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PD Editorial: Secrecy about Santa Rosa candidates hurts process

  • (The Press Democrat)

The curse of good government is the presumptive belief by some in elected office that secrecy is the better policy.

The truth is our state laws have little tolerance for such thinking. Under the rights granted by the California Public Records Act, the state's landmark openness legislation that was bolstered by the passage of Proposition 59 in 2004, the public is entitled to access all government documents and meetings except in narrowly defined circumstances.

But under the ever-present nemesis of secrecy-creep, government is often coming up with new explanations for why information should be kept from the public in hopes of creating better outcomes.

This was evident last week with the Santa Rosa City Council's decision to keep secret the names of those who apply for the council's current vacancy — at least until Wednesday, the day after the filing deadline. At that point, the council plans to release the names and conduct interviews in public. The council claims secrecy is important at the outset to protect the integrity of the process.

This, however, is in stark contrast to election law, which requires that the names of those who seek elected office be made public as soon as papers are filed, not at the filing deadline. Even the names of those who take out papers to run for office are open for public inspection.

So why should the process of applying for a vacancy on the City Council be any less transparent than running for an open seat?

This has not been adequately explained, which is why on Thursday this newspaper filed a California Public Records Act request seeking copies of, or at least access to, the names and applications of those who have applied for the City Council vacancy.

It's our belief that knowing the names could influence who decides for or against seeking the appointment. Certainly this wouldn't be the first time that a candidate chooses to pursue an otherwise elected office because he or she is not happy with the field of candidates.

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