El Dorado County votes NO to Proposition 42, Californians guaranteed access to public meetings and records
It’s been a little hairy watching public access to records and local government meetings get caught up in a fight between state and local officials over who, exactly, would pay for such access. Judging from many of you who contact The Bee, Californians want information and they want access. And when it directly affects their lives, they want both passionately...
I asked Newton, who lives in El Dorado County, what he thought about the “no” vote there.
“My thinking is that the rather conservative folks in El Dorado County looked at the voter pamphlet and … saw this as a cost increase and didn’t pass it,” he said.
Lack of money is a real concern for many local governments. But saying no to public access and public accountability? The majority of Californians rightly drew the line there with a vote that says access to records and meetings at the local level – whether city hall or an irrigation district or the fire district – is as important as it is at the state and federal level. It’s how we keep officials accountable for their decisions, whether elected or hired staff. It’s how we watch public spending, or ferret out public corruption...
At the local level, now that Proposition 42 has passed, Newton said he’s turning his attention to a growing issue with access to court documents.
Sacramento County plans to begin charging for online access to court records in June to raise revenue. Other counties have done the same. Peter Scheer of the First Amendment Coalition in San Rafael told The Bee in April that the fees will be a “pretty significant barrier for a lot of people.”
For journalists as well. In our investigation last year of Nevada’s busing of mental health patients to avoid paying for care, The Bee paid court fees ranging as high as $4.75 per name for Los Angeles County court records. We were checking for criminal complaints involving about 500 patients bused to California; we spent about $530 in Los Angeles alone.
Which raises the obvious question – are records truly available to the public if no one can afford to get them? A patchwork of county-by-county court document fees isn’t the answer to tight budgets.