Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Seeing Through Calls for Transparency

I can see right through you.
Former State Sen. Leland Yee was not friendly to UC, to say the least. He and another state senator are now under indictment for a variety of nefarious activities.* But there is some irony in the legislature - which keeps calling for more "transparency" at UC - trying to keep its own records secret. We're not against transparency per se, but the word itself is way, way overused nowadays as a supposed remedy for every ill of mankind.

What began as a push by two California newspaper groups for the calendars of indicted former Democratic state Sens. Ron Calderon and Leland Yee may ultimately broaden public access to legislative business and change the way lawmakers operate at the Capitol. In a preliminary ruling handed down last week, Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny ordered the release of calendars, appointment books and meeting schedules requested by the Bay Area Newspaper Group and the Los Angeles Newspaper Group after repeated denials by the Senate. The records relate to criminal allegations against Calderon and Yee, who were both indicted last spring on separate corruption charges. If Kelly upholds the decision in his final ruling, and it is affirmed in subsequent appeals, open government advocates are hopeful it will unlock a window in the Legislature’s tight public records protections. The law for legislative records provides far less access than the one governing local agencies and the state bureaucracy. “We’re dealing with a law, the Legislative Open Records Act, which is highly protective of legislative confidentiality,” said Peter Scheer, executive director of the nonprofit First Amendment Coalition. The ruling “could force them to live with a degree of visibility and transparency that they don’t want … but of course, that everybody else has to deal with.” The Legislature counters that opening lawmaker schedules to the public would have a “chilling effect” on the protected deliberative process they engage in beyond the public spotlight...

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Just keep this story in mind the next time you hear a legislator say that nothing can be done in regard to UC's budget requests unless there is more transparency. Sometimes more transparency is needed. But, sometimes, calls for transparency are excuses for inaction and grandstanding.

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