Joe Nelson, Staff Writer
Posted: 09/28/2010 03:25:13 PM PDT

A proposed Sunshine Ordinance aimed at opening the doors wider for public access to official government records got the green light Tuesday from the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors.

The 10-page ordinance goes before the board for a second reading and for final adoption on Oct. 5.

Supervisor Neil Derry, who announced his plans to begin drafting an ordinance last year, said it is the latest in a series of efforts by county government to make itself more transparent in its battle to stave off corruption.

“This is a strong step toward empowering the people and rebuilding trust in their government,” Derry said.

Supervisor Josie Gonzales said she was against the ordinance and fought it, but in the same breath said she believed it was her duty to support the ordinance and “demonstrate stability and unity on the Board of Supervisors.”

Key provisions of the proposed ordinance include the preservation of audio and video recordings of all Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission meetings as well as more accessibility to public records online.

But the proposed ordinance is a far cry from what Derry proposed a year ago: an ordinance that would include an ethics commission and ban the county from citing a legal argument known as “deliberative process,” which essentially gives the county the means to withhold certain records from the public. In April, Derry announced he was stripping the ethics commission from the proposed ordinance due to the county’s budget dilemma.

More recently, he announced he would be unable to include a full ban on the county’s use of deliberative process because other elected officials had a right to cite the privilege.

Instead, Derry pared down the language regarding deliberative process to state that it cannot be cited as a means to withhold from the public how a public official is spending taxpayer dollars.

The deliberative process privilege stems from a 1991 state Supreme Court decision, which found that the wholesale release of the governor’s calendars could discourage people from discussing official business with the governor.

Earlier this month, Derry presented a 60-page draft of the ordinance and put it on the Sept. 14 board agenda for a vote, but further concerns regarding the deliberative process language prompted him to pull the item from the agenda and revise it.

Despite the tightened language and a large reduction in the number of pages, some experts still don’t see the ordinance as having any real teeth.

Government watchdog group Californians Aware, or CalAware, has sharply criticized it.

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