Records Act is designed to give the public access to information in possession of public agencies: "public records are open to inspection at all times during the office hours of the. . . agency and every person has a right to inspect any public record, except as . . . provided, [and to receive] an exact copy” of an identifiable record unless impracticable. (§ 6253).


REQUESTING PUBLIC RECORDS
  • Plan your request; know what exemptions may apply.
  • Ask informally before invoking the law.
  • If necessary, use this guide to state your rights under the Act.
  • Don't ask the agency to create a record or list.
  • A written request is not required, but may help if your request is complex, or you anticipate trouble.
  • Put date limits on any search.
  • If the agency claims the records don't exist, ask what files were searched; offer any search clues you can.
  • Limit pre-authorized costs (or ask for a cost waiver), and pay only copying charges.
  • Demand a written response within 10 days.

WHO’S COVERED
  • All state and local agencies, including: (1) any officer, bureau, or department.; (2) any "board, commission or agency" created by the agency (including advisory boards); and (3) nonprofit entities that are legislative bodies of a local agency. (§ 6252(a),(b)). Many state and regional agencies are required to have written public record policies. A list appears in § 6253.4.

WHO’S NOT COVERED
  • Courts (except itemized statements of total expenditures and disbursement).(§§ 6252(a), 6261)
  • The Legislature. (§ 6252) See Legislative Open Records Act, Govt. Code §§ 9070-9080
  • Private non-profit corporations and entities
  • Federal agencies. See Federal Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552
  • Home addresses, medical info, some court proceedings, gun license info

WHAT’S COVERED
  • "Records" include all communications related to public business "regardless of physical form or characteristics, including any writing, picture, sound, or symbol, whether paper, magnetic, or other media." (§ 6252(e)) Electronic records are included, but software may be exempt. (§§ 6253.9(a),(g), 6254.9 (a),(d))

WHAT MUST HAPPEN
  • Access is immediate and allowed at all times during business hours. (§ 6253(a)) Staff need not disrupt operations to allow immediate access, but a decision whether to grant access must be prompt. An agency may not adopt rules that limit the hours records are open for viewing and inspection. (§§ 6253(d); 6253.4(b))
  • The agency must provide assistance by helping to identify records and information relevant to the request and suggesting ways to overcome any practical basis for denying access. (§ 6253.1)
  • An agency has 10 days to decide if copies will be provided. In "unusual" cases (request is "voluminous," seeks records held off-site, OR requires consultation with other agencies), the agency may, upon written notice to the requesters, give itself an additional 14 days to respond. (§ 6253(c)) These time periods may not be used solely to delay access to the records. (§ 6253(d))
  • The agency may never make records avail- able only in electronic form. (§ 6253.9(e))
  • Access is always free. Fees for “inspection” or “processing” are prohibited. (§ 6253)
  • Copy costs are limited to "statutory fees" set by the Legislature (not by local ordinance) or the "direct cost of duplication”, usually 10 to 25 cents per page

IF YOUR REQUEST IS DENIED
  • Keep a log of to whom you speak and the stated reason for the denial
  • Employ the following six-step

DENIAL strategy:

D = Discretionary: Exemptions are permissive, never mandatory. Ask the agency if it will waive the exemption and release the record.

E = Explanation: Insist that the agency ex- plain in a written denial why the exemption applies to the requested record.

N = Narrow Application: The Act favors access. Exemptions must be narrowly construed.

I = Isolate : Request the release of any non- exempt portions of the record.

A = Appeal: State your rights, using this guide, and ask to speak to a higher agency official.

L = Lawsuit: File suit to enforce your rights. If you win, the agency must pay your costs and legal fees. (§ 6259(d)); Belth v. Garamendi 232 Cal.App.3d 896 (1991).

Write a news story or Letter to the Editor about the denial.


FOR MORE INFORMATION OR HELP:

Contact the “FIRST AMENDMENT PROJECT” (510) 208-7744
www.thefirstamendment.org


REMEMBER:

Don’t take no for an answer. You have a right to know what is going on in your local and state government. 

“If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.”



Contact Information

ORANGE Field Office
326 W KATELLA AVE #E, ORANGE 92867
Main#: (714) 532-3766
Toll-free: (800) 564-9979
Fax:(714) 771-8412
Use Extensions below with Main or Toll-free #


FIELD DIRECTOR
TIARA COX
Ext: 7120
Direct: (714) 532-7120
tcox@csea.com

TEMPORARY FIELD DIRECTOR
PATRICK PREZIOSO
Ext: 7120
Direct: (714) 532-7120
pprezioso@csea.com

SR LABOR REL REP
DANIEL TORRES
Ext: 7137
Direct: (714) 532-7137
dtorres@csea.com

ADMINISTRATIVE SPECIALIST
YVONNE OLMOS
Ext: 7122
Direct: (714) 532-7122
yolmos@csea.com

ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT
KIMBERLY SLANE
Ext: 7132
Direct: (714) 532-7132
kslane@csea.com


Labor Representatives

ROBERT DEWITZ
Ext: 7128
Direct: (714) 532-7128    
rdewitz@csea.com

ISABELLE FRANZ
Ext: 7138
Direct: (714) 532-7138    
ifranz@csea.com

JASON GEANAKOPOULOS
Ext: 7121
Direct: (714) 532-7121    
jgeanakopoulos@csea.com

AMY GONZALES
Ext: 7133
Direct: (714) 532-7133    
agonzales@csea.com

MICHAEL LEON
Ext: 7124
Direct: (714) 532-7124    
mleon@csea.com

CECILIA LOPEZ
Ext: 7134
Direct: (714) 532-7134    
clopez@csea.com

KARLI NEVAREZ
Ext: 7125
Direct: (714) 532-7125    
knevarez@csea.com

ANTHONY SOLIS
Ext: 7126
Direct: (714) 532-7126    
asolis@csea.com

ERICA WILLIAMS
Ext: 7123
Direct: (714) 532-7123    
ewilliams@csea.com