Monday, November 01, 2010

Rancho Santa Margarita, FOI and Socialized Information

Posted By CotoBlogzz 11-01-2010

Rancho Santa Margarita –   Here is a chicken-and-egg question:  What came first: Socialized Medicine (as in ObamaCare) or Socialized Information?- the answer is, it all depends.  

If you view yourself as President Obama’s enemy,  using his own words, to refer to the  opposition, chances are  you figured out that socialized information - some characterize as propaganda - came first, exemplified by the three major networks’ coverage of then candidate Obama and  the one being served by NBC and or National Parasitic Radio (NPR) for instance.  Even if it was not obvious, the recent NPR’s firing of Juan Williams, Soro’s “purchasing” of the Huffington Post & NPR and Jon Stewart featuring radical Islamic-convert Yusuf Islam, formerly known as Cat Stevens in his so called Rally to Restore Sanity should  leave no doubt.  Still in doubt?  Consider that the major networks over the last two months have referred to Tea Parties and sympathizes as extreme and or  radical, while  neglecting to use the term radical or left wing extremist, should seal the deal.

The socialized part not only comes from explicit subsidies like the $1billion tax-payer money allocated to  NPR’s parent company, but also the more subtle GE/GE’s CEO Immelt’s bailout.

So, what does socialized information have to do with Freedom of Information Act and Rancho Santa Margarita?  Bear with us as we try to connect the dots.

Consider that the Treasury Department recently contracted an agency to hire Freedom of Information Act officers to help it find ways to withhold information from release to the public.  No wonder we tell journalism students that if they are really serious about real journalism, FOI skills should be up there with APA format compliance skills.   Now, from our experience dealing with various bureaucracies, from the OCSD to the California Law Revision Commission and the City of Laguna Woods,  we find the Treasury’s action not that surprising, but very much consistent with what we characterize as parasitic bureaucracies.

We posit  that a free press is an integral component of a vibrant democracy, as opposed to socialized information.  Now, to make sure that residents of the City of Rancho Santa Margarita have not only socialized information, but also an independent view prior to casting their ballot in the 2010 elections, we wanted to know specifically how city council members voted on LAFCO’s recommendations to start the process of annexing Coto de Caza and Las Flores, but any proposals to LAFCO, so we filed a Public Act Request with the city.  One day prior to the deadline we got a response from city spokesperson Molly McLaughlin:  “ If I could clarify your request, I would appreciate it.” We noted that aur request was not only specific, but also  bulletized it  for her for the sake of expediency, and unfortunately got this partial response  from Ms. McLaughlin:  “We are closed tomorrow which is why I wanted clarification today. ….The clarity I was looking for was related more in how you wanted to receive documentation to address your questions..  I apologize for being unclear.”  Our response stated that we thought  Ms. McLaughlin was not only not conversant with the Public Records Act, but also in breach and to our surprise, she responded on a Sunday (how is that for public service?) saying: "Please clarify.  Would you like hard copies of the below-mentioned documents?” Our response?
One last time, your answer is not responsive to code 6250. 
It implies that all the pertinent information is online and NOT on other devices such as voice mail recordings, Blackberrys, unpublished and so on.

PRAs are used as a last resource because public servants often fail to make the information public - that is, they do not post relevant information online - sort of like the City of Bell, for instance.

YOU are to certify that your response meets or not my request - you have failed to do so.
To be clear and as mentioned previously, the city of RSM is now in breach of code 6250.”

End of story – right?  NOT!  – Ms McLaughlin calls first thing today  leaving a voice mail message asking if we got all the information we needed and if we did not call back, she would assume everything was kosher.   We were forced to respond as follows:

I received your voice mail left earlier this morning.  Let me make it clear:  You have not responded to my request for information consistent with the FOI/PRA and therefore the city is in breach of code 6250.

On the other hand, if you believe I am mistaken, please send me a letter  and or e-mail certifying that indeed the city has complied with the spirit and the law of code 6250.”

Since we had been sending copies of our correspondence with Ms, McLaughlin to the Mayor, shortly after our last message, we get one from the Mayor asking us to stop sending him any additional copies – using a personal email account!

So what does this all mean?

In general, we approach any Public Records Act request with skepticism – the onus is on the bureaucracy.  Is there an attempt to keep information from the public, as the Treasury wants to do?  Does the bureaucracy have anything to hide, as is the case with the City of Bell in what the call the Bell Syndrome that normally afflicts apathetic communities with ignorant and or misinformed residents.  This case was no different.  The only conclusion we can reach in this case is that the City of Rancho Santa Margarita, either consciously or not, does not have the right personnel handling PRA requests.  Further, the Mayor using a personal email account to asks to stop communicating with him is a red fag that implies he does not want to be subject to appear in future PRA request.

For reference, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on September 6, 1966 allows for the full or partial disclosure of previously unreleased information and documents controlled by the United States Government. The Act defines agency records subject to disclosure, outlines mandatory disclosure procedures.  On the other hand, in California FOI IS known as the Public Records Act (PRA) or Government code 6250  - it stipulates that, the Legislature, mindful of the right of individuals to privacy, finds and declares that access to information concerning the conduct of the people’s business is a fundamental and necessary right of every person in this state. I defines “writing” as meaning  any handwriting, typewriting, printing, photostating, photographing, photocopying, transmitting by electronic mail or facsimile, and every other means of recording upon anytangible thing any form of communication or representation, including letters, words, pictures, sounds, or symbols, or combinations thereof, and any record thereby created, regardless of the manner in which the record has been stored - for the City of Rancho Santa Margarita to simply tell us we should find the  information we are looking online does not meet the spirit nor the word of  of Code 6250.  The city failing the certify that the totality of the information we are looking for is online, is simply a confirmation.  The Mayor using a personal email account my be a simple aberration.

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